16 October 2020
For Black History Month, we’re flooding our news feed with profiles of our black authors, past and present. In the fourth of the series, Publicity and Marketing Assistant Elizabeth Hitti writes about the international literary star, Esi Edugyan.
ESI EDUGYAN | WASHINGTON BLACK
‘Destined to become a future classic … that rare book that should appeal to every kind of reader’ Guardian
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2018
Winner of the Giller Prize 2018
Shortlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award 2020
Finalist for the Carnegie Medal 2019 and the Rogers Writers Trust Fiction Prize 2018
Longlisted for the Walter Scott Prize 2019
New York Times Top Ten Book of the Year 2018
Sunday Times Paperback of the Year 2019
Esi Edugyan tells the story of the outliers of both society and history and in doing so, gives a voice to characters in liminal spaces whose stories have not been told. At least, not from their perspective. Esi compels readers to see the humanity of figures who are different from themselves, and she is unrelenting in her honesty and vivid portrayal of her characters’ lives. Immersing the reader in their experiences and perspectives, Esi compels us to share in their emotions, desires, fears and pain. She forces us to acknowledge the darkness we are capable of internalising; she makes us question our identities; and she induces us to consider the value of physical and psychological freedom.
Washington Black follows the life an eleven-year-old field slave who is selected as personal servant to the eccentric master of a Barbados sugar plantation who dreams of perfecting an aerial machine. Wash soon finds himself in mortal danger and making his way alone, following the promise of freedom further than he ever dreamed possible.
The Second Life of Samuel Tyne is the tale of a man who moves his reluctant family to a grand but crumbling house in a new town, seizing his chance for a new beginning, but soon finding the faultlines in this dream. When his daughters’ school friend comes to stay and nearly drowns in mysterious circumstances, and then a series of fires around the town go unexplained, Samuel and his wife must face up to the secrets within their own family, secrets that threaten to completely tear apart the life they have built.
In Half Blood Blues, Esi Edugyan weaves the horror of betrayal, the burden of loyalty and the possibility that, if you don’t tell your story, someone else might tell it for you. And they just might tell it wrong…
Vivid. Political. Beautiful. Exhilarating. Adventurous. Captivating. Dark. Necessary. Esi Edugyan’s writing cannot be described with one word, nor should it. Her work can only be expressed and understood through the reading.
Faith Plantation, Barbados, 1830
The first man to emerge, carrying his hat in his hands, had black hair and a long, horselike jaw, his eyes darkened by heavy brows. He raised his face as he descended and peered around at the estate and the men and women gathered there. Then I saw him stride back to the curious object and walk around it, inspecting the ropes and canvas. Cradling a hand to his eyes, he turned, and for a frightening moment I felt his gaze on me. He was chewing some soft-textured thing, his jaw working a little. He did not look away.
But it was the second man, the sinister man in white, who seized my attention. This was our new master – we all could see it at once. He was tall, impatient, sickly, his legs bending away from each other like calipers. Under his three-cornered white hat a shock of white hair burst forth. I had a sense of pale eyelashes, an uncooked pallor to his skin. A man who has belonged to another learns very early to observe a master’s eyes; what I saw in this man’s terrified me. He owned me, as he owned all those I lived among, not only our lives but also our deaths, and that pleased him too much. His name was Erasmus Wilde.
I felt a shudder go through Big Kit. I understood. His slick white face gleamed, the clean white folds of his clothes shone impossibly bright, like a duppy, a ghost. I feared he could vanish and reappear at will; I feared he must feed on blood to keep himself warm; I feared he could be anywhere and not visible to us, and so I went about my work in silence. I had already seen many deaths: I knew the nature of evil. It was white like a duppy, it drifted down out of a carriage one morning and into the heat of a frightened plantation with nothing in its eyes.
It was then, I believe now, that Big Kit determined, calmly and with love, to kill herself and me.