Bay Area Book Baes: Yaa Gyasi and Emma Cline
The Bay Area’s a bastion for creatives of all mediums. And a handful of those pen-to-paper creatives had a stellar year in publishing, finding their books on Bestseller lists and on the shelves Barnes & Nobles nation-wide.
Despite the dumpster fire that was our political discourse, 2016 was a fantastic year for books. From novels written about teenage angst and an insatiable need for notoriety (Zadie Smith’s Swing Time) to the more gentile, let-me-not-hit-you-over-the-head-with-hollow-plot-every-page fictitious works (Ann Patchett's Common Wealth), women held the publishing world by the reigns—and didn’t let go. Like an bracket edited flashback to a 2011 Beyoncé anthem: “Who run [the literary] world? Girls.”
And of two of those written works were smithed by first-time authors that started right here in The Bay Area—Emma Cline’s The Girls and Yaa Gyasi Homegoing.
On Emma: For one, she’s adamant on not owning a smartphone. That’s right, millennial ilk, a 27-year-old walks among us without an Android or iOS powered device—by choice. Born in Sonoma County, Emma was surrounded by both folklore and fermented grapes all her life; her father is the wine-maker behind Cline Cellars, and the Charles Manson cult tellinger were a common topic discussed amongst the family.
And it was this steeping of cultish stories—along with her “interesting” platonic relationship with a man of fifty-three when she, herself, was only thirteen—that inspired Emma to pen The Girls: a novel told (and narrated) through the eyes of Evie Boyd, a troubled, relatable adolescent, going through the growing pains of maturation, tied by the shackles of Russell’s (the cult leader) psychedelic commune.
On Yaa: Born in Ghana, raised in Alabama, Ohio, and Tennessee, and holding both a BA in English Literature from Stanford and an MFA from the prestigious Iowa Writer’s Program, Yaa Gyasi knows her way around an atlas. In fact, it was a byproduct of her globetrotting that birthed the idea for her debut novel, Homegoing.
Upon receiving a healthy, corpulent grant from Stanford to pursue a thesis on the post- and pre-colonial African slave trade, Yaa traveled to Ghana, her first time back since her birth. But, it was only when Yaa was given a guided tour of the Gold Coast castle—a space primarily used to temporarily house hundreds of forcefully collected men and women of African descent—that a idea for a novel began stirring in her mind. Then, walking through these corridors where men and women were once kept like factory farmed pigs, the muse began whispering: Yaa would later write a full-length novel spanning 300-years in time, beginning with the polar opposite lives of Effie's and Esi's tracing both their descendents, chapter by chapter, right up until the present-day.