Most writers hope their new book will get some attention—a review, maybe, or an author profile. But getting attention hasn’t exactly been a problem for Esi Edugyan. Not only is she one of six authors shortlisted for the prestigious £50,000 UK Man Booker Prize, but she is also one of six authors on the $50,000 Giller Prize shortlist and one of five authors up for the $25,000 Writers’ Trust fiction award. That makes a trifecta of shorlists for her second novel, Half-Blood Blues, published in Canada by Thomas Allen.
“It’s amazing, like nothing you could expect,” says Edugyan, a former Department of Writing sessional instructor and graduate of UVic’s Department of Writing. Half-Blood Blues is set in the world of black jazz musicians in Nazi Germany and occupied Paris, and has been described by award-winning Book of Negroes author Lawrence Hill as “a truly beautiful novel . . . both taut and expansive, like great jazz [with] exquisite language throughout.”
With a Masters in Writing from Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars, Edugyan’s work has appeared in several anthologies, including Best New American Voices 2003 and Revival: An Anthology of Black Canadian Writing (2006). Her debut novel, The Second Life of Samuel Tyne, was published internationally and was nominated for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, was a More Book Lust selection, and was chosen by the New York Public Library as one of 2004’s Books to Remember. 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. She is also the wife of fellow UVic Writing instructor Steven Price, with whom she had their first child in August 2011.
Edugyan is philosophical when asked if she felt pressure to follow up her first novel with something equally powerful. “I was only 24 when my first book came out, and I felt a lot of pressure and felt quite tossed around in the publishing industry,” she says. “But now, I just feel grateful. I honestly don’t feel any great pressure to produce something that people will love or will get me critical acclaim. There’s no formula; you just do what you like and write what you want to write. I don’t think anybody can predict in this business what’s going to do well. Things become popular that you would never think would become popular; something that worked last fall won’t necessarily work next year. You just do what you do.”
Given the reception Half-Blood Blues has been getting, Edugyan is doing just fine doing what she does.
The winner of the Man Booker Prize is announced October 18, with the winner of the Writer’s Trust Award announced November 1 and the Giller Prize announced November 8.