Esi Edugyan is still taking it all in.
“I don’t know what to anticipate really,” Edugyan says. “This is the first time anything this large has ever happened to me, so I’m just going with it and seeing what happens, and really I’m just thrilled.”
The thrills are the result of Edugyan’s inclusion on the longlist for the Man Booker prize, one of the most prestigious literary awards in the world. The £50,000 ($77,000 CDN) prize recognizes the best novel of the year written by a citizen of the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland.
This year’s longlist, known as the “Booker Dozen,” features three Canadian authors including Edugyan, who calls Victoria home. The writer is nominated for her second novel, Half-Blood Blues.
For Edugyan, the recognition is a validation of sorts. After her manuscript for a novel about a pianist failed to garner any attention from publishers, the author had to recommit to her craft.
“I thought, ‘okay, I’m a writer, it’s an inescapable fate, there’s no getting out of it,’” Edugyan says, “even though in the back of your head you’re thinking ‘I’m not that old, maybe I could still study law or medicine or something.’”
Fast forward to last week’s longlist annoucement, and it’s clear the effort was worthwhile. Edugyan has experienced a flurry of emotions since hearing the news.
“I had a few days where I didn’t believe it,” she says. “You’re just sitting there in shock and you’re not thinking about it and then it’ll just occur to you at some point in the day and you’re like, ‘Oh, my God!’ Now I’m just at this place where I’m so happy and content.”
Half-Blood Blues tells the story of a mixed-race German jazz musician during World War II, and his friends’ discovery some fifty years later of the truth behind his disappearance.
Edugyan’s inspiration for the story sprung from a year-long residency in a 17th-century castle at the Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart, Germany.
“I’d come across an article on – some people called them the ‘Rhineland bastards’ – the children of African soldiers and German women, maybe a few years earlier,” Edugyan says. “Just being in Germany I ended up setting aside what I was working on and just looking more and more into the history of black people in those times.”
Setting the novel in the jazz world was a natural fit for music-loving Edugyan.
“It’s so different from any other form of music, how it developed,” she says. “Transplanting that over to Europe, where it was almost this form of resistance when the Nazis came to power — all that is so fascinating to me.”
If being nominated for such a prestigious award wasn’t exciting enough for Edugyan, she’s also eight months pregnant with her first child. All in all, the next few months promise to be full of surprises.
“I very much wonder how (motherhood) will change my writing,” Edugyan says. “I’m sure I’ll have a whole different perspective.”
Half-Blood Blues has already been released in the U.K., and will go on sale in Canada Sept. 24.
The Man Booker longlist will be shortened to six on Sept. 6, with the winner being announced Oct. 18.