Tomorrow in Shanghai, is a vibrant and illuminating follow-up to May-lee Chai‘s award-winning story collection, Useful Phrases for Immigrants. Her latest collection explores multicultural complexities through lenses of class, wealth, age, gender, and sexuality. These stories transport the reader to unexpected places: from rural China to a vacation to France, where a white mother and her biracial daughter cannot escape their fraught relationship; inside the unexpected romance of two Chinese-American women living abroad in China; and finally, to a future Chinese colony on Mars.
Chai is a professor at San Francisco State University. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship; 2014 APALA (Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association) Literary Award. She is the author of eleven books, including three novels; two works of memoir, and the American Book Award–winning short story collection Useful Phrases for Immigrants. She will be in conversation with Melissa Fu, author of Peach Blossom Spring.
May-lee was born in California but has lived in fourteen states in the U.S. and four countries. She received her B.A. from Grinnell College, where she majored in French and Chinese Studies. She received her first M.A. from Yale University in East Asian Studies and a second M.A. in English-Creative Writing from the University of Colorado-Boulder. She received her M.F.A. from San Francisco State University.
Marin Magazine (MM): What are some of the themes and subjects you explore in your latest book?
May-lee Chai (MC): I wrote the majority of these stories during either the Trump presidency or the pandemic, so I was greatly influenced by current events even though none of these stories is set in the present day. I wanted to show that the violence of the present day — whether from capitalism, classism, racism, xenophobia or misogyny — is related to the violence of the past. The title is a metaphor for belief that the future will be better.
MM: How have your experiences growing up influence your writing?
MC: I was born in Southern California, but my family moved away when I was 6. Since then, I’ve lived in states all across the U.S. I moved to San Francisco as an adult after grad school. Moving to a different state is almost like moving to a different country. I wanted to show that diversity in this collection, which has stories set in various parts of the U.S., as well as China and France, where I have also lived. All the characters in the story are in places where they don’t feel entirely at home. I wanted to examine how the self navigates such vast cultural changes.
MM: A lot of your books touch upon your Chinese-American heritage. What role do you feel this has in your writing?
MC: In all these stories I show Chinese and Chinese-American characters struggling in various ways, some economically, some also due to racism and/or homophobia or misogyny. None of the characters feels at home where they currently are — and they need to hope that there they will find their home, their accepting family, their better place in the future.
MM: As an educator, what do you think is most important in inspiring and growing new authors?
MC: I believe that my students’ voices and their perspectives matter! Classism tries to tell us that only those people born into the greatest wealth and privilege count. But as an activist and community organizer, I know that’s not true. I know my students can change the world with their writing. I want to empower them to change the world for the better.
May-lee Chai will be appearing live online Sept. 13 at 5:30 p.m. at bookpassage.com
More Great New Reads
Wandering in Japan, edited by Linda Watanabe McFerrin and Laurie McAndish King
Visiting Japan turns the world upside down and inside out — just the way editors Linda Watanabe McFerrin and Laurie McAndish King like it. In this eighth collection of the popular Wandering series, our adventuresome writers set off on yet another exciting trip of discovery, meeting a mysterious geisha, experiencing the dark side of Mount Fuji, confronting a confusing cuisine, encountering spooks and spirits, considering the legacy of Hiroshima, experiencing a religious initiation and recounting a story of almost unbelievable devotion.Work by: Daphne Beyers, Joanna Biggar, Mary Brent Cantarutti, Tom Harrell, Lenny Karpman, Lowry McFerrin, Ethel Mussen, Mary Jean Pramik, Michele Rivers, Tania Romanov, Anne Sigmon, Rob “Tor” Torkildson and more.
See the authors Sept. 10 at 2:00 p.m. in-person at Book Passage in Corte Madera.
On the Rooftop by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton
On the Rooftop is a stunning novel about a mother whose dream of musical stardom for her three daughters collides with the daughters’ ambitions for their own lives — set against the backdrop of gentrifying 1950s San Francisco. At home they are just sisters, but on stage, they are The Salvations. Ruth, Esther, and Chloe have been singing and dancing in harmony since they could speak. Thanks to the rigorous direction of their mother, Vivian, they’ve become a bona fide girl group whose shows are the talk of the Jazz-era Fillmore. Now Vivian has scored a once-in-a-lifetime offer from a talent manager, who promises to catapult The Salvations into the national spotlight.
Margaret Wilkerson Sexton’s most recent novel, The Revisioners, won several awards and was a national bestseller as well as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Her debut novel, A Kind of Freedom, was long-listed for the National Book Award. She lives in Oakland with her family.
See the Margaret Wilkerson Sexton Sept. 18 at 4:00 p.m. in-person at Book Passage in Corte Madera.
For more on Marin:
- South America, Evolutionary History, and the World of a Little-Known, Intriguingly Intelligent Bird of Prey: Johnathan Meiburg’s ‘A Most Remarkable Creature’
- How to Start a Book Club — Tips From the Founder of the Marin Wine & Book Club
- Ultramarathon Legend Dean Karnazes Revisits an Old Running Challenge in His Latest Book
Jessica Gliddon is the Content Director for Marin Magazine. An international writer and editor, she has worked on publications in the UK, Dubai and Cape Town. She is a graduate of UC Santa Cruz, and is the former editor of Abu Dhabi’s airline magazine, Etihad Inflight. When she’s not checking out the latest exhibit at SFMOMA or searching out the best places to eat and drink near her home in San Francisco, she volunteers at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito.