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Celeste Ng

Author of the New York Times bestseller Everything I Never Told You

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  • About Celeste Ng

    Celeste Ng is the author of the novels Everything I Never Told You and Little Fires Everywhere, both of which were New York Times bestsellers, a New York Times Notable Book for 2014, and Amazon’s #1 and #2 Best Book of the Year for 2014 and 2017, respectively. Everything I Never Told You was also the winner of the 2014-2015 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature in Adult Fiction.  In this literary thriller, Ng tells the story of a Chinese American family living in small-town Ohio in the 1970s whose middle child, Lydia, mysteriously disappears. As the family’s lives are uprooted, they are forced to confront long-held secrets that have been slowly pulling the family apart. Ng revisits issues of family, identity, and community in Little Fires Everywhere, a tense story of a picture-perfect town and family upended by the arrival of an artist and her daughter.

    In her novel and keynote presentations, Ng deftly explores issues of cultural identity, gender relations, and the struggles faced by multicultural families.

    Ng grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Shaker Heights, Ohio, in a family of scientists. She attended Harvard University and earned an MFA from the University of Michigan (now the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan), where she won the Hopwood Award.  Her fiction and essays have appeared in One Story, TriQuarterly, Bellevue Literary Review, the Kenyon Review Online, and elsewhere, and she is a recipient of the Pushcart Prize. In June 2020, she announced the launch of a new internship grant program for adult publishing in collaboration with We Need Diverse Books. Currently, she lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

  • Speaking Topics

    Everything I Never Told You

    This lecture is a discussion of Celeste Ng’s bestselling novel Everything I Never Told You—the story behind the book and the process of writing it. The audience will learn about the real-life seeds of the story as well as where fact and fiction intersect in the novel.

    On Writing and Science

    In this talk, Celeste Ng discusses her path to becoming a writer and how growing up in a family of scientists has influenced her work, as well as where she finds inspiration for her stories.

    The “Difficult” Woman

    Women and men in fiction are often held to very different standards: women characters (and the women who write them) are more often judged on “likability.” In this lecture, Celeste Ng discusses the concept of the “unlikeable” or “difficult” woman, its implications, and the need for creating complex characters.

    How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Being an Asian American Writer

    What does it mean to be an “Asian American” writer? In this talk, Celeste Ng discusses her own evolving relationship with the term, as well as larger issues of “ethnic” writing and cultural identity in fiction.

  • Video

  • Praise for Celeste Ng

    Praise for Little Fires Everywhere

    An intricate and captivating portrait of an eerily perfect suburban town with its dark undertones not-quite-hidden from view and a powerful and suspenseful novel about motherhood . . . Ng explores the complexities of adoption, surrogacy, abortion, privacy, and class, questioning all the while who earns, who claims, and who loses the right to be called a mother . . . an impressive accomplishment.

    Publishers Weekly (starred review)

    A quiet but powerful look at family, secrets, and running from the past. Once again, Ng has delivered a near-perfect novel.

    BookRiot

    Ng’s best-selling first novel Everything I Never Told You proved her deft hand at crafting family dramas with the deep-rooted tension of a thriller, a skill she puts to pitch-perfect effect in her latest entry . . . that is equal parts simmering and soulful.

    HarpersBazaar.com

    Mesmerizing . . . The result is a deftly woven plot that examines a multitude of issues, including class, wealth, artistic vision, abortion, race, prejudice and cultural privilege.

    BookPage

    One of the best novels of the fall is an emotional tale about motherhood, class and so much more . . . Everything I Never Told You, was good, but this is better.

    AARP.org

    A multilayered, tightly focused and expertly plotted narrative . . . A deeply impressive novel with the power to provoke and entrance.

    Minneapolis Star Tribune

    A haunting, layered story of mothers and daughters, and how they attract and repel each other.

    Seattle Times

    The truth is messy for everyone in Little Fires Everywhere. As she did so well in Everything I Never Told You, Ng crafts sympathetic backstories for the characters that make their decisions understandable if not entirely acceptable. She also creates layered portraits, especially of the girls and women, to raise questions about what mothers can give and what their children need when no one can stick to the rules.

