Author Celeste Ng On How We Can Change Conversations About Race In America

Author Celeste Ng On How We Can Change Conversations About Race In America


Lacy Cooke

Celeste Ng didn’t think she would have a career as a writer until she published her first book, Everything I Never Told You. It was a New York Times Notable Book, and was Amazon’s #1 Best Book of 2014. The book was inspired by one startling image.

“My husband told me a story about when he was 8 or so. He was at a friend’s house, and his friend pushed his own little sister into a pond. The parents were nearby and they pulled her out and the friend was in big trouble. I kept thinking about what had led this boy to push his sister into a pond and what their relationship would be like after that,” says Celeste. “The story evolved from there; it changed as I started to write it, as my stories always do, but the image of the girl falling into the water was the first little spark of the story.”

Everything I Never Told You begins with an ending: “Lydia is dead.” Lydia, daughter of a white mother and Asian American father, acts as a catalyst to expose her family’s secrets and struggles. Set in the 1970’s, the novel confronts issues of race and interracial marriage. Several aspects of the novel are based on Celeste’s own experiences growing up, as she noticed that the issue of race is more complex than black and white.

“There’s a lot of different groups, and a lot of different experiences. In the past year, a lot more people have spoken about their backgrounds and cultures and viewpoints, and I think having those voices out there and getting them heard is the first step in getting people to recognize that they exist,” she says.

As we hear more experiences, how can we alter our conversations about race? Celeste believes the answer rests not in what we say, but in how we listen…

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