If you prefer your theater a tad more mainstream than Fringe fare, you have several options. I particularly recommend Circle Mirror Transformation at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. It’s the final weekend for this show about five people engaged in an acting class in a small-town community center. What they learn is as much about themselves as it is about theater, and it’s sweet, profound and moving. The final performance is Saturday evening on the Shelterhouse stage. It’s the final production of the 2014-2015 season. Tickets: 513-241-3888
There are a couple of musicals you might want to catch, too. Showbiz Players is offering The Addams Family, based on the oddball cartoons of Charles Addams featured in The New Yorker (as well as an iconic TV show from the 1960s). It’s in its final weekend at the Carnegie in Covington. Tickets: 859-957-1940 … Also in Northern Kentucky, you can drop by the Monmouth Theatre in Newport to see Falcon Theater’s staging of Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins, an unusual work about the actual historical individuals who succeeded in shooting a president. It features fascinating music and a story line about the American Dream and what happens when people can’t grab ahold of it. It’s being presented through June 13. Tickets: 513-479-6783 … I’d like to recommend The Producers currently in production at the new Incline Theater in East Price Hill. It’s a delightfully silly show about showbiz. But the folks at Cincinnati Landmark Productions have so successfully marketed this opening production of its summer season that most performances are sold out. However, if you’re persistent, you might get your name on a waiting list by calling the box office: 513-241-6550.
Each week CityBeat staffers share their weekend plans: from dinner and drinks or special events to out-of-town concerts and stories we're working on. And some of us just watch TV.
Mike Breen: I’m planning on Bunbury-ing as much as possible this weekend at the Bunbury Music Festival. There are some great acts throughout the entire weekend that I hope to see, but my “all-in” day is Friday. If Danny The Editor lets me leave early, I’m going to arrive at Sawyer Point/Yeatman’s Cove in time for the first band, the great, great Wussy, at 2 p.m. and I’m excited to see most of the acts performing throughout Friday. Tame Impala is one of my favorite artists of the past few years, so I’m especially psyched to see them, but also Catfish and the Bottlemen, Father John Misty, Multimagic, Royal Blood and Mini Mansions. My daughter has finally graduated from Disney Pop to actual Pop in the past year, so I’m taking her to see Cincinnati hitmakers Walk the Moon. I’ve been forcing them down her throat since their last album (which she indeed enjoys) and since “Shut Up and Dance” has become omnipresent on Top 40 radio, she’s become a full-on fan. I’m excited to see them as well; like Wussy, I’m really proud of their amazing success and look forward to rooting them on. I’m a little concerned about the child lasting the full day, but there are swing sets and other cool not-watching-band things to do along the riverfront all weekend (she is, after all, still a kid). OH — and I’m planning on plugging any holes in my festgoing schedule with some recommendations from those brilliant bastards at CityBeat. If any of them suck, I'm canceling my subscription and leaving a nasty comment on their website.
Rebecca Sylvester: Going to see Ja Rule on Fountain Square with a bunch of friends from high school. I'll respond to Becky if Ja asks.
Zack Hatfield: I'm going to relive my lost youth and check out 16-Bit Bar+Arcade, which opens this Friday. That same day I'll probably head over to the Main Library for the Book Sale on its last day and buy a shelf's-worth of books with their buy-a-bag-for-$10 deal. On Saturday I plan to head over to Visionaries + Voices in Northside and check out their new MAPS + LEGENDS exhibit, which promises unique landscapes of Cincinnati.
Jac Kern: Friday night my guy and I are seeing the Entourage movie (OH YEAH)
even though there’s no way it’s going to be very good. But with the combination
of luxury loungers and a flask, we’re sure to have an entertaining evening.
Like some of my colleagues, I, too will be checking out the free Ja Rule concert on
Fountain Square Saturday followed by a stop at 16-Bit. Unlike Mike, I am only interested in seeing concerts from musicians I listened to on my discman on the back of the bus in seventh grade (the last concert I saw was Beyoncé and Jay Z last summer, so I'm not exaggerating). I still know all Ja’s
songs from 2000-2003 (well, at least the girl parts) and am tempted to buy a
JLo-esque denim bodysuit to truly live out my fantasy. Also, I’ve been to the
16-Bit in Columbus, and it was one of the most fun bars I’ve been to. If the vibe is anything like the
original location, it’ll be a great spot. Then on Sunday I might round out the
weekend with a
torture session little shopping at Kenwood Towne Centre.