    St. Louis Post-Dispatch

    Ng has one-upped herself with her tremendous follow-up novel . . . a finely wrought meditation on the nature of motherhood, the dangers of privilege and a cautionary tale about how even the tiniest of secrets can rip families apart . . . Ng is a master at pushing us to look at our personal and societal flaws in the face and see them with new eyes . . . 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.

    San Francisco Chronicle

    Engrossing . . . Ng’s characters are authentic and complex, but it’s her confident narration that will invite readers to settle in for the ride—a storyteller who knows what she’s doing is at the wheel . . . With each revelation, Little Fires Everywhere grows more propulsive and insightful, boring through the placid surface of American suburbia.

    Dallas Morning News

    Equal parts clever, relatable, surprising and unsettling . . . Ng covers a lot of ground here, from class nuance to the nature of conformity. But the story really shines when she examines complex mother-daughter relationships and how they work . . . until they don’t.

    PureWow

    The un-put-downable story that everyone will be talking about this Fall. A must read for book clubs.

    PopSugar

    Ng’s uncanny ability to embody multiple viewpoints makes for a powerful, revelatory novel.

    BBC.com

    Written with deep empathy and vivid characters who feel true to life, Little Fires Everywhere is a captivating, insightful examination of motherhood, identity, family, privilege, perfectionism, obsession, and the secrets about ourselves we try to hide.

    Buzzfeed

    Ng’s taut class drama is calibrated for fireworks.

    New York Magazine

    Compelling . . . Little Fires Everywhere invests all of its emotional energies in the relationship between mothers and their children . . . in Ng’s precisely rendered perfect suburb.

    Vox

    Fans of novelist Celeste Ng’s debut, Everything I Never Told You, and devotees of her resistance-ready Twitter feed can rejoice . . . The story drifts effortlessly between characters; each is full and memorable as they coax the novel to its fiery climax. Ng reminds us that action is a choice, and you’ll want to keep reading until the last irreversible actions play out.

    Bust

    Takes unerring aim at upper-middle-class America’s blind spots . . . a nuanced study of mothers and daughters and the burden of not belonging to our families or our communities.

    Vogue

    Unmissable . . . Ng’s psychological insight is acute, yet generous . . . Little Fires Everywhere examines the cruelties that we unwittingly inflict on those we claim to love.

    Claire Fallon, HuffPost’s Best Fiction Books of 2017

    A meditation on the unspoken pains and contradictions of motherhood. Its story unspools all the raw, knotted tensions that go into making a family . . . Choosing a rambling van over a 401(k) isn’t a sign of delinquent parenting in Ng’s universe; it’s just one of a series of possible paths, with its own unique pleasures and pitfalls.

    Refinery29

    [Ng’s] descriptions are so dead-on you can practically see the Cleveland skyline as you ride shotgun with these characters.

    Glamour

    [A] suspenseful, tense tale.

    W Magazine

    Like Everything I Never Told You, Ng’s excellent debut, the book plots its way into a smart, accessible conversation about race and class. But free of the restraints of Everything’s thriller construction, Little Fires gives Ng the space and patience to confront how progressive-minded communities approach identity.

    GQ.com

    A meditation on rules, race, class, insiders, outsiders, motherhood. There is no throwaway character. And after you’ve raced to the end of the book, you’ll want to read it again, to take the ideas and hold them up to the harsh light of 2017. Ng’s novel would be a great read in any time period—but if you’re struggling with the present moment and how we got here, this novel will do what any good piece of fiction does: illuminate.

    Barrie Hardymon, NPR’s Best Books of 2017

    [Ng] probes privilege and the compromises it requires in a riveting novel.

    O, The Oprah Magazine

    A riveting read and one of our favorite new works of fiction this fall.

    Refinery29

    Ng writes with the wisdom of a hundred lives lived.

    Harpers Bazaar

    Opposites attract and also ignite in this thoughtful novel.

