Memoirist Curtis Chin headlines a special episode dedicated to the Best Nonfiction of 2023.
On this week’s Fully Booked podcast, Curtis Chin joins us to discuss the memoir Everything I Learned, I Learned in a Chinese Restaurant (Little, Brown, Oct. 17), one of Kirkus’ . This standout memoir chronicles the Detroit-born author’s coming of age in his family’s regionally famous Cantonese restaurant, where everyone—from politicians and movie stars to locals and regulars—was welcome and well fed.
Chin is a writer, producer, director, and activist whose social justice documentaries have been screened at over 600 venues around the world. He is also a co-founder of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop in New York City and served as the organization’s first executive director. Everything I Learned, I Learned in a Chinese Restaurant is his first book. Here’s a bit from Kirkus’ starred review:
“Chin grew up in the 1980s and ’90s as a not entirely willing exemplar of a ‘model minority.’ The latter term, he writes, is inadequate and incorrect, since in his hometown of Detroit, the white population was in fact smaller than that of people of color. His aspirational parents moved far from their downtown restaurant, where he worked alongside them throughout his adolescence, so that Chin and his siblings could attend good public schools in neighborhoods where, ‘we were outsiders.’…To all the obstacles that Chin faced, he added a switch from a prelaw major to a degree in creative writing: ‘I didn’t know which truth would be more difficult to reveal—that I was gay or that I was going to be a poet.’….[T]he author closes his affectionate, self-effacing narrative with a paean to the power of familial love, to say nothing of an expertly cooked meal.”
Chin talks about the joys of discovering the history of his family; their restaurant, Chung’s Cantonese Cuisine, which closed in 2000; and the city of Detroit. He and I discuss how Chung’s welcomed diners of all stripes; how his parents always encouraged him and his siblings to talk to strangers; finding his place in the bustling restaurant scene; his approach to describing various life events as if he were in the moment; how the book started as a collection of stories for his family; the murder of Vincent Chin and how it touched him, his family and its community; the importance of telling one’s story; co-founding the Asian American Writers’ Workshop; bringing a poet’s precision to memoir writing; and much more.
Then nonfiction editor Eric Liebetrau describes his approach to making the year’s Best Books list.
Our Migrant Souls: A Meditation on Race and the Meanings and Myths of “Latino” by Héctor Tobar (MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Red Memory: The Afterlives of China’s Cultural Revolution by Tania Branigan (Norton)
Mr. B: George Balanchine’s 20th Century by Jennifer Homans (Random House)
How Not To Kill Yourself: A Portrait of the Suicidal Mind by Clancy Martin (Pantheon)
How To Say Babylon: A Memoir by Safiya Sinclair (Simon & Schuster)
Master Slave Husband Wife: An Epic Journey From Slavery to Freedom by Ilyon Woo (Simon & Schuster)
The Story of Art Without Men by Katy Hessel (Norton)
The Great White Bard: How To Love Shakespeare While Talking About Race byFarah Karim-Cooper (Viking)
The Times: How the Newspaper of Record Survived Scandal, Scorn, and the Transformation of Journalism by Adam Nagourney (Crown)
Sonic Life by Thurston Moore (Doubleday)
Everything I Learned, I Learned in a Chinese Restaurant by Curtis Chin (Little, Brown)
Say the Right Thing: How To Talk About Identity, Diversity, and Justice by Kenji Yoshino and David Glasgow (Atria)
THANKS TO OUR SPONSORS:
The Journey’s the Thing by Dee Jardine
The Gift of Sensitivity by Elena V. Amber
It’s an Inside Job, Kid by Stephen Nicholas Moffe
Fully Booked is produced by Cabel Adkins Audio and Megan Labrise.