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Charles Yu

National Book Award-winning author of Interior Chinatown

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  • About Charles Yu

    Hailed for his sharp wit and incisive social commentary, Charles Yu is an acclaimed author and screenwriter whose work is as inventive as it is moving. Interior Chinatown, his fourth and most recent novel, is at once a satirical meditation on immigration, assimilation, and Hollywood stereotyping of Asian Americans and a touching portrait of a family. A National Book Award winner and a “Most Anticipated Book” by Entertainment Weekly, TIMEThe Rumpus, and others, Interior Chinatown follows the story of Willis Wu, who has been cast in the role of “Generic Asian Man” in the ongoing procedural cop show “Black and White,” as he struggles to transcend the rigid and reductive roles available to those who look like him. Both extensively researched and startlingly original, Interior Chinatown is a profound and topical exploration of the weight of stereotypes, racism, and assimilation in American culture.

    Yu’s previous novel, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, was a New York Times Notable Book and a TIME Top 10 Fiction Book of 2010. In his lectures, Yu speaks passionately about a variety of topics, including writing about characters in the margins, representation in Hollywood, and the role of science fiction in his work.

    Yu is a recipient of the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 Award, and he was nominated for two Writers Guild of America Awards for his screenwriting work on the HBO series, Westworld. In addition to writing for Westworld, Yu has been on writing staffs for shows on FX and AMC. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The New YorkerThe New York TimesThe Wall Street Journal, and Wired, among other publications. He lives in Southern California.

  • Speaking Topics

    Interior Chinatown: Screenwriting, Representation, and Identity

    Drawing on his experience as a fiction writer and as a writer and producer for television, Charles Yu discusses his acclaimed novel Interior Chinatown and the issues of immigration, assimilation, and representation that animate his storytelling. In this lecture, Yu also unpacks the role of the family story in his work and the confining weight of stereotypes in film and television that continue today.

    Worldbuilding From the Inside: Tools for Storytellers

    In this lecture, based on his breakout first novel How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe and his work writing for Westworld and other shows (including adapting his own work for television), Charles Yu shares his approach to craft and worldbuilding. In discussing the role of science fiction in his work, Yu explores how writers and storytellers can use the tropes and tools of genre to illuminate questions of family, memory, and narrative that concern us all.

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  • Praise for Charles Yu

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    “Thank you for all of your help in making last night’s event possible. Mr. Yu is phenomenal— our students and faculty were captivated by his journey and perspective. We all sincerely appreciated his thoughtfulness. I know his talk meant a lot to our community.”

    Peddie School

    Praise for Interior Chinatown

    Fresh and beautiful . . . Interior Chinatown represents yet another stellar destination in the journey of a sui generis author of seemingly limitless skill and ambition.

    Jeff VanderMeer, The New York Times Book Review

    One of the funniest books of the year has arrived, a delicious, ambitious Hollywood satire.

    The Washington Post

    Interior Chinatown …. recalls the humorous and heartfelt short stories of George Saunders, the metafictional high jinks of Mark Leyner and films like ‘The Truman Show.’

    Adam Sternbergh, The New York Times

    [Interior Chinatown] takes the theme of social roles beautifully sideways. The novel skewers pop-culture stereotypes of Asian Americans and contends, memorably, with assimilation . . . bold, even groundbreaking, in its form. It’s full of clever wordplay and in-jokes about the Chinese American experience . . . . marked by lacerating humor that blossoms into pathos. Like Percival Everett’s novel Erasure, its critique of race—from an Asian American perspective—cuts. However, acidic jokes are counterbalanced by palpable tenderness around family, parenthood and the human condition . . . . Interior Chinatown solders together mordant wit and melancholic whimsy to produce a moving exploration of race and assimilation that shouldn’t be missed by intellectually adventurous readers.

    Anita Felicelli, San Francisco Chronicle

    [Interior Chinatown is] comedic. It’s literary. It’s weird and experimental . . . a kind of a George Saundersesque alternate reality. It’s all of those things, but maybe mostly, it’s allegory . . . The details meticulously crafted, render a universe that feels complete to the touch.

    Pete Hsu, Los Angeles Review of Books

    [A] sharply observed, darkly humorous evocation of the Asian American experience that blurs the line between performative acts and literal small-screen performances.”

