The First Pages Book

We are pleased to announce the Fall 2021 First Pages book, Transcendent Kingdom, by Yaa Gyasi.

The child of Ghanaian immigrants, Gifty is a sixth-year Ph.D. candidate at the prestigious Stanford University School of Medicine. Her research involves the neuroscience of reward-seeking behavior in mice, and its connection to depression and addiction. However, when her mother slips into a depressive episode that leaves her bedridden, Gifty must come to terms with her family’s past, the loss of a brother to drug addiction, and a childhood faith whose promises remain elusive and unfulfilled.

Transcendent Kingdom is a powerful and transformative story about identity, family, the mystery of the human mind, and humanity’s enduring project of unlocking those mysteries through faith and science.

The Author

Yaa Gyasi was born in Ghana and raised in Huntsville, Alabama. She holds a BA in English from Stanford University and an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she held a Dean’s Graduate Research Fellowship. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Yaa received the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Prize for Best First Book, the American Book Award, the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel, and the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Literature for her 2016 debut novel, Homegoing.

For more information about Yaa, please visit her official bio at Penguin Randomhouse.

How to Prepare

The first step in preparing to take an active role in First Pages is to read the selected book prior to your arrival on campus. Students may purchase a copy of the book from the University Bookstore beginning June 2021. The book is also available at most retailers or can be purchased as an e-book or audiobook.

As you read the selection, remember that one of the goals of First Pages is to help you use the experience of reading the same book to form relationships with other new students and faculty. Come to campus ready to talk with others about your reactions. Think of questions, comments or concerns that you might contribute to the conversation about the book with your new classmates.

Finally, prepare to attend the author’s presentation on Wednesday, September 8, 2020, 8:00 PM (this is a mandatory event for all new students). Author Yaa Gyasi will discuss her work and answer questions about Transcendent Kingdom at this event.


The First Pages Resource Guide is now available! We invite our incoming first-year students to explore the repository of information, articles, and reviews about Transcendent Kingdom, as well as the Northeastern University organizations and experiences that are related to this work!

Contact Information

For information about First Pages, please contact Justin Silvestri at (617) 373-6217:

For information about library resources, please contact Brooke Williams at 617-373-2363: 

Event Information

This year, Author Yaa Gyasi will be virtually present at Northeastern University on Wednesday, September 8, 2020, 8:00pm to speak to the incoming class. It will be moderated by Professor N. Fadeke Castor, Department of Philosophy & Religion / Africana Studies Program (CSSH), with a special welcome from Provost David Madigan. This is a mandatory event for all new students

Since all incoming students will have read Yaa Gyasi’s Transcendent Kingdom, the Department of English’s course First-Year Writing (ENGW 1111) and other classes may use the First Pages book as a common discussion point throughout the first year.

How to get the book

The University Bookstore sells the book. It will be available on June 2021. Most major retailers also carry the book. It can also be purchased as an e-book or audiobook.

Next Pages 2021: Student Programs & Events

Transcendent Kingdom is a powerful story about identity, family, the human mind, and the shared effort by religion and science to explain experience of human life. Gifty’s scientific endeavors, familial life, and examination of faith reveals numerous issues and events that touch upon our own lives and the communities that surround us.

To empower Northeastern students to learn more about these issues and prepare to take action, the University Honors Program invites all Northeastern students to take part in a full semester of Next Pages programming inspired by Transcendent Kingdom. 

Student Conversation with Yaa Gyasi – September 13, 6:30pm EST – Register Here

  • Yaa Gyasi is excited to converse with entering Northeastern students about their impressions and curiosities regarding Transcendent Kingdom.

Health and Wellness Fair September 9, 11am – 1pm, Library Quad

We Wear the Masks: Cultural Context of Mental Health as Depicted in Transcendent Kingdom –  September 14, 28 | October 12, 26 | November 2, 16, 30 | 6:00pm-8:00pm EST – Register Here

  • Professor Vanessa Johnson, Bouvé
  • In this Inside the Honors Studio series, open to all, you will use Transcendent Kingdom and the poem We Wear the Masks by Paul Laurence Dunbar as you work to understand mental illness in the context of culture and racism. Applications are due September 10 for this 6-session experience.

Faith and Science: Mindfulness Training 101 – September 16, 12pm EST – Register Here

  • Executive Director Alexander Kern & Sagar Rajpal, Center for Spirituality, Dialogue and Service
  • 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.

The Hijacked Brain: Delving Deeper into Depression and Addiction – September 20, 2pm EST – Register Here

  • Professor Heather Brenhouse, College of Science
  • In Transcendent Kingdom, Gifty’s family was affected by depression and drug addiction—two diseases that reflect disorders in motivation and reward processing. Dr. Brenhouse will delve into the mechanisms that Gifty investigated in her doctoral research, exploring some of the brain and body (yes, body) circuits that control our experience of, and responses to, rewarding stimuli in our environment. You’ll explore how the stress of immigration and racism can ignite psychiatric illnesses.

Next Pages Writers’ Workshop – September 14 & 28; and October 12, 6:15-7:30pm ET – Register Here

  • Professor Kat Gonso, CSSH
  • The spark for Gyasi’s novel was a visit to a Stanford University lab where a friend worked; it was not intended as a research trip. It began as a short story and morphed into a novel with several autobiographical elements. In this three-part Writers’ Workshop, we’ll discuss how to pull stories from the everyday: your life, the news, and random encounters. Each writer will have the opportunity to receive feedback on a work-in-progress.

