Yaa Gyasi’s Transcendent Kingdom was partly inspired by watching her friend perform surgery on rodents.
The author talked about the background behind her critically acclaimed novel with Seth Meyers on the comedian’s Late Night show, revealing that a friend helped her with the scientific aspects of the book, which follows a graduate student in neuroscience.
“My best friend is a neuroscientist and around the time that I finished Homegoing, she was working toward a final thesis, and she had a major paper that was due to be published,” Gyasi said. “I tried to read that paper, could not understand a single sentence of it. And so I shadowed her in the lab, watched her perform surgery on mice, and just found it so fascinating that I knew I wanted to research it a little more so I could write about it.”
Her friend read drafts of the novel for Gyasi, and answered the author’s questions about neuroscience.
“Probably so, but the book is dedicated to her, so hopefully it made up for that a little,” Gyasi responded.
Transcendent Kingdom was recently chosen by Jenna Bush Hager as the September pick for her #ReadWithJenna Book Club. In a starred review, Kirkus calls it a “quietly poignant story.”
Gyasi also told Meyers it was “bittersweet” to see her 2016 novel Homegoing hit the bestseller charts again this summer as the country began to reckon with racial injustice in the wake of the George Floyd killing.
“It’s always really wonderful to have your book meet new readers, but on the other hand, so many of the books that were hitting the bestseller lists were books that had been around for five, 10, 15, years, and it makes you wonder where was everyone when these books came out,” she said.
Michael Schaub is a Texas-based journalist and regular contributor to NPR.