    Clark Collis, Entertainment Weekly

    I’m a big fan of Charles Yu’s writing because of his wit and inventiveness. These talents are front and center in the brilliant and hilarious Interior Chinatown, which satirizes the racist imagination and brings us deep into the humanity of those who suffer from—and struggle against—dehumanization.

    Viet Thanh Nguyen, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Sympathizer

    Interior Chinatown is wrenching, hilarious, sharp, surreal, and above all, original. This is an extraordinary book by an immensely talented writer.

    Emily St. John Mandel, National Book Award finalist and author of The Glass Hotel

    Conflates history, sociology, and ethnography with the timeless evils of racism, sexism, and elitism in a multigenerational epic that’s both rollicking entertainment and scathing commentary. . . . Ingeniously draws on real-life Hollywood. . . . [The book’s] sobering reality will resonate with savvy readers.

    Terry Hong, Booklist (starred review)

    No one writes like Yu: he’s at once sincere and funny, his father-son narratives make me tear up, his work is science-fiction-but-not, and he’s always formally inventive. His new novel isn’t like anything else, either: it’s a novel that’s also a screenplay…or a screenplay that busts out of its form to be a novel.

    The Millions, “Most Anticipated: The Great First-Half 2020 Book Preview”

    Brilliantly unexpected and inventive, Interior Chinatown upended all the things I was sure I knew about the insidious power of stereotypes and left me feeling a little more hopeful for our collective future. Charles Yu’s writing is TRANSFORMATIVE.

    Jade Chang, author of The Wangs vs. the World

    Inspired . . . [an] inventive drama about an Asian actor who dreams of becoming a star. . . . In spare but moving prose, [Yu] describes life among Asian Americans living as so-called foreigners [and] examines the history of bigotry against immigrants in the West for centuries. . . . An acid indictment of Asian stereotypes and a parable for outcasts feeling invisible in this fast-moving world.

    Kirkus Reviews

    Charles Yu’s Interior Chinatown is a biting commentary on racism and pop culture in America, told in a form so original it will have readers questioning both the characters’ reality and their own. But at its heart, it’s also a moving family story of a man learning to be a son, brother, father, and partner in a world that treats him as barely human.

    Anna North, author of The Life and Death of Sophie Stark

    I have long admired Charles Yu’s daring and original fiction, and Interior Chinatown not only met my expectations—it exceeded them. I can’t recall the last time I read a novel this inventive and surprising, and which wrestled with serious issues in such a playful manner. Yu is not afraid to take risks, and he somehow, magically—beautifully—makes those risks accessible. This book is smart and fun, comedic and sincere, thought provoking and impossible to put down. Yu is one of the most exciting writers telling stories today.

    Edan Lepucki, author of Woman No. 17

    This is a hilarious book. You’ll laugh at the universe Charles Yu creates, kitty-corner to our own and just so off-kilter – and then, without warning, you’ll be pulled under by the riptide and everything will suddenly make beautiful, perfect, heartbreaking, unexplainable sense. In Interior Chinatown, Yu builds a world out of clichés and stereotypes, then finds a tiny hole in the back and slowly fills it with life and history and nuance and anguish and joy and desire and grief. There is no writer with a greater talent for taking the flattening indignities of life and exploding them into vibrant, poignant mythology.

    Raphael Bob-Waksberg, creator of BoJack Horseman and author of Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory

    Most books are lucky to be either clever or deep, but Charles Yu’s new novel is both, and makes it look easy. Interior Chinatown is essential reading for anyone who’s obsessed with pop culture, identity, and all the ways that we’re all playing roles, all the time.

    Charlie Jane Anders, author of The City in the Middle of the Night

    Interior Chinatown is a fascinating novel, hilarious and melancholy, a clever depiction of Hollywood dreaming itself and a sharp critique of the nature of those dreams. If it’s said that one of the reasons we watch films and television is out of a wish to ‘see ourselves,’ Yu adeptly raises the question of whether what we’re shown in response to that wish can ever be what we truly are.

    Dexter Palmer, author of Mary Toft

    I devoured this novel. Yu masterfully orchestrates a heartbreaking and hilarious tale of race in America through the lens of the HOLLYWOOD ACTION MOVIE™. It’s an examination of how popcorn-flick pop culture shapes our understanding of each other, and tragically, our own self-definition as Americans and as human beings.

