When she was just starting out as a writer, Celeste Ng says there was an idea that there could only be one popular Asian American author.
“There was Amy Tan, and if anyone else was going to come in, it was going to be to displace her,” said Ng. “I do not want to replace her, I would like there to be more.”
Ng, 38, author of the bestselling novel “Little Fires Everywhere,” sat down with “Good Morning America” Weekend Anchor Eva Pilgrim in honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month to talk about the unique perspective being Asian American gives her as a writer, and the challenges that come with it.
“When I was growing up, there were not a ton of Asian American writers, but there are more now,” said Ng.
Her father, a NASA physicist, and her mother, a research chemist, emigrated from Hong Kong in 1968 and settled in Shaker Heights, Ohio, the setting of “Little Fires Everywhere.”
Ng said she’s grateful that her parents gave her the space to go into writing, even though they knew it was a risk.
“They allowed me to go into the arts,” said Ng. “I was able to imagine myself doing different things and now it means a lot to me when young Asian writers tell me, ‘I didn’t know it was OK to do this.’”
She now lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her husband and eight-year-old son.
“My husband is a tall white dude. We’ve always gotten along, but the way we expect the world to work is very different,” Ng said. "He thinks the world will give him the benefit of the doubt."
She went on to talk about the different backgrounds and privileges people carry with them, and how it informs the way they interact with the world. For Ng, fiction is a way to explore the “biases you live life with and don’t realize you have.”
“I don’t think fiction is a place to get answers, but hopefully what it does is ask questions,” she said.
“Little Fires Everywhere” has been on the New York Times bestseller list for 48 weeks. It is being made into a Hulu series, starring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington.