About The Author
Esi Edugyan lives in Victoria, British Columbia. She has a Masters in Writing from Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars. Her work has appeared in several anthologies, including Best New American Voices 2003, edited Joyce Carol Oates and Revival: An Anthology of Black Canadian Writing.
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.
Her debut novel, The Second Life of Samuel Tyne, was nominated for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award and was chosen by the New York Public Library as one of 2004's Books to Remember.
Her second novel, Half Blood Blues, was shortlisted for the 2011 Man Booker Prize and won the Scotiabank Giller Prize.
In Berlin in 1939, a briliant young trumpet player, Hieronymus, is arrested in a Paris cafe; he is never heard form again. He was twenty years old, a German citizen and black. Fifty years later, the only witness that day still refuses to speak of what he saw. When his friend and fellow band member comes to visit, recounting the discovery of a strange letter, Sid begins a slow journey towards redemption, through a fascinating little-known world and into the heart of his own guilty conscience.
In this interview, Esi talks about the trip to Germany that was the inspiration for the novel, the lack of information about the fate of Germany's black population under the Nazis and finding out she had made the Man Booker Prize longlist in the middle of the night.
Below the interview is a list of titles by Esi Edugyan currently in print in the UK. You may find other editions in our 'New and Used' section by typing the author's name into the Search field at the top of this page and selecting the 'Author Exact' filter to the far right of the Search field.
With thanks to the Man
Booker Prize. For more
and about the Prize and
other Man Booker awards,
please visit the official website.
Questions & Answers
Congratulations on being longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Can you tell us where you were when you found out and how you reacted?
Thank you! I was sleeping, actually, it was still quite early here. The phone had been ringing and ringing and my husband finally went up to check the messages. Needless to say, when he came down and woke me up with the news I was astonished and thrilled. The entire moment felt like a dream. It still feels like a dream. I keep thinking I might wake up.
Half Blood Blues is partially set in Berlin and Paris at the start of WWII. Can you tell us a bit more about what drew you to this period? Were there stories from this epoch which inspired you to write the novel?
Between the publication of my first novel and this one, I lived in and traveled widely throughout Europe. Most of my time was spent in Germany, first a year in the south, in Stuttgart, and later on two months in a little Northern town. As a black woman, I began to wonder about the experience of black people who had lived in Germany in the past, specifically during the Third Reich. The novel grew out of this.
How easy was it to explore issues of race in Europe at that time?
Not especially easy, no. There still are so few sources specifically about black people under the Third Reich. I did find a few excellent books, the best of which are listed as further reading in the back of the novel.
But the lack of sources was liberating, too, in its way - it left plenty of room for the imagination. Of course, sadly, many of the malignant aspects of race hatred continue to manifest themselves in the ways they always have. The attack by Nazis described in the book could be set in any number of places today.
Chip and Sid's friendship is core to the novel. How did you explore this long relationship? Did you have a clear idea of how it would shift and evolve?
Chip and Sid's friendship was always at the centre of the historical story, but oddly enough in the novel's first draft Chip was largely absent from the 1992 storyline. The layering of that friendship only came about in the rewriting. Though, in truth, it became difficult to keep Chip out of Sid's life - he was always popping up unexpectedly, small and stubborn and offensive. I guess the novel understood, even before I did, that it was going to be about friendship - the kind of irritations old friends can embody, as well as their enormous and powerful capacity for forgiveness. I do think there's something very unequaled about that kind of mercy.
You wrote your first novel when you were only 25. Did you always know you wanted to write?
Well, 25 didn't feel like 'only' 25, at the time. I'd been writing that first novel for years, and was already tired. It's only now that it seems to me rather young. I guess I'd known at a very early age that I wanted to write. I was always obsessed with reading. When I was eighteen I decided to study journalism; I lasted all of one semester. In the end, I think I was just too shy. I could never approach people for quotes. So, not a journalist. I turned my attention to poetry and fiction.
What are you working on next?
Another novel. After I finish one, I'm always so exhausted that my instinct is to write something radically different, like lawnmower instruction manuals or advertisements for toothpaste or something. Or to give up writing entirely. But, somehow, I'm always eventually drawn back in.