Nadia Owusu was in graduate school, trying to write a novel. One day, late for an assignment, she showed her teacher instead a chapter of what she’d been working on “as a private project, just for myself.” The feedback was immediate. “They said, ‘stop writing the novel. This is where the heat is. It’s a completely different kind of writing that you’re doing.’”
That project became “Aftershocks,” a memoir published this month that chronicles Owusu’s childhood. Raised by her Ghanaian father and Tanzanian stepmother after being abandoned by her Armenian American mother when very little, Owusu grew up all over — Ethiopia, Italy, Uganda, England — seldom staying anywhere more than a few years.
“I had this idea in my mind that I needed to work to understand my life and my family,” said Owusu, who recalled writing stories as a child and submitting them to her father. “He was actually my first editor. He would give me feedback.”
Threaded throughout the book are the images of fault lines, shocks, and aftershocks. “A lot of the pieces that I was writing had earthquakes in them, or earthquake metaphors in them. It wasn’t something I was necessarily conscious of,” said Owusu, a recipient of the Whiting Award for writing. “I’ve had this sort of obsession with earthquakes. I think they just kind of crept into a lot of the pieces and the narrative.”
Among the aftershocks of her international childhood was moving to New York to attend college, and living through 9/11 shortly thereafter. The book maps journeys through trauma, grief, depression, and finding a sense of home.
“What I was trying to do was write myself to some kind of connection,” said Owusu, “A big part of what I’ve been meditating on lately is how much of making a home is about community, responsibility to community, connection to community. And so in the last decade I’ve been really intentional about that. And that has made New York feel more like home.”
Nadia Owusu will read at 6 p.m. Tuesday in a virtual event hosted by the New England Historic Genealogical Society as part of their American Inspiration author series. Visit www.americanancestors.org to register.
Kate Tuttle, a freelance writer and critic, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.