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About the Initiative

First Pages is a shared reading initiative. NCH invites all incoming undergraduates to join first-year students across the Northeastern network in reading a selected text of contemporary relevance over the summer. In doing so, students will have a shared experience that can serve as common ground as they form new friendships and make the transition into university life.

During Michaelmas, there will be a series of events linked to the text and the opportunity to participate in a discussion panel. There will also be the opportunity to watch a specially-recorded interview with the author.

Aims

By reading the First Pages text, and participating in related events, students will:

  • Have a point of common reference with students from across different disciplines and programmes and contribute to a common intellectual culture.
  • Analyse and reflect on some of the most pressing challenges in the world today.
  • Understand how the issues portrayed in the text relate to other people or contexts.
  • Be able to consider their own studies in relation to these issues.
  • Develop a sense of agency surrounding the creation of actionable solutions to vital social issues.

About the Book

Transcendent Kingdom tells the story of Gifty, a Ghanaian-American neuroscience student, who is trying to come to terms with the loss of her brother to drug addiction and with her mother’s subsequent depression. Her brother, Nana, is a talented basketball player; but when he is prescribed the opioid OxyContin for a minor injury he is led into a spiralling addiction, through which he loses the support of his community. As a neuroscientist, Gifty is investigating the nature of addiction, trying to learn more about what happens in the brain to cause it, and to develop better treatments. At the same time, she is reflecting on societal causes, including her own experience of racism within her Alabama community, and trying to reconcile her religion with her scientific studies. If humans are the only animals who have transcended their biological kingdom, what are the problems that are caused by that exceptional status? And can humans, from that same privileged position, find the solutions?

About the Author

Yaa Gyasi was born in Ghana and raised in Alabama. She moved to the United States as a young child when her father began his PhD and subsequently became a professor of French. Gyasi studied English at Stanford University, and creative writing at the University of Iowa. Her first novel, Homegoing, published in 2016, focuses on the differing fates of members of an Asante family across time, from colonial Ghana to the present. Transcendent Kingdom is her second novel, which was published in 2020. Gyasi worked with her neuroscientist friend Christina Kim to ensure that the scientific dimensions of the novel are accurate.

Introduction to the Novel

In the video below, Dr Peter Maber, Lead on Academic Engagement, introduces the novel, highlighting some of its many dimensions, and discusses some related questions with current NCH students.

Events

Throughout Michaelmas, there will be a series of events which students can watch, attend, and contribute to. These include:

  • ‘Keynote Talk by Yaa Gyasi’ 8th September, 1am (online)

Award winning author, Yaa Gyasi, will discuss the experiences that led her to write Transcendent Kingdom. Moderated by Professor N. Fadeke Castor, College of Social Sciences and Humanities, Northeastern University, with a special welcome from Provost David Madigan.

Link: https://portal.stretchinternet.com/northeastern/portal.htm?eventId=653282&streamType=video

Password:  FP2021GYASI

  • ‘Faith and Science: Mindfulness Training’ Hosted by Alexander Kern & Sagar Rajpal. 16th September, 5pm (online)

Transcendent Kingdom reveals how both faith and neuroscience can result in our better understanding of human health and wellness. In this 1-hr experiential training, you will explore the concept and origins of mindfulness and learn how it can support wellness and offer greater clarity and balance for problem-solving, decision-making, and improved relationships.

  • ‘New Pages: A Discussion on Exploring Identities’ Hosted by Cinqué Dunham-Carson. 7th October, 11pm (Online)

Gifty’s first years as an undergraduate student was an important (and tumultuous) moment of discovery in her life. The university experience is a great arena to discover, discard, and re-imagine various aspects of one’s many identities. This will be a student-led discussion on the opportunities and challenges of identity as an undergraduate learner, inspired by themes of Transcendent Kingdom.

  • ‘Wicked Conversations: On Identity, Intersectionality, and Ideology’. Hosted by Dr Peter Maber and Dr Riyukta Raghunath. 3rd November, 7pm (Online)

Wicked problems are social or cultural problems that are difficult to explain and inherently impossible to solve. Drs. Maber and Raghunath will host an online multidisciplinary panel discussion focussing on ‘wicked’ problems arising from Transcendent Kingdom. Touching on topics such as identity and ideology, this session takes an intellectual approach by engaging in meaningful dialogue that embraces empathy and mutual respect.