    Daniel H. Wilson, author of The Clockwork Dynasty

    Praise for Sorry Please Thank You

    What Charles Yu does very well—it is a long list, but this may be its most notable entry—is to create strange and disturbingly normal alternate realities. In his first novel, How To Live Safely In a Science Fictional Universe, Yu conceived of Minor Universe 31, a universe filled with people widely, albeit unhappily, using time machines. He took sci-fi theories and ran them through a sort of literary normalizer, applying ample wit, pop-culture references, psychological insight, metaphorical flair, and a vital sweetness (his young, isolated protagonist, in search of his father, even has a stray dog for a pet). Overflowing with quasi-scientific jargon, the novel was exciting and funny and, at times, downright spooky, much like the quantum theories that Yu invoked. But most of all, for a story about a time travel mechanic, it was unfailingly realistic. . . . In his new collection of stories, Sorry Please Thank You, Yu no longer constrains himself to the pre-requisites of realism—or, to be more accurate, the appearance of realism. Freed from this yoke, he takes off in every narrative direction with the glee of a school-kid released for summer vacation. . . . While Yu has drawn many comparisons to Kurt Vonnegut for his entertaining and adept satire, and to Douglas Adams for his intelligent and inventive silliness, Donald Barthelme seems an overlooked literary forebear. . . . As readers, we are all the better for Yu’s astonishing mix of wild imagination and meticulous restraint. Of the three polite phrases that comprise his title—Sorry Please Thank You—only the last is of true relevance here. No sorries, Charles. Just thanks.

    Los Angeles Review of Books

    There’s some of the cerebral gamesmanship of Jonathan Lethem, the resigned sadness of Kurt Vonnegut, the Phil Dickian paranoiac distrust of consumer culture. But Yu’s voice, sensibility and approach are unique, especially in the ways he wrings humor and pathos out of stripped-down syntax and seemingly passive protagonists . . . The stories deliver more than their fair share of bitter laughs, philosophical conundrums and existential gut punches.

    San Francisco Chronicle

    A mix of science fiction, absurdist humor and Beckettian monologue, with storytelling techniques that twist narrative into a computer-esque objectivism; think Donald Barthleme’s strangest pyrotechnics in a Philip K. Dick or Haruki Murakami world . . . [Charles Yu is ] the computer century’s heir to Philip K. Dick and Ray Bradbury.

    Shelf Awareness

    Yu’s workman-like sentences are unexpectedly emotive, while also being almost always very funny . . . As with his critically acclaimed, much-adored 2010 debut novel, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, Yu’s new baker’s dozen of satiric stories tell of a future that’s really just an exaggerated present . . . Like the best science fiction writers, Yu provides seemingly gratuitous logistical information to mitigate any hint of farce . . . Yu is a master of the slow reveal. It sometimes takes pages to understand where we are and why, but as the chatty protagonists joke and confess their deepest pains, details accrue and outlines fill in. And when we are finally oriented, the universe he has created feels eerily complete . . . Imaginary lands become possible worlds; cunning tricks grow into game theory; playing pretend morphs into explorations of false consciousness. Each story in Sorry Please Thank You is staggeringly smart, and none feel like anything but entertainment. Cultish fans of the NBC comedy Community, this book is for you.

    The Boston Globe

    I don’t know that there’s a better story-bending talent at work than Yu since the rise of George Saunders . . . If you take a longer view you can see that Yu’s success has many parents, from the oft-quoted Stein, the tone of Hemingway and Beckett, Virginia Woolf’s fanciful short creations (as in, say, the story “Kew Gardens”), Calvino’s game-faced fantasies and the low-key but powerful satire of Kurt Vonnegut . . . a tour-de-force.

    Alan Cheuse, NPR.org

    Lovely and heartfelt . . . A brilliantly manic ride . . . Yu has an undeniable gift for describing, in clean, economical prose, the mechanics of things that don’t exist or are impossible.”

