Introductions: Charles Yu
February 18, 2022
By Rebecca Hoogs, Executive Director
Charles Yu is the author of four works of fiction, including Interior Chinatown, which won the 2020 National Book Award for fiction. Previously, he received the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 Award, which he was selected for by Richard Powers, whom we will see on this stage in April.
He is also known for his TV writing; he has been nominated for two Writers Guild of America awards for his work on the HBO series Westworld, and has also written for several other shows.
The judges for the National Book Award described their winning pick in this way: “By turns hilarious and flat-out heartbreaking, Charles Yu’s Interior Chinatown is a bright, bold, gut punch of a novel. Written in the form of a screenplay with porous boundaries, Yu’s wonderfully inventive work spotlights the welter of obstacles its everyman protagonist must confront in a profoundly racist, rigidly hierarchical world as he does his best—in the story of his own life—to land a decent role.”
Interior Chinatown is both a set and a mindset which the narrator lives in, works in, is from, finds family in, and tries to break free from. I was especially moved by the narrator’s gentle depictions of his parents, and at the end of the book, his daughter. Yu has said that the book was inspired both in part by his parents’ experiences immigrating from Taiwan and his own experiences as a parent. It is also a funny book and I laughed out loud frequently. NPR described his work by comparing him to one of another author who makes me laugh and sob in the same sentence: “I don’t know if there’s a better story-bending talent at work than Charles Yu, since the rise of George Saunders.”
At the beginning of the pandemic Charles Yu wrote an essay on the experience, which many noted, had a cinematic slant to it. “Five hundred years ago,” Yu wrote, ““What we really mean when we say that this pandemic feels ‘unimaginable’ is that we had not imagined it. Just as imagination can mislead us, though, it will be imagination—scientific, civic, moral—that helps us find new ways of doing things, helps remind us of how far we have to go as a species.”
I, for one, am grateful that the imagination of Charles Yu gets to play on the page, and here tonight on this stage.
Rebecca Hoogs gave this introduction to open our 2021/22 Literary Arts Series event with Charles Yu on February 15, 2022. Tickets to view the recorded event are still available through Tuesday, February 22, 2021 at 7:30 p.m. (PT).