In her memoir, Mott Street: A Chinese American Family’s Story of Exclusion and Homecoming (Penguin Press, April 23), fifth-generation Chinese American author Ava Chin walks readers down the the titular street in New York’s Chinatown as she recounts the efforts of generations of her family to settle and thrive in America, despite prejudice and racist restrictions such as the Chinese Exclusion Act laws (1882-1943). The book made our list of the Best Nonfiction of 2023; Chin answered our questions via email.

What emotions did writing about your family and your family history provoke in you? 

I struggled with a range of emotions while writing Mott Street—anger, pain, joy, happiness, and gratitude. Sometimes, I felt these all at once—a tsunami of emotions—and it took several deep breaths and naps before the feelings began to subside.

I was in constant conversation with various family members while working on the narrative—so much of this book was based on interviews and oral stories from my childhood. Growing up raised by a single mother, I was thirsty for stories. Even when folks like my father were at times reluctant to talk, I reminded them that I was trying to finish the story that my grandfather had attempted to tell, though, sadly, he ran out of time.

Who is the ideal reader for this book, and where would they be reading it?

Mott Street is for readers who desire to know where we came from and who we are as a nation, and for those who love a good family saga—think Angela’s Ashes meets The Joy Luck Club. I envision readers tucking into this book over a long weekend, but they could easily be listening to it on their morning commute. I relied on my performance background when narrating the audiobook, which I loved doing and consider one of my greatest personal achievements. 

Were you able to do live events for this book? Any memorable highlights?

I was grateful to be able to do many in-person events, including sold-out talks at the New York Public Library and in New York’s Chinatown at Think!Chinatown with Qian Julie Wang. Being in conversation with Celeste Ng at Harvard Bookstore was especially meaningful, as our families hail from the same part of southern China, and Celeste had gotten her entire family to read Mott Street. Several venues were so packed—like my conversation with Ben Fong-Torres at Book Passage in San Francisco’s Ferry Building or my event with Lisa See at Vroman’s [Bookstore] in Pasadena—that they just kept adding chairs. For some, it was the best-attended event they’d hosted since the beginning of the pandemic.

What books published in 2023 were among your favorites?

The Apology by Jimin Han, Meet Me Tonight in Atlantic City by Jane Wong, National Dish by Anya von Bremzen, Hedge by Jane Delury. I also loved Why Didn’t You Tell Me? by Carmen Rita Wong and Stay True by Hua Hsu, which were released in paperback this year.

Nina Palattella is the editorial assistant.