Jesse Fox: This weekend I will be photographing and attending Bunbury. I haven't photographed it the past two years, so I'm looking forward to getting back to documenting it. I have a few friends who are playing that I haven't seen in a while, so it will be a good time reuniting with them as well.
Sarah Urmston: After a long week of summer classes, work and internships, my boyfriend and I are super excited to have a much needed night in on Friday where he'll most likely cook something weird I can't pronounce while we watch 30 Rock re-runs together. Saturday will start with a birthday brunch at Taste of Belgium with the girls to celebrate my dear friend Kayla, followed by hanging at the Great American Ballpark for a Reds game. She's totally worth the overpriced draft beers, but I'll definitely try to hunt down the $1 hotdogs. I'm especially anxious to end the weekend at the Tri-State Antique Market in Indiana, picking out more vintage items I don't need to fill up my home. Not to mention they have the best homemade donut stand I've ever been to in my life!
It should come as no surprise that I do not have very high TV standards (check my DVR full of every Shark Tank episode + all Bravo originals), but there is a small pool of programming I just won’t watch — basically anything that involves wedding dress shopping and all things Bachelor/ette related. So I missed the moment when self-proclaimed super-fan Amy Schumer appeared on a recent episode (which is a shame, because A., she’s a goddess, and B., a comedy-themed date in a manufactured setting like this is horrible and hilarious). She did not disappoint.
Also filed under horrible and hilarious: a documentary about the late, great comic Chris Farley is coming out this summer. Let me clarify: This will undoubtedly be hilarious because nearly everything Farley did was (he’s one of my comedic heroes), but also inevitably horribly sad (Farley died of a drug overdose in 1997 at 33 years old). I Am Chris Farley will feature interviews with Farley’s family, fellow comedians and Saturday Night Live stars — Tom Arnold, Adam Sandler, David Spade, Mike Myers and more. Check it out on Spike Aug. 10.
Reason No. 9280 why I love the Internet: One Tiny Hand. It’s photos of celebs Photoshopped to have one tiny hand.
Major Kardashian-Jenner news this week, she writes as her last remaining follower stops reading. Kim teased a second pregnancy in a preview for the second half of this season of Keeping Up with the Kardashians. She and Kanye are reportedly expecting their second Balmain-sporting bébé in December. Just hours later, Vanity Fair released the cover of its July issue featuring Caitlyn Jenner (formerly Bruce), giving the public a name and an image to go along with Jenner’s transition.
She looks fantastic — happy, comfortable in her skin, and just plain traditionally attractive. But Laverne Cox made an excellent statement about how a beautiful heart and soul is much more important, and reached out to all the trans men and women who don’t have the genes, money, access and other resources to get surgeries, “pass” as a man or woman and be considered traditionally beautiful. Check out this thoughtful read here.
Jenner’s E! docuseries, I Am Cait, premieres July 26.
Mashup du jour: Welcome to the Grand Overlook Hotel.
You know that one friend
who always thinks an Onion article is
for real? Former
FIFA Vice President Jack Warner is that guy.
San Andreas is a crazy disaster flick where The Rock rescues all attractive women when the planet cracks in half and the ocean swallows us all up (I think), and it’s bringing in tons of cash at the box office. But is it scientifically accurate? No! Obviously! A seismologist (a.k.a. earthquake scientist) confirmed that and fact-checked a few other depictions in the flick, just in case the idea of every city crumbling to the ground scares you.
NBC’s Hannibal premieres Thursday with a third season. Read more about this killer drama and more picks in this week’s TV column.
Finally, here are some baby goats in pajamas.
Anyone who knows me is quick to call me out as a Kardashian fanatic. I grew up with them through religiously watching Keeping Up With The Kardashians. My specific fascination and adoration for Kim Kardashian West is ridiculous to most people, but I cannot help it! She is everything to me. Naturally, I jumped for joy Sunday night after she announced her second pregnancy. I could not wait to see what the rest of the world would say the next day – jokes about naming the baby South West, people on social media asking why anyone cares about Kim — you know, the usual. But I did not see much about baby No. 2 because not many cared — *heart breaks* — after another family member basically broke the Internet.
On the first day of Pride Month and a little over a year after Laverne Cox’s iconic Time cover, Caitlyn Jenner, formerly known as Bruce, graced the cover of Vanity Fair Monday. The headline read “#CallMeCaitlyn” — pretty simple, right? Well, you would think so. Either people still do not understand hashtags, or they were too busy obsessing over her beauty and similarity to Jessica Lange — which is a whole other conversation. Nevertheless, with the headline/hashtag combination, she is asking people — on and off social media — to call her Caitlyn. Nothing else, only Caitlyn. It’s she — not he, not “she” — she. It’s not “his new name” or “his new identity” — it’s her. Caitlyn is her truth. It is who she has always been.
