The author of Little Fires Everywhere on keeping our hope up as we shelter in place
April 10, 2020
We’re kicking off a new video series on The Margins that we’re calling AAWW at Home. As we continue to shelter in place, you’ll hear from writers we love on what they’re reading right now, mutual aid efforts and organizations they are supporting, and more.
Today, we open the series with Celeste Ng, the author of Everything I Never Told You and Little Fires Everywhere, which this spring was adapted into a TV series on Hulu. Celeste, a newly minted Guggenheim Fellow, talks about finding comfort and purpose in making things with her hands, how the Book Industry Charitable Foundation is supporting booksellers and independent bookstores in these difficult times, and the poets she turns to as guides. You can read a transcript of Celeste’s message below.
The following is a transcript of the video above:
Hey everybody. I’m Celeste Ng. I’m the author of the novels Everything I Never Told You and Little Fires Everywhere. And I’m speaking to you right now from my slightly messy office in Cambridge, MA, where I live, just a spare bedroom inside my house. But I’m at home, social distancing as so many of us are, and so I’m here with the Asian American Writers’ Workshop to talk to you about ways to get through it and to keep your hope up.
For me, I have been doing a lot of crafting and making things. There is something really comforting in a time when we can’t control what’s going on to make something with our hands. So I’ve been baking, I’m knitting a sweater, I’m teaching my son, I’m trying to focus on the small things that can get us through the day.
At the same time, I’m trying to think about ways that we can make a difference, and so for me that’s taken the form of supporting different organizations. One that I want to call your attention to is the Book Industry Charitable Foundation, BINC Foundation, which is an organization that raises money to support independent bookstores and booksellers in times of need. So that might be, if a bookseller is having a health crisis, or if a bookstore is having financial difficulties and needs a little bit of assistance. Right now, obviously, a lot of independent bookstores are struggling a lot, as are their employees. BINC is one of the organizations that if you’re able to support them in any way, I encourage you to take a look at them. If you yourself are an independent bookseller, please get in touch, and I know that they’ll do their very best to try and help you.
The other thing that I’ve been doing a lot to get myself through this time is turning to poetry. I’m reading a lot of old favorites, things like Mary Oliver, and Jane Hirshfield. New favorites like Ilya Kaminsky, and I want to read you a poem today that is not a new poem at all, but is one that speaks to me a lot in this time. Because, as a writer, I’m really struggling with figuring out, why am I writing? Why am I making up stories about people who don’t exist? Why am I tinkering with words when there are people out there who are doctors and nurses who are saving lives. And the fact is that I don’t know how to do that. I don’t have the skills that they have. But I’m hopeful that all of us, through our writing, can create something that will allow people to connect and remind us of what it is that we’re trying to save in the world.
So this is a poem by Muriel Rukeyser. It’s just called “Poem”
I lived in the first century of world wars.
Most mornings I would be more or less insane,
The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,
The news would pour out of various devices
Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen.
I would call my friends on other devices;
They would be more or less mad for similar reasons.
Slowly I would get to pen and paper,
Make my poems for others unseen and unborn.
In the day I would be reminded of those men and women,
Brave, setting up signals across vast distances,
Considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values.
As the lights darkened, as the lights of night brightened,
We would try to imagine them, try to find each other,
To construct peace, to make love, to reconcile
Waking with sleeping, ourselves with each other,
Ourselves with ourselves. We would try by any means
To reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves,
To let go the means, to wake.
I lived in the first century of these wars.
I hope that you and yours stay safe, that you stay healthy. And I’ll see you on the other side of this.