Born 1980, in Pittsburgh, PA; married; children: one son. Education: Graduated from Harvard University, 2002; University of Michigan, M.F.A. Addresses: Home: Cambridge, MA. Agent: Julie Barer, Barer Literary, LLC, 20 W. 20th St., Ste. 601, New York, NY 10011.
Writer and educator. Grub Street, Cambridge, MA, writing instructor. National Endowment for the Arts fellow, 2016.
Pushcart Prize, 2012; Hopwood Award, University of Michigan. Amazon Book of the Year, 2014, Massachusetts Book Award, Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, and Alex Award, American Library Association, all for Everything I Never Told You; Medici Book Club Prize; Fiction Category Prize, Goodreads Choice Awards, 2017, for Little Fires Everywhere.
- Everything I Never Told You (novel), Penguin (New York, NY), 2014.
- Little Fires Everywhere, Penguin Press (New York, NY), 2017.
Contributor to periodicals and websites, including One Story, TriQuarterly, Bellevue Literary Review, Subtropics, New York Times, London Guardian, and the Kenyon Review Online; contributor to the anthologies One Story Collected, 2014, and Six Shorts 2017, 2017.
Celeste Ng is a writer whose parents emigrated from Hong Kong, China, to the United States. Growing up in the Midwest, she earned degrees from Harvard University and the University of Michigan. Ng is the recipient of numerous writing awards, include a Pushcart Prize.
In her debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, Ng presents a tale about a Chinese American family living in 1970s Ohio and dealing with a wide range of issues, from family secrets and lies to love and the issue of race, especially in connection with interracial marriages. The novel revolves around the Lees and the death of their favorite child, Lydia, who had long tried to reconcile herself to her interracial family's conspicuousness in 1970s America.
"I was surprised in researching the book at how recent some of our acceptance of those issues are," Ng noted in an interview that appears on the NPR: National Public Radio Web site. Ng went on to point out that Gallup Polls that began in 1958 asked questions about interracial marriages. The polls revealed that the majority of Americans long continued to hold an unfavorable view of interracial marriages. It was not until a 1997 poll that the majority of Americans approved of such marriages.
In Ng's novel, James Lee is a Chinese American professor who has always felt like an outsider. Meanwhile, his wife, Marilyn, is a white Southerner whose mother was against her marrying someone from another race. The couple goes on to have three children: Lydia, Nathan, and Hannah. "The casual--and not-so-casual--racism directed at the couple and their three children--(remember, this is rural Ohio forty years ago) casts a shadow over the family, a shadow that leads to secrets and shames they never share," noted Plain Dealer Online contributor Joanna Connors.
Lydia has long been her parents' favorite child, partly because, unlike her brother and sister, she appears to be more Caucasian than her siblings. As a result, Nathan and Hannah often feel neglected by their parents. Their mother's favoritism toward Lydia also stems from the fact that she sees more of herself in her daughter. Meanwhile, James recognizes the similarities between himself and Nathan, including a shared diffidence. This realization, however, makes James feel uncomfortable and leads him to also turn his attention to Lydia, believing she holds the greatest promise for future success in a predominantly Caucasian world.
Even though James and Marilyn love each other, they struggle as they have never been able to truly recognize or come to terms with their cultural differences. They both, however, avoid acknowledging the difficulties that their mixed-race children face in school and society in general. "Cultural issues don't have to be a barrier, but you can't pretend they're not there," Ng told Hippo Reads Web site contributor Jocelyn Eikenburg.
Readers learn in the opening line of Everything I Never Told You that Lydia is dead. The novel goes on to examine the circumstances surrounding her death. "The story of what happened to Lydia is also the story of what happened to the family, beginning with Marilyn and James Lee and the cultural and institutional sexism and racism that shaped their particular histories," wrote International Examiner Online contributor Donna Miscolta. Ng delves into the past of Marilyn and James, going back to the 1950s when Marilyn finds herself the object of condescension and prejudice as the only woman in her science classes. Eventually, Marilyn puts her dream of becoming a doctor behind her after meeting James and the two decide to get married. Meanwhile, James encounters similar prejudices as the only person of Chinese heritage in his classes and then at work. As the novel progresses, more is also learned about the issues Lydia faced in her life. Eventually, Lydia's parents learn more about their daughter's true state of mind, and they must face not only their grief but also their guilt over Lydia's death.
