Goldcorp Centre for the Arts, 149 West Hastings Street

One Book One SFU: Esi Edugyan & Omar El Akkad Recap

February 10, 2020

By Paige Smith

At the 5th annual One Book One SFU event, authors Esi Edugyan and Omar El Akkad sat down to discuss Edugyan’s newest novel Washington Black. This year’s event took place on January 30th in the Djavad Mowafaghian Cinema at the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts. In partnership with SFU Library and Pulpfiction Books, our office was proud to facilitate this conversation between these two renowned authors. 

The event began with a brief introduction from Edugyan, followed by her reading a passage from Washington Black. The novel is about the friendship between an eleven-year-old field slave from a Barbados sugar plantation and his master’s brother, who happens to be a naturalist, explorer, inventor, and abolitionist. Edugyan reads from the outset of the novel where the young boy describes meeting his new master:

“A man whose has belonged to another learns very early to observe a master’s eyes. What I saw in this man’s terrified me. He owned me, as he owned all those I lived among. Not only our lives, but also our deaths, and that pleased him too much.”

— “Washington Black,” by Esi Edugyan

Esi Edugyan read from her new novel, “Washington Black.“

Edugyan is the author of the novels The Second Life of Samuel TyneHalf-Blood Blues, and Washington Black. Her latest novel, Washington Black, won the Scotiabank Giller Prize and was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize, the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, and the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence.

In conversation with Edugyan was Omar El Akkad, an author and journalist known for his reporting in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay. He is the recipient of a National Newspaper Award for Investigative Journalism and the Goff Penny Award for young journalists. His debut novel, American War, is an international bestseller and has been translated into thirteen languages.

I was left with the highest compliment I can pay a fellow writer which is: ‘how the hell did she do that?’

— Omar El Akkad

El Akkad began the discussion portion of the event by describing his impressions after his first reading of the novel. He explains, “So many things that went into making this book needed to be absolutely perfect to hold up the other things that were making this book — the writing has to be incredibly beautiful to hold up the amount of research and to not be overwhelmed by it, the research has to be exhaustive to make the book work. I was left with the highest compliment I can pay a fellow writer which is: ‘how the hell did she do that?'”

The two discussed topics such as Edugyan’s research process, how she built setting within the book, and the theme of emotional aftereffects her characters experience during this time of extreme injustice.

Esi Edugyan signing copies of her book “Washington Black” for readers.

The event concluded with a book signing in the ground floor lobby. Guests could purchase copies of the books from Pulpfiction Books, and then have Edugyan and El Akkad personally sign them.

Check our the video recording of the reading and discussion here:

Check out our future events here.

All photos from this post were taken by Greg Ehlers.

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