Go Big Read

Go Big Read Keynote Presentation – An Evening With Yaa Gyasi

Wed., Nov. 3, 2021

Memorial Union – Shannon Hall

7:00 p.m.



Good evening.  I am Chancellor Rebecca Blank and I’m delighted to be here, and to welcome all of you to our 2021 Go Big Read celebration!


It takes a lot of people working behind the scenes to organize this big book club every year.  I’d like to thank two individuals who have led the effort:


  • Lisa Carter, Vice Provost for University Libraries, and
  • Sheila Stoeckel, who coordinates Go Big Read and directs our Library Teaching & Learning programs.


Thank you both!


Getting to choose the Go Big Read book each year is one of the best parts of my job.  I chose Transcendent Kingdom for several reasons.


First, it’s about how we figure out who we are and where we belong – which is a central part of the experience of being a college student.  And it doesn’t end with graduation —  we continue to write and re-write our stories, folding new experiences and goals into our identity.


Second, this book touches on themes of race, immigration, mental illness, science, and faith – all salient topics.  Transcendent Kingdom offers insights into how these issues intersect, and how they affect our responses when there’s a crisis.


Third, it’s been a number of years since we had a novel as our Go Big Read selection.  Readers were very enthusiastic about this year’s choice – perhaps because everyone’s had enough ‘reality’ in the past two years.  This is the right moment to be immersed in a great story .


We distributed 7,000 copies of Transcendent Kingdom to new students at Convocation.  More than 150 course sections are now using it in their curriculum, from freshmen to graduate and professional students, in departments ranging from art history to chemistry to kinesiology.


Outside the classroom, we’re engaging with the book in many different ways.  For example:


  • Wisconsin Speech and Debate held a competition called “Go Big Read, Then Speak,” in which students gave a persuasive speech or interpretive performance related to the book.
  • And our weekly Africa at Noon lecture series held a panel discussion of the book’s African literature themes.


Community groups in Dane County and around the state are also reading and discussing this book.  It’s been checked out or downloaded from the Madison Public Library more than 2,000 times in the last 6 months, and there’s a waiting list of more than 200 people.


It’s great to see so many members of the community joining us, along with students, faculty, and staff.


We’re in for a fascinating discussion this evening, and we’ll have some time for Q&A with the author.  But first let me tell you a bit about her.


Yaa Gyasi was born in Ghana and grew up in Alabama.  As a child she loved to read and write.  In fact, her literary success may have been foretold when she submitted a story to the Reading Rainbow Young Writers Contest and received a certificate signed by LeVar Burton himself!


She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree at Stanford and an MFA from the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop.  And when she was just 26 years old, she published her award-winning debut novel, “Homegoing,” inspired by her first visit to Ghana since moving to the U.S. as a child.


She has said that fiction gives us “the opportunity to step into the consciousness of other people….The more fiction that we read, the more opportunities we have to think about people fully [and] differently … the better off we always will be.”


Joining her in discussion this evening is Professor Ainehi Edoro-Glines, who is on the faculty in our English Department.  Professor Edoro-Glines was born in Nigeria and is an expert in African literature, political theory, and social media.  She is the founder of a literary blog called Brittle Paper that has grown into a notable platform for African writing and literary culture.


Please join me in a warm welcome for Yaa Gyasi and Professor Edoro-Glines.