But what would an announcement from one of the most controversial public figures on 2015 be without exactly that — controversy. This week has already brought a multitude of headlines and opinions as people continue to react to Caitlyn’s photoshoot. By the end of the week, I am sure I could write a dissertation or short novel on everything. For your sake, I will just dissect the reoccurring reactions and controversies I have encountered on social media, and I will relate them to how you should treat Jenner. When speaking about Caitlyn:
Do NOT call her anything other than Caitlyn.
If you are speaking to an individual who is not up to par on Caitlyn’s public journey and you are trying to explain, say “Caitlyn Jenner, formerly known as Bruce Jenner…” Remember that by the end of the conversation, the individual should understand that her name is Caitlyn.
Do NOT use the pronouns he, him and his when speaking about Caitlyn. She identifies as a transgender woman and prefers the pronouns she, her and hers.
If you mess up in the beginning, it is OK. While they yearn for people to use their preferred pronouns, most trans* individuals understand that it might take time to break an old habit. If you realize you accidentally used incorrect pronouns, either correct it immediately or make a point to use the correct pronouns next time. Trans* folks will see you are trying. The effort makes a difference.
Do NOT compare her beauty to the beauty of other women.
I have seen
countless memes and posts about her being prettier
than Kris Jenner and that Kris must be mad Caitlyn did not start her name with
the letter “K.” I understand how things like this might seem funny — especially
with how the media paints Kris’ reputation, lifestyle and alleged opinions —
but it’s not funny. In The
Jenner Interview with Diane Sawyer and Keeping
Up With the Kardashians: All About Bruce, Caitlyn has expressed her
continued love and respect for Kris during this time, acknowledging that
families of transgender individuals sometimes need time to process. Despite your
opinions about Kris, Caitlyn, the whole family or transgender people in
general, let the Vanity Fair cover be
a catalyst for us to stop pitting women against each other.
I will speak more about this later, but let’s remember that Caitlyn’s photoshoot displays more than just physical beauty. She is beautiful, but that cannot be the only thing we get out of this Vanity Fair issue. In a reaction post on her official Tumblr, actress and activist Laverne Cox said, “What I think is most beautiful about her is her heart and soul, the ways she has allowed the world into her vulnerabilities. The love and devotion she has for her family and that they have for her. Her courage to move past denial into her truth so publicly. These things are beyond beautiful to me.”
Do NOT be disrespectful or transphobic.
Myriad negative headlines are about public figures and people on Twitter who refuse to acknowledge Caitlyn’s womanhood, journey and personal requests.
· Fox News and other media outlets mocked and misgendered her.
· Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee refuses to support not only Caitlyn, but the whole trans* community. The former Arkansas Governor said trans* folks and the idea of trans*-related legislation was a threat to society, especially for children in a bathroom setting. Oddly enough, he came out in support of Josh Duggar — who admitted to molesting four of his sisters and a babysitter — but he won’t support Caitlyn or trans* folks in the name of protecting children and family values.
· I am not going to pretend to know a multitude about sports. The only time I pay attention to the EPSY Awards is to see how athletes dress for a red carpet. Athletes and their communities are incredibly talented, but it is just not my thing. I do not know enough about the other qualified sports stars to have a legitimate opinion on whether or not Caitlyn should win the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, but I do know the backlash Jenner is receiving is disgusting. Tweet! Voice your opinion! Root for your favorite athlete! But do not try to delegitimize an individual’s hero status or level of courage if it is well earned. In regard to Jenner and the trans* community, it is transphobic and disrespectful. Comparing an inspirational transgender person to an inspirational soldier and an inspirational young girl who passed away too soon is like comparing apples, oranges and bananas. But all three are courageous and serve as inspirational figures to a handful of people — the athletes, not fruit. You can disagree without wishing ill will and voice your opinions without disregarding someone’s experience. Bravery and courage exist in all forms.
Now that we cleared that up, I am returning to society’s concept of beauty in relation to transgender folks. Wendy Williams is not a stranger to backlash and criticism, especially for her opinions about Caitlyn Jenner over the past year. On Tuesday, she spoke about the Vanity Fair cover and Caitlyn’s transition. She occasionally misgendered Caitlyn in the beginning, but corrected herself, which was progress. What stood out to me were Williams’ expectations and demands for Caitlyn’s life now that she is out to the public. Not only did she give Kris Jenner permission to eternally resent Caitlyn, but Wendy refused to accept Caitlyn’s womanhood and name if Caitlyn did not physically live up to cisnormative standards of beauty and society’s traditional female stereotypes. “A lot of men try to transition, and a lot of you [transgender women] … No bueno, no bueno, OK?” she said. Williams acknowledged Caitlyn’s beauty, but said, “I don’t want to see no man,” in the future and later said, “I just want the weave to stay in.”