    People

    Sharp and entertaining—you can’t look away even when things are crashing and burning (literally)—and it possibly ranks up there with all-time great suburbia fiction, like Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicides.

    Goop

    When you’re in the mood for family drama that’s not your own, Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng will have you hooked.

    The Skimm

    Like Sue Monk Kidd or Madeleine Thien, Celeste Ng has a carpenter’s sure touch in constructing nested, interconnected plots . . . There are few novelists writing today who are as wise, compassionate and unsparing as Ng, about the choices you make, the ones you don’t, and the price you might pay for missed lives.

    Financial Times

    Riveting . . . unearthing the ways that race, class, motherhood and belonging intersect to shape each individual . . . Perhaps Ng’s most impressive feat is inviting the reader’s forgiveness for Mrs. Richardson—a woman whose own mission for perfection, and strict adherence to rules ultimately become the catalyst for the maelstrom that ensues.

    Chicago Tribune

    Stellar . . . The plot is tightly structured, full of echoes and convergence, the characters bound together by a growing number of thick, overlapping threads . . . . Ng is a confident, talented writer, and it’s a pleasure to inhabit the lives of her characters and experience the rhythms of Shaker Heights through her clean, observant prose. Before she became an author she was a miniaturist—almost too perfect for a writer of suburban fiction—and there’s a lovely, balanced, dioramic quality to this novel. She toggles between multiple points of view, creating a narrative both broad in scope and fine in detail, all while keeping the story moving at a thriller’s pace.

    LA Times

    [Ng] widens her aperture to include a deeper, more diverse cast of characters. Though the book’s language is clean and straightforward, almost conversational, Ng has an acute sense of how real people (especially teenagers, the slang-slinging kryptonite of many an aspiring novelist) think and feel and communicate. Shaker Heights may be a place where “things were peaceful, and riots and bombs and earthquakes were quiet thumps, muffled by distance.’ But the real world is never as far away as it seems, of course. And if the scrim can’t be broken, sometimes you have to burn it down. Grade: A-

    Entertainment Weekly

    Delectable and engrossing . . . A complex and compulsively readable suburban saga that is deeply invested in mothers and daughters . . . What Ng has written, in this thoroughly entertaining novel, is a pointed and persuasive social critique, teasing out the myriad forms of privilege and predation that stand between so many people and their achievement of the American dream. But there is a heartening optimism, too. This is a book that believes in the transformative powers of art and genuine kindness—and in the promise of new growth, even after devastation, even after everything has turned to ash.

    Boston Globe

    [Ng] captures her setting with an ethnologist’s authority . . . And there are time-capsule pleasures in her evocation of 1997 . . . The writing is poised.

    Wall Street Jourhnal

    Witnessing these two families as they commingle and clash is an utterly engrossing, often heartbreaking, deeply empathetic experience . . . It’s this vast and complex network of moral affiliations—and the nuanced omniscient voice that Ng employs to navigate it—that make this novel even more ambitious and accomplished than her debut . . . Our trusty narrator is as powerful and persuasive and delightfully clever as the narrator in a Victorian novel . . . It is a thrillingly democratic use of omniscience, and, for a novel about class, race, family and the dangers of the status quo, brilliantly apt . . . The magic of this novel lies in its power to implicate all of its characters—and likely many of its readers—in that innocent delusion [of a post-racial America]. Who set the littles fires everywhere? We keep reading to find out, even as we suspect that it could be us with ash on our hands.

    Eleanor Henderson, The New York Times Book Review

    I read Little Fires Everywhere in a single, breathless sitting. With brilliance and beauty, Celeste Ng dissects a microcosm of American society just when we need to see it beneath the microscope: how do questions of race stack up against the comfort of privilege, and what role does that play in parenting? Is motherhood a bond forged by blood, or by love? And perhaps most importantly: do the faults of our past determine what we deserve in the future? Be ready to be wowed by Ng’s writing—and unsettled by the mirror held up to one’s own beliefs.

