When you meet Esi Edugyan, author of the award-winning novel Half-Blood Blues, the first thing that comes to mind certainly isn’t rejection. But, as it turns out, the Victoria-based writer is surprisingly well acquainted with getting turned down.

“The book was repeatedly rejected over and over, sometimes three times from the same publisher,” Edugyan recalls.

 It’s true—the novel that went on to win the 2011 Giller Prize was initially overlooked by dozens of publishers. Once it hit bookshelves, it was just weeks before the intricate tale of a jazz band in wartime Europe caught the attention of critics.

In just a few months, Edugyan went from considering a career change to becoming a prominent author. In the midst of it, she also gave birth to her first child, forcing her to stay put for a while. It was a change of pace for someone who has held writing residencies in the U.S., Scotland, Iceland, Germany, Hungary, Finland, Spain and Belgium. But it wasn’t long before Edugyan got back out on the road—albeit with a new travel companion, her one-year-old daughter.

Last trip

Moose Jaw, Sask. That was a really interesting town. The architecture is terrific. They’ve got a lot of old buildings. I was really impressed. There’s this whole legend that Al Capone spent a lot of time there.  

On success

The book had kind of a rough publication history. So it was really surprising to see it doing so well. I’m so grateful. I feel so lucky. I’m happy that people are enjoying it.  

Days on the road

About five days a month.  

In-flight routine

I’m somebody who brings a book everywhere. You should always have a book in your purse, because you never know when you’re going to have an opportunity to read. And then I always take a current affairs magazine—The New Yorker or The Atlantic. Always one book, one magazine and my ear buds; I like to watch movies.  

Best travel companion

If I can travel with my husband, I always enjoy it more. It almost doesn’t matter where we’re going.  

Packing tips

We’ve got it down to an exact science: the less, the better. With the baby, it’s been good to be able to stay at a place where you can do your own laundry. That’s definitely the way to go. You can cut down on the amount of clothes you’re taking that way.  

Favourite destination

I’ve always enjoyed going to Iceland, to Reykjavik. I just find Iceland to be so beautiful. My first international trip ever was to Iceland. It is one of the few trips I’ve taken that hasn’t been book-related or residency-related. It’s stayed with me.  

Where would you like to travel on holiday

I’ve been dying to go to Buenos Aires for the longest time. My brother-in-law just got back and said it was lovely, and said, if you like books, this is the book mecca.  

Advice for aspiring writers

Just keep at it and keep going and don’t get discouraged.


Esi Edugyan’s first two novels

The Second Life of Samuel Tyne



Half-Blood Blues

Winner of the 2011 Giller Prize