Whether Williams was joking or not, the studio audience laughed because they understood and believed what she was talking about. Her show is successful because she is relatable and her loyal fan base can identify with her. Her opinions often reflect a generation or handful of people’s views. Her expectations for Caitlyn to always “pass” or undetectably embody a stereotypical woman all the time is problematic because it positions cisgender people as the standard for beauty. It should not be she’s beautiful for a transgender person. There should not be a different standard of beauty for trans folks. It’s look at her, she’s beautiful, but incorporating Laverne Cox’s point that her bravery, heart and spirit are even more beautiful.
And while Caitlyn Jenner has stunning features, she comes from so much privilege. Not all transgender individuals can afford cosmetic surgery, designer clothes and time away from work. Even less trans folks get paid to come out and share their story — like probably less than two percent, if that. This does not mean Caitlyn deserves less sympathy or respect because she has more privilege than others; she identified her privilege briefly in the Diane Sawyer interview — it just means she is a rare example of what being transgender looks like — again, an extremely rare example. LGBTQ+ people can still get fired for being queer in 32 states, trans* individuals do not always receive the same healthcare benefits and some financially and emotionally struggle for their necessities.
Caitlyn Jenner will save numerous lives from suicide and will encourage people of all ages to come out as transgender — she already has. Let us support her as she uses this new-found platform to make a difference, but remember every transgender experience is different. We must also realize that not all trans people live up to cisnormative standards and not all folks want to. As I reflect on everything I have read this week alongside my idea of beauty and longtime adoration for Kim Kardashian West that I mentioned before, I realize that beauty is subjective. Kim K. might be one of the most beautiful women in the world in my eyes, but she and others do not represent what it means to be beautiful. Like courage and bravery, beauty exists in countless forms. I also realize that every person’s experience is their own journey and story to tell. We need to start listening.
Caitlyn Jenner’s issue of Vanity Fair is available in stores now. Her new documentary series I Am Cait premieres Sunday, July 26 at 9 p.m. on E!
Are you confused about all of this queer terminology? That’s OK! Take some time to learn more at http://www.glaad.org/reference/transgender.
Good morning y’all. Here’s a brief rundown of what’s happening in Cincy today.
The Southern Ohio Regional Transit Authority and the Amalgamated Transit Union finally signed an agreement yesterday over the potential for ATU employees to work jobs operating the streetcar. The union doesn’t have the gig yet, however; council will be deciding among yet-to-be-released bids for managing the streetcar that could include or exclude ATU employees. Meanwhile, SORTA will release details about the price tags on those bids by the end of this week, the transit authority says. The names of the companies making those bids will stay under wraps until July, however.
• Community activists, faith leaders and elected officials yesterday called for the creation of a new community development corporation that will push for economic advancement in the city’s low-income minority neighborhoods. The group, which includes State Rep. Alicia Reece, Cincinnati City Councilman Wendell Young, Rev. Damon Lynch III and others, also called for $50 million from city and state funds to support businesses, provide job training and foster economic development in neighborhoods like Avondale, Bond Hill and others. The group says the way to address some of the city’s big issues with crime and poverty is by getting to their root and providing more economic opportunity.
• Seven new single-family townhomes are coming to Over-the-Rhine. The homes will feature three bedrooms, about 2,800 square feet each, with basements and detached garages. They’re expected to start at about $650,000 each. Mount Adams-based Towne Properties is undertaking the development near the corner of 15th and Elm streets. Towne recently hired Chad Munitz, formerly of 3CDC, and he’s been key in putting together the OTR development, Towne’s first in the neighborhood. The homes will be modeled after another Towne development called Beacon Hill in Deerfield Township.
• Mustaches are so hip right now. Or rather, I guess, they were so hip about three years ago. But it takes that long for huge buildings to catch up to trends, you know, because they’re like, huge buildings and don’t really get around town much. Anyway, the Scripps Center downtown is currently getting a bit of a hipster makeover with vinyl panels that will make the building look like it’s wearing a retro Cincinnati Reds cap and a big ole handlebar mustache. It’s not that the building is feeling its age and is trying to keep up with current fashions — it’s for the MLB All Star Game next month. Cool man. Just don't try to ride a fixed gear, Scripps Center. That ship has sailed.
