Poet Jane Wong celebrates paperback release of her memoir at Eagle Harbor Book Co. on May 8

Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

For poet Jane Wong, writing about her life in a memoir required her to flex muscles that poetry typically doesn’t require.

“My editor was always like, ‘You should stay here and reflect about what this meant for you,’” she said. “In poetry, we do not do that. We actually prefer not to, because we don’t want to explain to the reader how we’re feeling. We just want them to see it.”

Writing a memoir, on the other hand, requires reflection.

“That was a huge part of writing narrative, was just sitting in that moment where you really have to understand, what does this mean for me, but also what does it mean for my family and my larger communities?” she said.

Read the full Q&A with Jane Wong on Kitsap Scene+

Wong, who teaches creative writing at Western Washington University, is celebrating the paperback release of her memoir, Meet Me Tonight in Atlantic City, at Bainbridge Island’s Eager Harbor Book Co. on May 8. She’ll be joined by fellow poet Yanyi.

The book is wide-ranging in scope, but is mostly centered around Wong’s upbringing as a Chinese-American immigrant growing up in a family that owned a Chinese takeout restaurant in New Jersey. The book includes vulnerable moments, including descriptions of how her father’s gambling addiction affected her family.

That vulnerability is something many readers have commiserated with, Wong said.

“So many people reached out to me about certain moments in the book or ways they connected with the book: ‘I also have a family member who suffers from addiction and goes to the casino every single day, and we just accepted it in our family. We don’t talk about it because there’s a lot of shame around it, stigma,’” she said.

Gambling addiction tends to be prevalent among immigrant communities, Wong said. She said casino buses often pick people up in Chinatowns. “That’s a very pointed choice, I think, to sell the American dream, basically,” she said. “And that leads to family catastrophe.”

There’s levity in the book too, though. “There’s also moments where readers will come up to me and be like, ‘Oh, this part was so funny,’” she said. “There’s a lot of humor in this book centered around my mother, and they will say, ‘Your mother is almost like a character from a movie. She just seems so ridiculous and fun and tender and loving.’ And I’m like, she is all these things.”

Another matriarch appears in the book as well — one Wong initially invented, but eventually brought to life through the power of the internet.

“In the memoir, I actually make up a character — which is kind of breaking a rule of nonfiction, but why not? — and the character is called And it’s my mom that lives in the internet. … I have my real mom in the book, and there’s, which is a character in the book where … she’s giving me life advice as I’m writing this book.”

With the help of her friend Eric Olson, Wong made an actual website. Modeled after the old AOL Instant Messenger interface, people can type messages to “Wongmom” and get a reply.

Wong said Olson wanted to power the website with actual AI. “And I was like, ‘Oh, no,’” Wong said. “That’s what I got scared of, I’ll be honest. I was like, Oh, no, no, no, no, no. My fake internet mom would definitely become a demon. … I was like, look, I can’t make her AI. So she just feeds you lines from the book at random. So I have no idea what she may say, because it’s just random sentences in the book. But usually it’s quite poignant. It’s very strange that it works oftentimes.”

Wong said she’s looking forward to the Eagle Harbor Book Co. event. Yanyi and his partner recently moved to Seattle, and Wong said she’s a big proponent of spotlighting local authors. “I want to really share Yanyi’s work with everybody,” she said. “He’s super talented.”

They’re planning to open the event up by each reciting new poems, and then she’ll read from the memoir.

“We’re just going to have a conversation really talking through some of the major themes in the book,” she said. “I wanted this to be an opportunity; we’re both sharing new work as well as celebrating the paperback.”

Join Kitsap Scene+ to read the full conversation with Jane Wong

One benefit of being in conversation with another writer rather than appearing solo is that there’s an air of unpredictability that lends some excitement.

“In conversation, sometimes epiphanies happen depending on what questions are asked,” Wong said. “I’ve had the honor of moderating or being in conversation with numerous writers who are from out of town who come to Seattle to read at bookstores and for me it’s such a powerful job to dream up what questions will really give you a taste of what this book is, but also open up discussion amongst the audience of, what’s the process of writing a book?

“Surprising things happen and I think that part of that was just the energy around sharing the book,” she said. “I’m just excited to be able to share it with folks.”

Jane Wong at Eagle Harbor Book Co.

6:30 pm, May 8
Eagle Harbor Book Co., 157 Winslow Way E, Bainbridge Island.
Buy Wong’s book, Meet Me Tonight in Atlantic City:
Eagle Harbor Book Co. | | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Steven Wyble

Steven Wyble is an award-winning journalist who has written for both daily and weekly newspapers.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments