Recap: Esi Edugyan [Henry Kreisel Memorial Lecture 2013, Edmonton, AB]

This recap was originally posted on my blog Winter Distractions in April 2013. Seeing as that blog will be no more in 2014, I wanted to share it here. 

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On Tuesday night, I was lucky enough to attend the 2013 Henry Kreisel Memorial Lecture at the Timms Centre for the Arts in Edmonton, Alberta. Each year, a Canadian author is asked to present a lecture, this year’s author being Esi Edugyan, the author of the Giller Prize winning book, Half-Blood Blues.

Esi signing our books.

Esi signing our books.

Esi Edugyan is a new author to me. In fact, I hadn’t intended on reading Half-Blood Blues until Laura, a fellow Edmonton book blogger (over at Reading In Bed), informed me of the event. Seeing that I could go, I promptly picked up a copy of the book and spent a day and a half reading — and falling in love with — it. Finishing it on Monday afternoon, I was more than excited to see Esi speak.

The lecture that Esi gave was on home, titled “Don’t Turn Back: Observations on Home.” I thought it was a beautiful lecture about something that we all think of — what is home? Is home who we are? Where we were born? Where we live? Is home an idea? From the programme:

“In my lecture I will talk about home as here, home as over there, and home as nowhere. But at the heart of my talk is the firm belief that telling stories about other places, other lives, other experiences, is one of the ways we struggle to understand who we are. Every farewell carries the promise of a return.”

One of the things I really enjoyed about the lecture was the stories that Esi told about growing up in Canada, her travels throughout Canada and the world, and going to Ghana (the home of her parents and ancestors) to visit her grandmother. I also loved how she’d relate passages from her book Half-Blood Blues (as well as a bit from The Second Life of Samuel Tyne) to her ideas of home, sharing with her listeners the characters’ struggle to find their home.

After the lecture, Laura and I were lucky enough to meet Esi and get our books signed (sadly, Audrey’s Books did not have copies of Esi’s first book for sale — I had been hoping to pick up a copy). Esi was absolutely delightful and full of smiles. I asked her if she liked jazz, since the characters of Half-Blood Blues are part of a jazz band, and she said that she never used to, but she grew to like it while writing the book.

As I drove home, I started thinking about my own thoughts on home and realized that it’s something I see questioned and talked about all the time, from my favourite songs, poems, and literature.

A few examples:

Home is wherever I’m with you.” (from the song, Home, by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros)

For the two of us, home isn’t a place. It is a person. And we are finally home.” (from the book Anna and the French Kiss, by Stephanie Perkins)

Everywhere is home.” (from the poem, Soliloquy, by Sarah Slean)

To me, I feel like home can be so many things. It can be where I rest my head, it can be the people I love, it can be this beautiful country I’m so lucky to live in. I love how Esi’s lecture showed me that I can learn more about home through the literature I read ABOUT where I come from, or where I live. I’m especially eager to not only see if this theme is prominent in her first book, but to think about it more in the books that I read.

Image from Goodreads.

Image from Goodreads.

About Esi Edugyan: 

Esi Edugyan has a Masters in Writing from Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars. Her work has appeared in several anthologies, including Best New American Voices 2003, ed. Joyce Carol Oates, and Revival: An Anthology of Black Canadian Writing (2006).

Her debut novel, The Second Life of Samuel Tyne, was published internationally. It was nominated for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, was a More Book Lust selection, and was chosen by the New York Public Library as one of 2004’s Books to Remember.

Edugyan has held fellowships in the US, Scotland, Iceland, Germany, Hungary, Finland, Spain and Belgium. She has taught creative writing at both Johns Hopkins University and the University of Victoria, and has sat on many international panels, including the LesART Literary Festival in Esslingen, Germany, the Budapest Book Fair in Hungary, and Barnard College in New York City.

She currently lives in Victoria, British Columbia.

More about Esi Edugyan: WEB | GOODREADS

Have you read Half-Blood Blues? What does home mean to you?

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One thought on “Recap: Esi Edugyan [Henry Kreisel Memorial Lecture 2013, Edmonton, AB]

  1. Pingback: Reading in Bed Year in Review #3: Life Lessons | Reading in Bed

My home is where my books are. - Ellen Thompson

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