Poetic Tongues/Fabu

Poetic Tongues

A Ghanaian Immigrant’s Story Hits Home

“Transcendent Kingdom” by Yaa Gyasi:  A discussion by Poet Fabu and the Women from Get Movin’ Exercise Day Class.

“Transcendent Kingdom” by Yaa Gyasi is this year’s Go Big Read selection. Go Big Read was started by former UW Madison Chancellor Carolyn “Biddy” Martin, to engage members of the campus and the community in a shared, academically focused reading experience. Students,

faculty, staff, and community members are invited to participate by reading the book, and taking part in discussions and campus events.  When I saw the title, author and blurb about the book, I ordered copies for our Get Movin’ Exercise class that I facilitate and that Venus Washington instructs in South Madison.

The Get Movin’ Exercise class is in its fifth year as a year-round exercise class, open free to the community and memory-study participants. It has day and night exercise classes. The day class has mostly retired women and the night class has mostly young women and their children.  The day class takes place at the UW South Madison Partnership Office on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 1-2 pm.  The night class is at Venus Washington’s Studio space on Mondays and Wednesdays, from 5:30-6:30 pm.  Both are available on zoom and YouTube.

I thought South Madison women would bring an interesting perspective to understanding and analyzing “Transcendent Kingdom”.

First, we are dedicating our discussion in the memory of the late Dzigbodi Akyea and the women of the African Women’s Association (AWA). Dzigbodi was also from Ghana and immigrated to Madison by way of London. She served this community as a social worker and as an academic advisor. She is gone, but not forgotten. Her life was meaningful and her influence was significant. She and the women of AWA are examples of real immigrant experiences and the high price women pay to be a part of their adopted country, America, while the book uses a fictional story to explore race, immigration, science, faith and family.

Yaa Gyasi’s novel shares the story of Gifty, a graduate student in neuroscience and the only member of her Ghanaian family born in the United States, as she examines her family’s experience of immigrating and how that shaped her place in the world. The book emphasizes her mother’s reliance on faith, and Gifty’s reliance on science when they lose the men in their family. I have already attended a discussion of the book by the UW Library.

We are just beginning our discussion of the themes in the book; yet as African American women we empathize with both the mother and daughter’s struggle to overcome loss. We also are noting that neither of these women characters affirm herself culturally or on the basis of gender, but in order to survive in America, inadvertently absorbs the inferior perspectives of the dominant culture.  This is definitely not the life experiences of the proud, African women we know in Madison. What is equally important to understand is the devastation of addiction and depression in our community.

”Transcendent Kingdom” was recently longlisted for the 2021 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction as well as the 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction. This is Gyasi’s second novel, after her first called, “Homecoming.”  November 3 she came to Madison for a free event at Memorial Union Theater for an evening with Yaa Gyasi, both in person and on live web stream. This has certainly been one of the most exciting book selections in the Go Big Read series. The women in the Get Movin’ Exercise class have enjoyed reading about the Ghanaian immigrant experience through the words of Yaa Gyasi.