Creative Freewriting and Journaling – September 20 | October 4, 18 | November 1, 15, & 29 | 6pm EST. – Register Here

  • Dr. Alexander Kern & Sagar Rajpal, Center for Spirituality, Dialogue, and Service
  • Gyasi is an acclaimed writer. The act of writing is much more than an accomplishment of technical proficiency; it is a practice that can sustain our wellbeing and teach us about ourselves. You are warmly invited to this workshop on the spiritual practice of creative writing, where you will learn how to use creative writing as a means of promoting wellness, growth, and creative expression. No experience necessary. Supplies provided.

The Power and Passion of the Percussive Arts September 22nd, 12pm EST. – Register Here

  • Dan Foote
  • In the spirit of Ghana, join instructor Dan “Thunder” Foote at a community drum circle celebrating the healing powers of music. Electrocuted at the age of 19 after his first year of college at a conservatory of music, Dan (like the Phoenix) rose from the ashes to rebuild his life and thrives as a working musician in the greater Boston area. Instruments and materials provided.

The Power of Place: Boston’s Hidden Histories – September 25, 11:00am-3:00pm EST. – Register Here

  • Professors Ángel Nieves and Jessica Linker, CSSH
  • Both of Gifty’s parents confronted the challenges of transitioning to a new and unfamiliar home. It’s easy to feel disconnected from the history of a place, especially when you might only be living on a college campus for a few years. In this event, you’ll go on a scavenger hunt designed to expose you to Boston’s hidden histories of African American, Asian American, and LGBTQiA communities that surround Northeastern.

Exploring Wellness Through Art – September 28, 1pm – 3pm EST. – Register Here

  • Kelly Moran, University Health and Counseling Services
  • Gifty’s experiences as a student were complex, leading her to question who she was as a person, an emerging professional, and a daughter. This workshop—an introduction to using art mediums to support self-development and care—will enable you to explore some of the transitions and emotions you’ve recently experienced, from COVID-19 to beginning college, while developing coping skills for the future. Meet a UHCS clinician and begin your discovery.

New Pages: A Discussion on Exploring Identities in College – October 7, 6pm – 7pm EST. – Register Here

  • Cinqué Dunham-Carson, John D. O’Bryant Institute
  • Gifty’s first years as an undergraduate student were important (and tumultuous) moments of discovery in her life. The college experience is a great arena to discover, discard, and re-imagine various aspects of one’s many identities. Join us for a student-led discussion on the opportunities and challenges of identity as an undergraduate learner, inspired by themes of Transcendent Kingdom.

I’m Here for You: How to Have Tough Conversations – October 13, 7pm EST. – Register Here

  • Brigitte Cronin, Sophie Horton, Olivia Hutchins, Grace Rootness, and Emma Tusuzian
  • Gifty found it difficult to talk with her mother about her depression. Join student organizations Lean On MeActive Minds, and Husky to Husky for an interactive workshop on how to handle tough conversations and communicate effectively with those around you. This workshop will cover conversation skills, mental health resources on and off campus, and how to find professional help.

Call to Action: Starting a Nonprofit Organization as a Student – October 14, 7pm EST. – Register Here

  • Joshua Leaston, College of Science Alum
  • Joshua Leaston, a Northeastern graduate, current Stanford MD student, and cofounder of the Boston-based nonprofit organization Envision Difference, will explain how you can start your own nonprofit to tackle many societal issues such as mental health, substance use, and other topics that were touched upon in Transcendent Kingdom. Come with ideas and questions about how you can integrate community service into your Northeastern experience.

Panel Discussion with Northeastern Spiritual Advisors – October 20, 6pm EST. – Register Here

  • Dr. Alexander Kern & Sagar Rajpal, Center for Spirituality, Dialogue, and Service
  • Transcendent Kingdom discusses how the practice of religion and science mutually pursue the uncovering of truth and meaning in our lives. Explore the intersections of faith, science, and reason with Spiritual Advisors of different world religions and traditions.

Passage to Success Through Undergraduate Research – October 28, 6:30pm EST. – Register Here

  • Professor Craig Ferris, College of Science, and students
  • As depicted in Transcendent Kingdom, advances in neuroscience enable us to observe and map the inner workings of the brain. Professor Craig Ferris, Director of the Center for Translational NeuroImaging, and student researchers, will guide us through their lab, illustrating how their work with magnetic resonance empowers our understanding the neurobiology of the brain in health and disease, including opioid addiction, while forging pathways of success for students.

A Day in the Life of a Behavioral Neuroscience Ph.D. Student – November 2, 6pm EST. – Register Here

  • Lauren Granata, College of Science
  • Gifty’s life experiences lead her to STEM research and, ultimately, to a career in neuroscience. How does her story compare with that of an actual PhD student? In this session, Lauren Granata will discuss her life as a doctoral student in behavioral neuroscience, sharing how her past and present inform her work about how early life environments shape the brain to guide social behaviors.

Wicked Conversations: On Identity, Intersectionality, and Ideology – November 3, 2pm EST. – Register Here

  • Professors Peter Maber and Riyukta Raghunath, New College of the Humanities, London
  • Wicked problems are social or cultural problems that are difficult to explain and inherently impossible to solve. Dr’s Maber and Raghunath will host an online multidisciplinary panel discussion focusing 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.