News, On Campus

Celeste Ng Writes About the Asian American Experience Using Multiple Perspectives

Author Celeste Ng recognizes that growing up in areas with very few Asian Americans played a critical role in shaping her perspective on the world.

“Sometimes people would see me and think, ‘She’s not from here,’” Ng said. “And I would think, ‘What do you mean? Like, this is where I was born.’ Thinking about that kind of disconnect, I think, is fundamental to a lot of my writings.”

Ng, author of New York Times bestselling novels Everything I Never Told You, Little Fires Everywhere, and Our Missing Hearts, visited Boston College on Monday night as part of the Cornerstone Conversations series for first-year students.

Ng’s novel Little Fires Everywhere was adapted as a limited series on Hulu in 2020, starring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington.

Ng’s novel Everything I Never Told You has been an integral part of class discussions in the cornerstone seminar course, The Courage to Know, since its initial publication in 2014, according to Elizabethi Bracher, director of the cornerstone seminar program.

According to Ng, her purpose and writing style were critically shaped by her experience as a reader. Ng said she was a “voracious reader” throughout her early childhood and was especially drawn to books about places she had never been.

“Books that made me feel like I was traveling somewhere … taking me to sort of foreign places that were different from the place that I was in,” she said. 

But as she got older, Ng said her interest shifted toward books that she felt related to her personal experiences. However, the novels available during her formative years often lacked depictions of many cultures, particularly Asian culture, she said. 

Due to this deficiency, she decided to integrate more of these cultural elements and conflicts into her writing by reflecting on her personal experiences and reaching out to those who were searching for similar representation, she said.

“I was learning about different ways of being Asian American, or how those two things go together,” Ng said. “It was actually a really formative experience, in some ways, of recognizing really positive ways in which Asian identity and ‘American identity’ could merge, and then other ways of recognizing that there was hostility in the world.”

Ng said one of her primary goals as a writer is to provide readers with fresh and nuanced perspectives.

In the process of writing her novel Everything I Never Told You, Ng said she underwent four drafts before settling on the opening sentence, “Lydia is dead.”

“I like drama and messiness,” Ng said. “A lot of the story comes from trouble and figuring out how you are dealing with that, and so I like there to be trouble in the books that I read, and I want to write books that have that.”

Ng said she often opens her books with a blunt and revealing lede because she prefers to be direct with readers. Through just the first few sentences of her stories, readers can decide whether they wish to delve further into the narrative or not, she said.

“If that’s not your thing, no problem,” Ng said. “There’s a lot of other books out there. But I think that all of that comes from me being a reader and really just wanting the book to be enjoyable and interesting and pleasurable.”

Ng said another one of her largest goals is for readers to recognize their unique perspectives while also understanding the position of others. These varied viewpoints can offer deeper insights and foster a stronger connection to the realm of imagination, she said.

“The way that you experience things or what your opinions are are not necessarily what everybody else has, and people will recognize that they have different experiences and viewpoints,” Ng said.

February 18, 2024