After its inception in 2004, the Deschutes Public Library Foundation's "A Novel Idea" concept is no longer, well, novel—but it continues to be a forum that brings people together under the noble banner of reading good literature.
When I picked up a copy of the 2017 Novel Idea selection, "Homegoing," by Ghanian-American author Yaa Gyasi, and began reading the first few pages, my initial thoughts were: "What are readers in far-flung Oregon going to get out of a story about the Transatlantic slave trade, Ghana and early black Americans?" The answer: Answers.
Too often, the first question out of people's mouths when talking about intergenerational poverty and the effects of the slave trade is: 'It happened a long time ago. Why don't they just get over it?'
As I continued to read, it became clear, at least in my mind, that this book (and its selection for Novel Idea) was intended to address that ongoing question—salient for a community so often touted as "mostly white." If the ethnic makeup we read about in Deschutes County Census data makes us feel insulated from the history and challenges of the wider world—and to the stories of people of color in our own community—it shouldn't.
The story starts with two sisters in Ghana, one sold into slavery and moved to the United States; the other married off to a slave trader closer to home. From there, we see the subsequent generations face the challenges of their time, including the freeing of American slaves, followed quickly by the imprisonment and forced labor of black Americans, and later their widespread migration to urban centers and the press of poverty and drug abuse. Following the thread of this family helps us see how we inherit the stories of those who came before us—and how the notion of "just getting over it" is not so simple. If you haven't checked out your copy of "Homegoing" from the Deschutes Public Library, there's still time—but it's running out. Author Yaa Gyasi is visiting Bend May 7. Tickets go on sale Friday, and presentations related to the event are happening each week until the event. Check DeschutesLibrary.org for a full list of events.
A Novel Idea: Author Yaa Gyasi
Sunday, May 7
Bend High School
230 NE 6th St, Bend
Tickets on sale Apr. 15