The New York-based writer talks about her peripatetic childhood, the pain of losing her parents – and finding love at a jazz jam session
Nadia Owusu, 39, was born in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and raised in Italy, Ethiopia, England, Ghana and Uganda, and lives in New York. She moved there aged 18 to attend Pace University and earned her master’s in creative nonfiction at the Mountview residency programme, where she now teaches. Her first book, a memoir called Aftershocks (Sceptre), explores trauma, race and belonging as Owusu charts her peripatetic youth and the pain of being abandoned by her Armenian-American mother when she was two, and then losing her beloved Ghanaian father to cancer when she was 13. She won the Whiting award for emerging writers in 2019 and has just been appointed director of storytelling at Frontline Solutions, a US black-owned consulting firm that helps social change organisations to define their goals.
The book connects geographical and emotional upheaval. “I have lived in disaster and disaster has lived in me”, as you put it.
When I was seven and living in Rome with my father, my mother came to visit on the same day I heard that there had been an earthquake in Armenia [where her mother’s family was from]. I heard on the radio that a whole city had been destroyed and that a lot of people’s homes had been destroyed. My mother was passing through with her new husband during a vacation from the US. She took me and my sister for a walk but then she was gone again and when she left it really shook me. My own private earthquake. I remember later asking my father what aftershocks were and he told me they were the “Earth’s delayed reaction to stress”.