• Cincinnati has a way to go when it comes to startups, a new ranking by the entrepreneurship-focused Kaufman Foundation says. The city ranked 32nd among the nation’s 40 largest cities, coming in behind Columbus (12th) and Indianapolis (28th) when it comes to the number of startups created in the city per capita and the number of new entrepreneurs in the city. But there’s good news, too — the city gained two spots on the list since last year, when it was 34th.
• Finally, law enforcement officials investigating the police shooting death of Tamir Rice in Cleveland last year have finished their investigation and turned over their findings to the Cuyahoga County Prosecutors office. Now, the prosecutor says, the case will go before a grand jury to decide whether to indict Cleveland Police officer Timothy Loehmann, who jumped from a police cruiser and shot Rice on playground while the 12-year-old played with a toy pistol. A separate civil suit by Rice’s parents against the city is also pending.
They don’t expect you to do it by yourself — the winning individuals will receive a $15,000 grant to install their exhibits, and will get assistance curating their projects from the organization. They’re looking for engaging, daring ideas that capitalize on the opportunities a storefront gallery space allows. The application requires a title, a video submission, a budget and a timeline, and will be reviewed by an independent panel.
The lab, which strives to bring together “civic-minded talent to address challenges and uncover opportunities to accelerate the positive transformation of Greater Cincinnati,” underwent renovations in March.
Good morning y’all. Some jerk ran me off the road this morning while I biked to work. I’m OK except for some scraped-up hands, but it hurts to type. Which means you’re getting a bare-bones, just the facts morning news today. OK? OK.
• One of the five new shelters representing a shift in how the city deals with homelessness will open this fall in Queensgate, but it currently needs $2.7 million for opening and operating costs and may have to start out in debt. A new campaign called “Bring it Home” looks to bridge that financial gap. The new Drop Inn Center, which will replace the current, long-standing location in Over-the-Rhine near Washington Park, is set to open in September at the former Butternut Bread factory. The shelter, which will be called Shelterhouse, joins the Lighthouse Sheakley Center for Youth and Talbert House Parkway Center, which opened in 2012, the new City Gospel Mission in the West End, which also replaced a former location in OTR in April, and the Mount Auburn replacement location for the Anna Louise Inn, called the Esther Marie Hatton Center for Women, which will open Friday. Those locations are part of a Strategies to End Homelessness push to reduce the number of homeless in the city. The idea behind the new shelters, backers say, is to provide more than just a place to stay — each also includes social services like substance abuse treatment, mental and medical health care and other services. The goal is to transition those experiencing homelessness to housing. The Homeless to Homes Shelter Collaborative, which started in 2010 to raise money for the effort, has raised more than $39 million of the needed $42 million for the shelters.
• Details are trickling out about the Cincinnati Police Department’s plan to curb the recent rash of shootings in the city. According to police officials, at least one part of the plan will be reassigning 50 officers to problem spots where a number of the recent shootings have occurred. City Manager Harry Black has asked Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell for a complete 90-day plan for addressing the violence by Friday. Local leaders including community activist Iris Roley, State Rep. Alicia Reece, Cincinnati City Councilman Wendell Young, Rev. Damon Lynch and others are announcing their own plan to help fight the violence today at 11 a.m.
• Meanwhile, City Manager Harry Black yesterday released a memo to Cincinnati City Council and Mayor John Cranley revealing that the Cincinnati Police Department is undergoing a comprehensive “climate assessment.” That assessment will seek out problem areas, assess employee morale and communication and follow up on suggested solutions, the memo says. Currently, the city is also undertaking a similar assessment on the Department of Sewers and Greater Cincinnati Waterworks, and has recently completed assessments for the city’s Human Resources, Human Services and Recreation Departments.The memo comes after days of speculation about the meaning of a resignation letter drawn up by the city manager for Chief Blackwell.
• Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning is the third-best in the world for design, according to a recent survey of industry professionals by website Business Insider. Nearly 78 percent of respondents said an education from DAAP was valuable, putting the school above big-name art schools like Carnegie Mellon, Parsons the New School for Design, the Pratt Institute, Cranbrook Academy of Art and Cooper Union, among others. Only The Rhode Island School of Design (number one) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab ranked higher among the 633 industry insiders surveyed.
