Today, we want to wish the Seattle Public Library’s Seattle Reads program a happy 20th anniversary. Every year, Seattle librarians pick one book for the whole city to read and discuss together. This year, they’re reading “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi, a fictional story about two families and how they were impacted by slavery across eight generations and two continents. Yaa will be in Seattle to discuss her book May 16th and 17th.
We caught up with Stesha Brandon, who oversees Seattle Reads, to learn more about the book and why it’s important for Seattleites to read along.
Why was “Homegoing” chosen for this year’s Seattle Reads book?
The quality of Yaa Gyasi’s writing is just stunning and that’s immediately apparent. A lot of us had read Colson Whitehead’s book, “The Underground Railroad,” which came out in 2016. I feel like with Yaa’s book, I’m getting another part of that story.
The other thing we loved was that it was a sweeping story — you see these two family lines through the years and see the implications on people who were enslaved and those who weren’t. The book is set in Africa and a lot of the time, we focus a lot on the American story, but there’s other perspectives out there on this issue. It was really interesting to take that approach.
Why is it right for Seattle right now?
The conversations around colonization and institutional racism and the underpinnings of that are relevant to what’s happening in our city right now.
If you don’t already know about some of these issues, it’s an accessible way to learn about them. For those of us who don’t experience microaggressions or the repercussions of institutional racism every day and who may be complicit in that, it allows us to get a perspective on that and sit with that. It’s pretty powerful.
How do you see the Seattle Public Library’s role in having these difficult conversations?
Speaking for my program around Seattle Reads, the city has a stated policy around race and social justice and the library also has that around how we approach decision-making. With the work we do around Seattle Reads, it’s the perfect opportunity for us to engage in anti-racist work. I’d say there’s no better way to empathize or understand people who are different from you than reading a book.
Want to participate in Seattle Reads? There are nearly 2,000 copies of “Homegoing” available for check out at libraries across the city. While you read, pop into a reading group meeting the first Thursday of every month to discuss the novel at the Northwest African American Museum. The next meeting is April 5 from 5 to 7 p.m. Author Yaa Gyasi will be in town May 16-17 to talk about her book.