Interviews

‘I couldn’t imagine having a life where books weren’t important’: Yaa Gyasi + Claire Fuller

Photo of the Women's Prize for Fiction Virtual Shortlist Festival

Missed the second night of our Virtual Shortlist Festival? Catch up on the highlights below!

On the second night of our Virtual Shortlist Festival, novelist and Women’s Prize Founder Director Kate Mosse hosted two more of our shortlisted authors, Claire Fuller (Unsettled Ground) and Yaa Gyasi (Transcendent Kingdom) with powerful readings from actors Juliet Stevenson and Zawe Ashton. The authors spoke about the social issues found in their novels as well as the role of the mother and daughter relationships and lastly, the importance of reading to their respective journeys of becoming writers.  

The event began with a poignant reading from Unsettled Ground performed by Olivier Award winning actor Juliet Stevenson

Claire Fuller then reflected on how in order to understand her main character, Jeanie, she needed to explore the relationship with Jeanie’s mother: ‘Jeanie, the female twin, came first. To understand her, I wanted to understand a little bit about her mother. I wanted to write a good mother but she loves her children to such an extent that she turns into a bad mother, really.’

Claire Fuller also acknowledged the untold stories of rural isolation and poverty in the United Kingdom and how the exploration of this important issue affected her research process: ‘Rural poverty was not something that I knew much about. I’ve since discovered that very few people do. Once I found it isn’t really discussed, I did lots of research and tried to find out more about the issues that people, who live in the way that Jeanie is forced to live, face.’

Following this discussion, actor Zawe Ashton performed an incredible reading from Yaa Gyasi’s Transcendent Kingdom.

The theme of social issues continued during Yaa Gyasi’s interview  as the depiction of addiction and the American opioid crisis is integral to Transcendent Kingdom. She explained: ‘At the time of writing, the opioid crisis was being reported on near-daily. I found the reporting to be very moving and willing to look at the effects, not only on the people with addiction but the families, too. It was the first time we were seeing an interrogation of the role of pharmaceutical companies in creating this crisis. I wanted to add my voice to the chorus but from the perspective of a black family.’

Yaa Gyasi also spoke of the complicated relationship between Gifty and her mother: ‘For me, the mother and daughter relationship was always central. I find it compelling to think about how the daughter finds herself fitting into the mould that her mother has left behind.’

The Women’s Prize for Fiction continues to draw audiences of all ages; a highlight from the live Q&A included a question from 8-year-old Florence, who asked what made Claire Fuller and Yaa Gyasi start writing.

Both authors reflected on the importance of reading in their journeys to becoming writers. 

Claire Fuller reminded the audience you can start writing at any age: ‘It just never occurred to me that I could be a writer. I thought that writers were special and unique. You can start at 8, 48 or later’. She added: ‘Reading is really important. I wouldn’t be a writer if I hadn’t been a reader first.’

Yaa Gyasi talked about how her childhood passion for reading influenced her career as a writer: ‘I loved reading so much as a child that I couldn’t imagine having a life where books weren’t very important.’

The evening closed with a delightful anecdote about Claire Fuller’s method for choosing a title: ‘I cut up tiny words from the book, shuffled them around on my desk – it was a very physical job! Unsettled and Ground sat well together and I thought, that’s it.’

Want to watch the event in full? Watch it here:

There is one more exciting opportunity to join our fantastic virtual shortlist events on Wednesday 16th June. The final event features the two remaining authors on our shortlist Patricia Lockwood and Cherie Jones as well as internationally acclaimed actors reading extracts from the shortlisted books. You will have the opportunity to ask the authors questions in a live Q&A session, chaired by Kate Mosse, Founder Director of the Women’s Prize for Fiction and bestselling novelist.

(Each event will be made available to watch on-demand the following day, so if you can’t make every night live, you can still attend!)

Wednesday 16th June, 7.30 pm BST: Patricia Lockwood + Cherie Jones, chaired by Kate Mosse, featuring readings from actors Hayley Atwell + Jade Anouka

Buy your ticket now >

*Once you have bought a ticket for the Virtual Shortlist Festival, on each day of the programme you will receive an automatic Eventbrite email containing a new Zoom link allowing you to access that night’s event.

(Lovely photo courtesy of audience member @TheBadgerWrites)

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