• The state of Ohio may soon pass a law granting protection from prosecution for people who call for help for heroin overdose victims. Sometimes companions of an overdose victim don’t call for medical attention because they fear they’ll be arrested on drug charges. The so-called Good Samaritan bill currently before the Ohio General Assembly would shelter callers from such legal action. Similar bills have gone before the Ohio General Assembly before, most recently in the last legislative session. But some lawmakers, Democrat State Rep. Denise Driehaus of Clifton Heights, believe that the legislature is ready to pass the bill this time around. Kentucky already has a similar law, which it passed earlier this year.
• Finally, this is a huge bummer. The Columbus Dispatch this morning announced that its print products, including its daily paper, 24 weekly papers for the city’s suburbs and seven magazines, are being sold to New York-based New Media Investment Group, Inc. That conglomerate is most widely known for owning GateHouse Media, a collection of 126 daily papers and more than 500 total publications in 32 states. The Columbus Dispatch has been owned by C-bus locals the Wolfe family for 110 years, making the Dispatch one of the oldest — and one of the last —independently-owned papers in the state. The paper often does great, error-free, typo-free journalism. GateHouse utilizes a centralized approach to newspaper production: copy editing, page design and other functions for its papers are often performed at a single location outside the city where the papers are produced.
"Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” These are the opening lines to Celeste Ng’s debut novel, Everything I Never Told You. They are not necessarily shocking or revelatory to readers, but instead reveal a central concern that haunts the entire story: the unknown. The novel traffics in secrets — those between mothers and daughters, fathers and sons and brothers and sisters that ultimately threaten to erase a family portrait hung crookedly in the eyes of everyone else in society.
Set primarily in Midwestern Ohio during the late 1970s, Everything I Never Told You deftly examines a mixed-race family before and after a young girl is found drowned in a lake. Ng’s prose, graceful yet powerful, follows the characters as they try to make sense out of a family member’s death and their own grief. Within this narrative is a deeper one, a quietly devastating interrogation of identity and the need to belong.
Ng, who will give a reading at Joseph-Beth Booksellers on Thursday at 7
p.m., spoke with me about diversity in diversity, the challenges of writing her
first novel and the metaphors to be found in hidden garbage.
This post is the first in an ongoing series of interviews with local and visiting authors.
CityBeat: How did the idea for Everything I Never Told You unfold? Did it turn out to be the same story you thought it would be when you first started writing it?
Celeste Ng: I didn’t expect culture to be such a big part of it. It wasn’t until I started to look at the family. I had an idea about a family tragedy that would happen, and when I started to write about the family I knew that they were a mixed-race family. That was sort of surprising to me.
CB: One thing I enjoyed about the novel was how you took a mystery framework to explore more literary themes of identity and race. Can you talk about that choice of exploring your topics with that aspect of crime/thriller genre?
CN: I never intended to write a mystery or a thriller. What I’ve always been interested in with my fiction is family relationships, and how families react to each other. How parents and children get each other, don’t get each other, drive each other crazy. It’s that idea that introduced that mystery element into it — I wanted to look at how a family might deal with a tragedy.
CB: What kind of research did you do for the novel?
CN: In terms of getting the details right, I grew up in the early ’80s so a lot of things came from memory — the telephone cords and the record player that skips a little, all that sort of stuff. I researched the history of interracial marriage and about how it’s become more common. That’s when I learned that it wasn’t legal in the United States until 1967, which was a real surprise to me. For the characters themselves, I did the kind of research that writers do, which is just digging deeper and deeper into the characters, writing them until I felt like I knew what they would do or say.
CB: Another thing I noticed throughout the book was how adept you were at weaving between past and present tenses. You begin the novel at the middle, with Lydia’s death, and that’s what everything else in the story orbits. Was this challenging?
CN: I’m glad you mentioned that, because it was actually the main thing that I struggled with in writing the novel. I wrote four drafts of the novel, but the story basically stayed the same throughout — what really changed was the structure. The past imbues the present and the present echoes the past, and so I knew that there was a lot in the family’s background that I wanted to explore, and that was part of the story just as much as the story of what happened after Lydia’s death. And so I had to figure out a way to fuse this together so that the reader could see the connections between present and past. It took a lot of experimenting and restructuring and revising.
CB: Why did you set the story in the past, in ’70s Midwestern Ohio? How would the story be different today, with technology and more access to books like yours?
CN: As I was getting to know the family and the issues they were facing, I found the ’70s was a period that encapsulated that. It was a period where women would see their daughters getting opportunities that they themselves had missed out on. I don’t know if this a story that couldn’t happen today. I would like to think so — I think we’ve made a lot of progress — but another thing I researched was how public attitudes toward interracial marriage had been changing, and it was only very recently — I think in 1997 that a majority of people felt OK with interracial marriage, which is kind of mind-blowing to me, because I remember 1997, you know. I would like to think that things would be a lot different for the family now, but a lot of the issues about viewing cultures and balancing personal life and dreams with children — these are still issues that are with us.
