News | 3 May 2022

Deep Read Welcomes Author Yaa Gyasi To UC Santa Cruz



The Deep Read will be exploring Yaa Gyasi’s The Transcendent Kingdom, the story of a first-generation PhD student of Neuroscience and her search for the source of human addiction. The program connects the campus, alumni, and broader community with UC Santa Cruz scholars to read deeply together.

The 2022 Deep Read is already underway. The annual program of The Humanities Institute at UC Santa Cruz has brought together students, faculty, alumni, and other curious minds from across the globe to unpack and discuss Transcendent Kingdom, the most recent novel by Ghanaian-American author Yaa Gyasi.

The novel follows Gifty, a Neuroscience PhD student at Stanford and first-generation American born to Ghanaian immigrants who is seeking to understand the psychological roots of addiction and depression—a focus inspired by the death of her older brother to a heroin overdose and her mother’s ongoing despair. Through her present-day interactions with her mom and a series of flashbacks, Gifty begins to wrestle with much larger concerns like her experiences growing up in the rural South, her father’s disappearance, and, crucially, how to balance her religious upbringing with her secular scientific surroundings. 

Much like Gyasi’s first novel Homegoing, Transcendent Kingdom has earned all manner of critical praise. In The New York Times, author Nell Freudenberger praised the book, writing, “The transcendent kingdom of this Ghanaian, Southern, American novel is finally not a Christian or a scientific one, but the one that two women create by surviving a hostile environment, and maintaining their primal connection to each other.” And in The Washington Post, critic Ron Charles hailed it as “a novel of profound scientific and spiritual reflection that recalls the works of Richard Powers and Marilynne Robinson.”

The conversation about Transcendent Kingdom has begun through email explorations, a weekly newsletter featuring discussion questions and ideas drawn from UC Santa Cruz faculty, as well as a robust online forum. But, starting this week, Deep Readers will have a chance to participate in two in-person events that will continue the dialogue surrounding Gyasi’s book. 

Kicking things off is a Faculty Salon that will be held on May 4 at the Cowell Hay Barn starting at 6pm. UC Santa Cruz Chancellor Cynthia K. Larive will be joined by Vilashini Cooppan, Professor of Literature and Critical Race and Ethnic Studies, and Gina Athena Ulysse, Professor of Feminist Studies, for what will surely be a lively and insightful discussion of the novel. The Deep Read community is encouraged to attend in person, but there will be a livestream available for those outside of the area. Click here to RSVP. 

Perhaps even more exciting is the event on May 15 at 4pm at the Quarry Amphitheater. The author of Transcendent Kingdom, Yaa Gyasi will be appearing in person for a conversation with UC Santa Cruz Professor Emerita of Literature, and recent recipient of the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from The National Book Foundation, Karen Tei Yamashita. The two acclaimed writers will be discussing a broad range of topics, including the experiences of first-generation students in higher education and the struggles of immigrants seeking to assimilate into American culture. 

Registration for the event with Yaa Gyasi is free, [] but unlike the Faculty Salon, there will be no livestreamed option. If you can attend in person, you don’t want to miss it. 

The 2022 Deep Read Program is made possible through the generous support of the Helen and Will Webster Foundation, and is a product of a close collaboration among a growing group of campus and community partners. For the full list, visit the Deep Read page.

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