Asali Solomon has taught at Haverford College for 10 years—the associate professor of English not only directs the College’s creative writing program, but was also that program’s first tenure-track hire. But long before she was teaching others how to write, she was, herself, a writer. Her first book, Get Down, a collection of coming-of-age short stories, was released in 2006. Her first novel, Disgruntled, published in 2015. Her latest, which is already listed in Vulture’s “Best Books of the Year (So Far),” is The Days of Afrekete, is like its predecessors set in and around her Philadelphia hometown, and in some ways its events, set over the course of a single day, are set in motion by a Bi-Co connection.
Set during the Obama presidency, the book is about Liselle, a Black woman, hosting a dinner party for her white husband following his local political defeat. But it’s also about Liselle’s life 20 years earlier when she was a student at Bryn Mawr College in a relationship with Selena, a fellow Mawrter whose life has gone in a different direction since they parted ways.
Since the book’s release on Oct. 19, it has received high praise. The New York Times described the book as ” … a feat of engineering.” The Washington Post called Liselle ” … an appealing, believably imperfect protagonist, intelligent and perceptive yet apparently unable to extricate herself from a life she no longer really wants.” Kirkus Review said, “The last page of the book will leave you stunned. Solomon’s decision about where to end her dinner party puts her in a lineage of modernist party hosts like Woolf and Proust.”The Days of Afrekete is currently number one on Amazon’s “New Releases in Humorous American Literature.”
Solomon has shared her latest work with the Haverford community at several recent events. Over Family and Friends’ weekend, she talked with President Wendy Raymond about the book in the College’s newest campus space, the Jaharis Recital Hall. And on Nov. 4, she gave a reading on campus, followed by a conversation with fellow author and Bryn Mawr English Professor Mecca Jamilah Sullivan.
“A large part of the relationship between Liselle and Selena is against a backdrop of a majority white campus,” said Solomon at the event with Sullivan. Liselle and Selena, she said, met on the first day of a class about Black feminism, in which they were in a small majority of women of color. “I went to Barnard College and the book captures a sense of being in a majority white women’s college in the ’90s—but Bryn Mawr, aside from being a place where I’ve spent a lot of time in the last 10 years also has the advantage of being near Philadelphia, where all of my fiction unfolds” says Solomon.
Selena is a character that Solomon writes as someone who is distinctly sensitive to what is happening in the world; she internalizes atrocities so much that she cannot participate in classes or follow current events. The character, Solomon says, was a way for her to ask her readers, “In order to be functioning, what do we have to set aside every day?” As she mentioned at the event with Sullivan, society as a whole has become desensitized to global atrocities, and because of that, many do not fully comprehend the severity of those actions.
But Solomon also intends for The Days of Afrekete to be funny as well. Solomon says: “If you’re writing about humans, you’re writing about tragedy and suffering but you’re also writing about humor.”