Celeste Ng's New Novel Brings Her Back To Shaker Heights

[Kevin Day Photography]
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Celeste Ng was about to have the kind of day about which most writers only dream on September 20.

Ng, the author of the acclaimed “Everything I Never Told You,” would be returning from Cambridge, Massachusetts to the place she grew up, Shaker Heights, to read from her new novel “Little Fires Everywhere” (Penguin Press), which is set in the east side Cleveland suburb.

Then her phone rang with a question: Could she appear as a guest Sept. 20 on the NBC program ‘Late Night with Seth Meyers?’

Ng couldn’t pass the opportunity to talk about her book on network TV, so she had to cancel her reading in Shaker Heights.

“I took a gamble and hoped that [Shaker Heights residents] would forgive me for the chance to talk about Shaker Heights, my hometown, on national TV,” Ng said with a laugh.

Ng described her reaction to being invited to appear on “Late Night with Seth Meyers as being both “surprised and thrilled.”

“Of all the late night hosts, I think that Seth Meyers has done the most to promote writers in general, he has quite a number of writers on his show. He also has a lot of women writers and writers who are people of color and so I’m thrilled that he’s using his huge platform to get people excited about books and books that are representing differing viewpoints,” Ng said.

Ng had been thinking about writing a novel about Shaker Heights for some time, but an event she witnessed in 2009 in Cambridge gave her the impetus she needed to move forward.

“There was a church fire. I went over to take a look to see what was left of the building. As I stood there being very writerly taking notes in my notebook about what it looked and smelled like, I started to imagine what would happen if that sort of event had happened in Shaker Heights,” Ng said.

The novel begins with a fire that destroys the home of the Richardson’s, one of the two families at the center of the novel. The Richardson’s, a family of means, have four children. They very much embody the spirit of their orderly, well-planned community, in particular the family’s mother, Elena.

The other family that plays a key role in “Little Fires Everywhere” is the Warren’s, a family with a limited income who rent a home from the Richardsons. The Warren’s mother, Mia, is a free-spirited artist who lives with her teenage daughter, Pearl.

Soon the lives of these two families intertwine and conflicts arise, in particular between Elena and Mia.

Those conflicts allowed Ng to explore questions she had been pondering about her hometown since having moved from Shaker Heights a decade ago.

“I was at the point where I could finally see my hometown with some nostalgia but also some clarity. I saw all the ways it wanted to be idealistic and all great things it tried to do but I could also see some of the places where it fell a little bit shorter where we were still working. That’s what led me into the book, the conflict between idealism, the idea that you could make a perfect community, and the messiness of everyday life,” Ng said

Celeste Ng appears at the Shaker Heights Library on November 6 at 7 pm.

 

 

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