A rigorously interrogative, poetic, cataclysmic, and genre-bending work of intertwined literary memoir and cultural history that grapples with the fault lines of identity, the meaning of home and ‘mother,’ black womanhood, and the ripple effects, both personal and generational, of emotional trauma
by Nadia Owusu
Simon & Schuster, TBA
Writer Nadia Owusu grew up in Rome, Addis Ababa, Kampala, Dar-es-Salaam, Kumasi, and London. Her father, who worked for a UN agency and died when she was thirteen, was Ghanaian; his family originally descended from Ashanti royalty. Her mother, from whom she was estranged for fifteen years, and who abandoned Nadia and her sister when Nadia was two years old, is Armenian by descent; her family survived the Armenian Genocide. Her stepmother, who raised Nadia, her sister, and her half-brother after her father’s death and after her mother’s failure to return for the funeral, is Tanzanian. Nadia’s mother moved to America after leaving Nadia and her sister, where she remarried and had more children, who are Armenian-Somali-American. Nadia herself came to America for the first time when she was eighteen, for university. Thirty-six year old Nadia Owusu has, at different points in her life, felt stateless, motherless, and identity-less. At other points in her life, she has felt too full of states (emotional, mental, and literal), griefs, mothers, and identities of which to keep track without cracking under the pressure of trying to hold herself together. It’s no wonder that her efforts led to what she calls fault lines, or fissures, in her own sense of self. It’s no wonder that those fault lines eventually ruptured. The book now in your possession, AFTERSHOCKS, is the way she hauled herself out of the wreckage of her life’s perpetual quaking, how she finally understood that the only ground firm enough to count on was the one she wrote into existence for herself.
Through the lens of the author’s own experience, the book touches on everything from the history of Uganda’s national fight against AIDS, to a close reading of Pilate Dead’s missing navel in Song of Solomon as related to ‘third culture’ people, to the origin of the use of the words ‘hakuna matata’ as related to Tanzanian culture, to Ghana’s fraught history with colonialism, and more, all in service to piecing together Nadia’s fractured sense of identity. As you may have guessed from the title, the author employs an overarching metaphor of an earthquake’s many stages to organize intellectually the various vignettes and emotional layers of personal and cultural history encompassed within these pages.
Nadia Owusu is a Brooklyn-based writer and urban planner, leading research and racial equity at Living Cities, an economic racial justice organization. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The New York Times, LUMINA (second place winner of the 2017 nonfiction contest judged by Leslie Jamison), Catapult, The Cossack Review, Columbia Journal, The Huffington Post, Assignment (winner of the 2016 MFA student contest), The Rumpus, and Gulf Coast (honorary mention for the 2017 Gulf Coast Prize). She is a graduate of Pace University (BA), Hunter College (MS), and the Mountainview MFA program, where she won the Robert J. Begeibing Prize for exceptional work.