    Jodi Picoult, New York Times bestselling author of Small Great Things and Leaving Time

    Takes unerring aim at upper-middle-class America’s blind spots…a nuanced study of mothers and daughters and the burden of not belonging to our families or our communities.

    Vogue

    “A captivating examination of motherhood, identity, family, privilege, and community.”

    Buzzfeed

    This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright… As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege. With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

    Kirkus Reviews (starred)

    Ng’s stunning second novel is a multilayered examination of how identities are forged and maintained, how families are formed and friendships tested, and how the notion of motherhood is far more fluid than bloodlines would suggest…[A] tour de force.

    Booklist (starred review)

    An intricate and captivating portrait of an eerily perfect suburban town with its dark undertones not-quite-hidden from view and a powerful and suspenseful novel about motherhood…Ng explores the complexities of adoption, surrogacy, abortion, privacy, and class, questioning all the while who earns, who claims, and who loses the right to be called a mother…an impressive accomplishment.

    Publishers Weekly (starred review)

    Witty, wise and tender. It’s a marvel.

    Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train and Into the Water

    Praise for Everything I Never Told You

    The mysterious circumstances of 16-year-old Lydia Lee’s tragic death have her loved ones wondering how, exactly, she spent her free time. This ghostly debut novel calls to mind The Lovely Bones.

    Marie Claire

    Ng moves gracefully back and forth in time, into the aftermath of the tragedy as well as the distant past, and into the consciousness of each member of the family, creating a series of mysteries and revelations that lead back to the original question: what happened to Lydia? . . . Ng is masterful in her use of the omniscient narrator, achieving both a historical distance and visceral intimacy with each character’s struggles and failures . . . On the surface, Ng’s storylines are nothing new. There is a mysterious death, a family pulled apart by misunderstanding and grief, a struggle to fit into the norms of society, yet in the weaving of these threads she creates a work of ambitious complexity. In the end, this novel movingly portrays the burden of difference at a time when difference had no cultural value . . . Compelling.

    Los Angeles Review of Books

    Cleverly crafted, emotionally perceptive . . . Ng sensitively dramatizes issues of gender and race that lie at the heart of the story . . . Ng’s themes of assimilation are themselves deftly interlaced into a taut tale of ever deepening and quickening suspense.

    O, The Oprah Magazine

    A subtle meditation on gender, race and the weight of one generation’s unfulfilled ambitions upon the shoulders—and in the heads—of the next . . . Ng deftly and convincingly illustrates the degree to which some miscommunications can never quite be rectified.

    San Francisco Chronicle

    A powerhouse of a debut novel, a literary mystery crafted out of shimmering prose and precise, painful observation about racial barriers, the burden of familial expectations, and the basic human thirst for belonging . . . Ng’s novel grips readers from page one with the hope of unraveling the mystery behind Lydia’s death—and boy does it deliver, on every front.

    Huffington Post

    Wonderfully moving . . . Emotionally precise . . . A beautifully crafted study of dysfunction and grief . . . [This book] will resonate with anyone who has ever had a family drama.

    Boston Globe

    If we know this story, we haven’t seen it yet in American fiction, not until now . . . Ng has set two tasks in this novel’s doubled heart—to be exciting, and to tell a story bigger than whatever is behind the crime. She does both by turning the nest of familial resentments into at least four smaller, prickly mysteries full of secrets the family members won’t share . . . What emerges is a deep, heartfelt portrait of a family struggling with its place in history, and a young woman hoping to be the fulfillment of that struggle. This is, in the end, a novel about the burden of being the first of your kind—a burden you do not always survive.

    Alexander Chee, The New York Times Book Review

    A "cleverly crafted, emotionally perceptive debut ... Ng's themes of assimilation are themselves deftly interlaced into a taut tale of ever deepening and quickening suspense."

    O Magazine

    Both a propulsive mystery and a profound examination of a mixed-race family... [an] explosive debut.

    Entertainment Weekly

    A]n accomplished debut... It's also heart-wrenching. Ng deftly pulls together the strands of this complex, multigenerational novel. Everything I Never Told You is 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.

    The Los Angeles Times
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