Author Profile: Esi Edugyan

In 2018, we profiled some of the authors who participated in the 39th edition of the Festival. After this profile was published, Esi Edugyan won the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize for Washington Black which made her the first author to win the prize for back-to-back titles.

2011’s Half-Blood Blues announced Esi Edugyan as one of Canada’s top writing talents; earning nominations for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, the Governor General’s Literary Award for English language fiction and the Man Booker Prize; and winning the Scotiabank Giller Prize all in the same year. The book’s incredible success marked a new chapter in Edugyan’s career following an arduous struggle to secure a publishing deal for a since-abandoned novel that she originally planned on writing after The Second Life of Samuel Tyne, her 2004 debut.

At one point, the Calgary-born author even considered abandoning writing and taking up an entirely new career. In fact, as a high school student, her first dream job was to be a visual artist, but Edugyan slowly turned her attention to the written word as she experimented with poetry. Her raw talent was discovered and nurtured by a teacher who encouraged Edugyan to pursue a career in writing by studying at the University of Victoria. Edugyan first resolved to become a journalist, but only stuck with it for one semester before deciding that her true calling was fiction.

Though The Second Life of Samuel Tyne found success as a shortlist nominee for the 2005 Hurston-Wright Legacy Award, Edugyan’s unpublished second manuscript left her unsure about her place in the industry moving forward. Still, Edugyan felt that she ultimately owed it to herself and to her family to follow through with at least one more novel, especially given all the offers she was receiving for residencies abroad. She subsequently accepted a writer-in-residency position in Stuttgart, Germany.

During this time period she became fascinated by the country’s history, and in particular, the experiences of Black Germans under Nazi rule. Edugyan subsequently scrapped the novel she was already working on and instead focused her efforts on Half-Blood Blues.

Edugyan has stated that the writing process for the book had a profound and lasting effect on her creative habits: a newfound appreciation for listening to music while writing, for example, in addition to a broader interest in exploring obscure historical narratives as in the case of her 2018 release, Washington Black, for which she has once again been nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Man Booker Prize.

Enjoyed this profile? You can now listen to the first episode of the TIFA Backlist’s second season featuring our 2018 event with Esi Edugyan and Meg Wolitzer (The Female Persuasion)! Both authors read from their newly released novels before being interviewed on stage by the Toronto Star’s Books Editor Deborah Dundas.