CB: Is your recent success validating to you as a writer, and do you think it might change the way you write? Do you feel the need to keep or appeal to a wider audience now that you’ve reached this level of recognition?
CN: That’s a great question. The answer to how it feels to get all of this is probably surreal — that’s the best adjective I can come up with. I work alone, in my house or in the corner in the library and I write these things from my head, not knowing if anyone else will believe them or will ever connect with them, and so to have the book go out into the world and have a lot of people connect with it has been really amazing and kind of mind-blowing. I say to my husband, ‘Is it possible that I am having a very, very vivid waking dream, and I’m just hallucinating this?’ and he very nicely says, ‘It’s possible, but seems unlikely that that’s happening.’ I’m just kind of touched and thrilled, and that sounds very boring and cliché but it’s true. If it’s changing my writing, I don’t know yet. I’ve started to work on another novel but it’s on pause at the moment while I’m on book tour. But I’m thinking about it a lot, and I have to see if it changes my writing style. I like to think that it won’t, but that just having written a book will have taught me something.
CB: In 2010, before publishing your novel, you wrote an essay published in Huffington Post titled “Why I Don’t Want to be the Next Amy Tan.” After publishing the book, have people seen you as the next Amy Tan, or have things changed?
CN: You know what, no one has made that comparison, and I don’t know if that’s because they went and Googled me and they found that and decided not to do it or not. Amy Tan and I are both Chinese-American women writers and we write about families, but we write very different kinds of books. We have different subjects, even if broadly speaking we are writing about the same thing — families. When you get into particulars, we’re very different authors, and so I would rather be compared to Tan in terms of language style and technique, but I don’t think our books are a lot alike. We’ve had different experiences. I’ve been very encouraged in the past few years to see that people have been moving away from that kind of comparison — that there is Amy Tan and then she will be replaced by the next Amy Tan. That there can be diversity within diversity, that there can be lots of Asian American voices, and they can all be somewhat different from each other. That it something that is more possible now that wasn’t even an issue up for discussion a few years ago.
CB: Who are your general influences in storytelling, literary or not?
CN: There are some readers I love to read as a writer to study, but I also read because I love their work. Toni Morrison is one of them — I think she does an amazing job at writing about really big important subjects and always keeping it on a human level and making the writing beautiful. There’s a book called The God of Small Things by an Indian writer named Arundhati Roy, which again I love as a reader and teach from it. I pick it up to find passages I want to give to my students and I just end up reading it at the bookshelf because I love it so much. She handles language in such an amazing way and she moves through time in away that was an inspiration for the book. I looked at that a lot as a touchstone to figure out — how do I weave together past and present? I watch a lot of TV, so I like seeing some of the long form TV shows that have developed over a long season. I’m a huge Downtown Abbey fan — it’s so soapy, but it’s on PBS and so you feel very virtuous when you’re watching it. There’s something about watching characters develop in that long arc in shows like Mad Men or Sopranos. Writers tend to sort of downplay TV as an insulin, but I feel that film and TV do influence the way I tell a story in the way you cut back and forth between characters or in the way that you show things. So that’s an influence for sure.
CB: You mentioned a book you were working on earlier, can you talk more about that project?
CN: I think it’s going to be another family story, set in my hometown of Shaker Heights, a suburb of Cleveland. It’s very pretty, there are lots of trees and beautiful houses, and they like it that way. What comes along with all that beauty and trying to be progressive and consciously working to be diverse is that there’s also a lot of focus on appearance and worry about what other people will think. They have these tiny little golf-cart sized garbage trucks that drive down every driveway to pick up the garbage in the back and bring it up to the truck in the front. There’s never garbage in the front, and I feel like that’s really metaphorically rich, that you have to keep your garbage hidden. So I think it’s going to involve a family that’s living in this community and then a mother and daughter come in from outside and have secrets, and about the way those two families get kind of intertwined and tangled.
CB: That whole environment sort of reminds me of Twin Peaks, going back to that TV influence.
CN: Exactly — there are other things too, like you were only allowed to paint your house certain colors so that the entire street could be harmonious aesthetically. They don’t do that anymore, but there’s still a lot of things like that there.
CB: Is there a question you wish someone would ask you about your work that hasn’t been asked yet?