    The Wall Street Journal

    Stand back. The lead story in Sorry Please Thank You, this spritely new collection by L.A. writer Charles Yu, has the title ‘Standard Loneliness Package’ and it announces that a sly, nimble fantasist with a speculative edge is at work here. [An] adroit piece of work . . . Experiment plus emotion, we don’t often find these two elements together, but when it happens, as it does in most of these stories . . . it makes for terrific reading for the heart as well as the head.

    Alan Cheuse for NPR’s All Things Considered

    Charles Yu won us over with his weird, melancholy novel How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe and now he’s back . . . [These] stories are psychological studies of neurotic nerds, struggling to stay alive as they fight liches and loneliness. They’re beautiful, strange, and funny.

    io9

    Yu’s bold, playful voice evokes a computer-era Donald Barthelme, but his stylistic journey into the vast universe that is the human mind is refreshingly distinctive.

    Booklist

    Praise for How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

    Glittering layers of gorgeous and playful meta-science-fiction. . . . Like [Douglas] Adams, Yu is very funny, usually proportional to the wildness of his inventions, but Yu’s sound and fury conceal (and construct) this novel’s dense, tragic, all-too-human heart. . . . Yu is a superhero of rendering human consciousness and emotion in the language of engineering and science. . . . A complex, brainy, genre-hopping joyride of a story, far more than the sum of its component parts, and smart and tragic enough to engage all regions of the brain and body.

    The New York Times Book Review

    Compulsively rereadable. . . . Hilarious. . . . Yu has a crisp, intermittently lyrical prose style, one that’s comfortable with both math and sadness, moving seamlessly from delirious metafiction to the straight-faced prose of instruction-manual entries. . . . [The book itself] is like Steve Jobs’ ultimate hardware fetish, a dreamlike amalgam of functionality and predetermination.

    Los Angeles Times

    This book is cool as hell. If I could go back in time and read it earlier, I would.

    Colson Whitehead, author of Sag Harbor

    Douglas Adams and Philip K. Dick are touchstones, but Yu’s sense of humor and narrative splashes of color–especially when dealing with a pretty solitary life and the bittersweet search for his father, a time travel pioneer who disappeared–set him apart within the narrative spaces of his own horizontal design. . . . A clever little story that will be looped in your head for days. No doubt it will be made into a movie, but let’s hope that doesn’t take away the heart.

    Austin Chronicle

    If How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe contented itself with exploring that classic chestnut of speculative fiction, the time paradox, it would likely make for an enjoyable sci-fi yarn. But Yu’s novel is a good deal more ambitious, and ultimately more satisfying, than that. It’s about time travel and cosmology, yes, but it’s also about language and narrative — the more we learn about Minor Universe 31, the more it resembles the story space of the novel we’re reading, which is full of diagrams, footnotes, pages left intentionally (and meaningfully) blank and brief chapters from the owner’s manual of our narrator’s time machine. . . . . Yu grafts the laws of theoretical physics onto the yearnings of the human heart so thoroughly and deftly that the book’s technical language and mathematical proofs take on a sense of urgency.

    NPR

    How to Live Safely is a book likely to generate a lot of discussion, within science fiction and outside, infuriating some readers while delighting many others.

    San Francisco Chronicle

    An extraordinary work. . . . I read the entire book in one gulp.

    Chris Wallace, GQ

    A great Calvino-esque thrill ride of a book.

    The Stranger

    Science and metaphor get nice and cozy in Charles Yu’s How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe. The novel joins the likes of Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story and Jillian Weise’s The Colony, fiction that borrows the tropes of sci-fi to tell high-tech self-actualization narratives.

    Portland Mercury

    A brainy reverie of sexbots, rayguns, time travel and Buddhist zombie mothers. . . . Packed with deft emotional insight.

    The Economist

    A funny, funny book, and it’s a good thing, too; because at its heart it’s a book about loneliness, regret, and the all-too-human desire to change the past.

    Tor.com

    In this debut novel, Charles Yu continues his ambitious exploration of the fantastic with a whimsical yet sincere tribute to old-school science fiction and quantum physics. . . . A fascinating, philosophical and disorienting thriller about life and the context that gives it meaning.

    Kirkus, starred review

    Praise for Third Class Superhero

    Third Class Superhero transcends what might have been a merely clever premise to speak to us about ambition, envy and the moral dilemmas that our own worst natures force on us. I admire it very much.

    Jean Thompson, National Book Award Finalist
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