“Figuring out how to return to the quiet that had allowed me to write in the first place.”

From an Inside the List interview by Elizabeth Egan of writer Yaa Gyasi in The New York Times Book Review:

Writing a debut novel requires gumption and perseverance, but at least it’s a solitary endeavor. An author attempting a follow-up has an audience in mind, which can be discombobulating. One minute these invisible readers are cheerleaders; the next, they’re pelting the computer screen with popcorn.

Yaa Gyasi says she was intimidated by the prospect of a second novel after “Homegoing,” which she worked on for seven years. “With the first book, it’s like writing in the dark, unsure of whether or not your book will ever see the light of day. It’s such an intensely private and intimate experience,” she explains. “But then after ‘Homegoing’ came out into a light that was so bright, I became keenly aware that there are people who will pick up my books. That was wonderful, but it took me a little bit to figure out how to return to the quiet that had allowed me to write in the first place.”

Gyasi’s new book, “Transcendent Kingdom,” now at No. 6 in its second week on the hardcover fiction list, was inspired by a visit to a Stanford University lab where an old friend worked. It wasn’t intended as a research trip. The friend, a neuroscientist, was approaching the end of her doctorate and had just published a major paper that Gyasi tried to read, to no avail. She says, “I literally could not understand any of the paragraphs.” So, in a gesture of support and encouragement, she asked to shadow her friend for the day. There was no lightning bolt moment while she was there — just the sense of fascination that a writer learns to lean into. “When I started to think about what I wanted to write about next, I remembered this time in the lab,” Gyasi says.

She channeled that inspiration into her narrator, Gifty, a neuroscience graduate student who studies reward-seeking behavior as it relates to depression and addiction. Our reviewer wrote, “‘Transcendent Kingdom’ trades the blazing brilliance of ‘Homegoing’ for another type of glory, more granular and difficult to name.”

And now Gyasi has traded hotel rooms and airports for a new kind of book tour — one conducted from her Brooklyn apartment. She says, “It’s nice that readers can come to virtual events from anywhere in the world, but I do miss seeing people face to face.”. . .

Elisabeth Egan is an editor at the Book Review and the author of “A Window Opens.”

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