CN: One question I was asked in an interview and then I was sad that they cut it was after being asked if there would be a movie of my book, who would I want to be in it? I can tell you the news that was just made official about a week and a half ago — the film rights have sold to Relativity Media, a studio in L.A. So I’ve been thinking about this question a lot. One of the things that excites me a lot about the fact that the book might become a movie — besides the fact that that’s cool — there would be roles for Asian Americans and mixed Asian actors, and I feel that right now those people are on the sidelines as extras, or maybe the sidekick. And so it would be really cool for someone like John Cho to play James the father. That’s what I’m excited about — the idea that maybe this could be a place where Asian American or mixed Asian actors could get roles, that there would be a spotlight for them.
CB: The whole prospect must be terrifying and wonderful, having your film in someone else’s hands.
CN: It is, but I’m trying to think of it as its own thing. I love film adaptations, and what I love about them the most is when they take the opportunity to make a slightly different thing. It’s like when you cover a song: it’s better when they don’t try to sound exactly like the original. When they do something completely different with it, that’s when I think it’s cool, and so I think of the movie as its own thing. It’s nerve-wracking, but it’s worth it.
Celeste Ng will read at Joseph-Beth Booksellers on June 4 at 7 p.m.
Morning Cincinnati. The sun has apparently caught whatever terrible cold I had last week and is off sick for a couple days. It feels like October outside, which would be cool if we got Halloween and colorful leaves. But actually we just get coldness which isn’t that great. Anyway, news time.
More city-police chief news is afoot. City Manager Harry Black has given Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffery Blackwell until Friday to present a 90-day plan for reducing violence in the city. Black says the chief can have an extension into next week if he needs it, but wants to be proactive and find causes and solutions for the city’s recent spike in shootings. Cincinnati has seen more than 50 shootings and 11 killings in the last month, and 30 murders so far this year. In Cincinnati and most other major cities, crime usually spikes as the weather gets warmer, but this year’s increase has been bigger than normal. The Friday deadline for Blackwell comes as questions swirl around resignation papers drawn up by the city manager’s office for Blackwell. Mayor John Cranley and the city manager both say they want Blackwell to stay and that he initiated conversations about his resignation last week. Blackwell says he’s not going anywhere and wants to remain chief. He’s been chief for two years, before which he served with the Columbus Police Department.
• Cincinnati City Council’s Neighborhoods Committee voted yesterday to purchase a four-mile stretch of rail right of way for the Wasson Way bike trail. The city will purchase the land sometime in the next two years for $11.75 million from Norfolk Southern Railways. The bike trail will stretch from Mariemont to Evanston, with a proposed extension into Avondale. The deal goes before a full council vote Wednesday.
• Great news: Whether the Reds win or, you know, do that other thing they’ve been doing a lot lately, Cincinnati is one of the best cities in the country for baseball fans. That’s according to a new study by WalletHub.com. The website looked at 11 factors in deciding its rankings of 272 cities, including how well each city’s professional or college team does, how expensive tickets are, stadium amenities and other criteria. Cincinnati did well — we’re the third best city in the country when it comes to baseball. But here’s the not so great part. Numbers one and two are St. Louis and Pittsburgh, respectively. You win some, you lose some…
• Former Mason mayor and Warren County State Rep. Pete Beck was found guilty today on 17 counts of fraud and corruption. Beck was accused of cheating a local company out of millions of dollars and originally faced more than 60 counts of fraud and corruption. Some of those charges were reduced, and he was found not guilty on another 21 counts today. Some of the guilty verdict covered serious felony charges. No sentencing date has been announced yet.
• When you think of hip up and coming cities, what places pop into your head? I’ll wait while you write out a list. Did that list include Columbus? Mine didn’t, but hey, what do I know? Here’s a funny article in national magazine Mother Jones about how Ohio’s capital is marketing itself to the young and hip. It's kind of unclear if the author visited the flat, gray city, but the piece asks some intriguing questions. Is it the next Brooklyn? Hm. Probably not. It is, as the article puts it, vanilla ice cream in a world of exotic gelato. But it’s like, cheap, and stuff, so there’s that. Oh, and OSU. It also has that going for it.
• Finally, more Rand Paul stuff. Turns out all those stands Paul is taking against the NSA and foreign intervention aren’t endearing the U.S. Senator from Kentucky to big Republican donors. In the toss-up race for the Republican presidential nomination, big GOP donors are spreading money around to any number of hopefuls: Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and other potential front runners. Pretty much everyone but Paul. That will certainly hobble the libertarian’s chances of spreading his message with TV ads and the like as the primary race heats up. But it may also further endear him to his anti-establishment libertarian base and may entice some voters who don’t traditionally vote Republican into the fold.