"In the end, Ng deftly pulls together the strands of this complex, multigenerational novel," wrote Los Angeles Times Online contributor Hector Tobar, who went on to call the novel "an engaging work that casts a powerful light on the secrets that have kept an American family together--and that finally end up tearing it apart." A Kirkus Reviews contributor remarked: "Ng's emotionally complex debut novel sucks you in like a strong current and holds you fast until its final secrets surface."
Ng published her second novel, Little Fires Everywhere, in 2017. Artist Mia Warren and Pearl, her fifteen-year-old daughter, rent a house in Shaker Heights for the summer from the affluent Richardson family. Pearl makes friends with Lexie, Moody, and Trip Richardson, while young Isabelle Richardson takes to Mia and her work. As the families become dangerously entwined, both mothers overstep their boundaries and roles.
A contributor to Publishers Weekly found the book to be "both an intricate and captivating portrait of an eerily perfect suburban town," adding that it "is an impressive accomplishment." Booklist contributor Carol Haggas stated: "Laden with themes of loyalty and betrayal, honesty and trust, her latest tour de force should prove no less popular" than her debut novel. In a review in the Washington Post Book World, Nicole Lee noted that "the experimental theater director Anne Bogart once wrote that a stereotype must have a fire lit beneath it in order for transformation to occur. For all her democratic storytelling and skillful plot weaving, Ng never supplies the requisite heat. And yet, there's much soil for fruit. Here's hoping Ng's next novel will make harvests burn." Reviewing the novel in the San Francisco Chronicle, Alexis Burling reasoned: "as for the touching parts, there are just enough to spread around--especially a scene toward the end in Mia's empty kitchen. They're insightful and relevant, too. If Little Fires Everywhere doesn't give you pause and help you think differently about humanity and this country's current state of affairs, start over from the beginning and read the book again." Writing in Vox, Constance Grady found the town of Shaker Heights to be "precisely rendered."
FURTHER READINGS ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
- Booklist, May 15, 2014, Carol Haggas, review of Everything I Never Told You, p. 13; July 1, 2017, Carol Haggas, review of Little Fires Everywhere, p. 19.
- Guardian (London, England), November 17, 2014, Hermione Hoby, "'Complicated Feelings' about Amazon ... Celeste Ng."
- Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 2014, review of Everything I Never Told You.
- Library Journal, May 1, 2014, Terry Hong, review of Everything I Never Told You, p. 69.
- New York Times Book Review, September 21, 2017, "Celeste Ng: By the Book."
- Publishers Weekly, April 14, 2014, review of Everything I Never Told You, p. 28; July 17, 2017, review of Little Fires Everywhere, p. 190.
- San Francisco Chronicle, September 28, 2017, Alexis Burling, review of Little Fires Everywhere.
- Washington Post Book World, September 19, 2017, Nicole Lee, review of Little Fires Everywhere.
- Boston Globe Online, http://www.bostonglobe.com/ (July 1, 2014), Clea Simon, review of Everything I Never Told You.
- Celeste Ng Website, http://www.celesteng.com (October 17, 2017).
- Fiction Writers Review, http://fictionwritersreview.com/ (June 30, 2014), Anne Stameshkin, "Sometimes Taking Things Out Counts as Writing: An Interview with Celeste Ng."
- Hippo Reads, http://read.hipporeads.com/ (September 2, 2014), Jocelyn Eikenburg, "'Write What Terrifies You';: An Interview with Celeste Ng."
- International Examiner Online, http://www.iexaminer.org/ (July 31, 2014), Donna Miscolta, "Celeste Ng's Everything I Never Told You Holds a Mystery, Invites Readers In."
- Los Angeles Times Online, http://www.latimes.com/ (July 4, 2014), Hector Tobar, "Everything I Never Told You a Moving Tale of a Dysfunctional Family,"
- National Public Radio Website, http://www.npr.org/ (June 28, 2014), "Everything I Never Told You Exposed in Biracial Family's Loss."
- New York Times Online, http://www.nytimes.com/ (August 15, 2014), Alexander Chee, review of Everything I Never Told You.
- Plain Dealer Online, http://www.cleveland.com/plaindealer/ (July 9, 2014), Joanna Connors, "Writer Celeste Ng Talks about Growing Up in Shaker Heights and Her Buzz Novel of the Summer, Everything I Never Told You."
- Star Tribune Online, http://www.startribune.com/ (July 26, 2014), Steve Novak, review of Everything I Never Told You.
- Vox, https://www.vox.com/ (September 12, 2017), Constance Grady, review of Little Fires Everywhere.*