Angie Chau was born in Vietnam. She has also lived in Malaysia, Italy, Spain, Hawaii, and currently resides in California. Her 2010 collection of short stories, Quiet As They Come, was described by The San Francisco Chronicle as “a powerful mix of tragedy and kindness, of miscommunications and all-too-painful empathy, which bound together are a resonating homage to many an immigrant.” Angie will hold a writing workshop for students as part of this year’s LitFest on Tuesday, February 13.
1. You refer to Quiet As They Come as a series of “interlinked short stories.” What inspired this format, and how did you weave different cultures, generations, perspectives, and chapters?
I am a big fan of the short story. I like the criticality of an early punch. I like that you can finish a story in one sitting and yet still have the satisfaction of a beginning, middle, and an end. Yet by choosing to link the stories and having the same characters pop in and out, it also has the feel of a novel. The book takes place over a 20-year span, and the reader is able to develop a more intimate relationship with the characters. You see them in different lights and from different angles depending on who is telling the story. I really wanted the best of both worlds and hence the interlinked short stories.
2. How have your experiences living in different places shaped your writing?
As a writer I think that everything I see, hear, smell, read, everything I remember and forget, all of it influences my writing. I think geography and landscape inevitably seep into our skin and influence what gets on the page. The biggest takeaway, however, is that no matter how different these places looked and felt from the outside, when you got down to it, whether in Italy or Vietnam or Malaysia or Spain, in the end, it always came down to these universal commonalities in terms of what people want, what they’re afraid of, what they hope for. I always encourage students to travel if they get the opportunity. The experience of living and learning about different cultures is invaluable. It is both a ton of fun while also teaching us empathy.
3. What do you enjoy most about being a writer?
The fact that I get to continue to learn as part of my occupation. The people I have met along the way that I would have never had the chance to cross paths with otherwise. I also enjoy the act of creation, putting something out in the universe that didn’t exist before.
4. Your book has been included in high school and university curriculum. How does it feel to know that your stories are being taught to groups of young people?
It’s the most rewarding part of all. As a young person, the books I read made such an indelible impression on me. They inspired me. They allowed me to dream. Reading Hemingway inspired me to move to Spain which really changed the course of my life. I also believe that we see who we are or who we can be in representations in art, in the media, in books. Growing up, there was very few representations of Vietnamese women and their voices, and I simply wanted to add to the dialogue when I wrote Quiet As They Come. To think that the book is now a part of this much wider dialogue and taught at these amazing institutions is a dream.
5. What advice would you give to a high school writer?
Read widely, deeply, vastly. Devour everything you can and get a taste of different styles, genres, and authors new and old. And then I would say if you are serious about being a writer then always remember that it requires three things in equal parts: talent, persistence, and luck.