Let me start by saying diversity and literature go hand in hand.
- Diversity is the foundation to learn new perspectives from literature.
- Literature proves the value and necessity of diversity.
We are coming full circle here, people.
Diversity wasn’t really part of my upbringing, though. I grew up in a mostly white community and knew very few people who looked or lived differently than I did. I don’t even remember talking to a person of color until high school. Even then, my school was mostly white kids. On top of that, I barely knew any non-Christians or non-straight people. I definitely didn’t know anyone from the trans community.
That changed a bit when I went to college. I was definitely one of those people, though, who had one or two black friends and thought that made me an ally and not racist. I would even say that out loud. “Oh she’s my black friend.” And I shamefully remember commenting once that one of these women didn’t “act black.” I’m embarrassed now to write that and of my 20-year-old self, and I feel immense guilt.
Thank God for growth, for New York, and for literature.
- What: Homegoing
- Who: Yaa Gyasi (debut novel)
- Pages: 300
- Genre: Historical fiction
- Subgenre: African American studies
- Published: 2016
- The lit: of 5 flames
Remember those early English classes where the teacher would write “protagonist” and “antagonist” on the board and stress their significance to every story? There was always a conflict between the two, but then sometimes the story really threw you for a loop and gave you a bad protagonist. I’m pretty sure certain stories were chosen in elementary curriculum to illustrate this mere fact: Your main character doesn’t have to be a good person (as if a story’s cast is that obtuse and lacks complexity). And wait a minute. Could an object, and not a human or dog, be the antagonist or protagonist? I swan.
Well, Yaa Gyasi must have taken issue with that literature lesson because her debut novel Homegoing employs neither protagonist nor antagonist. Although the story plays host to many actors, not one takes center stage. I didn’t have a chance to choose sides, despise someone, wish they would act differently, love a little harder. Homegoing didn’t rely on a central character or plot to lead me; it rests instead on a historical arc, one that lasts about two centuries.