Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is very happy to shine our Friday spotlight on author Qian Julie Wang. Qian Julie, can you please tell us briefly a little about yourself and your writing? How would you like us to introduce you?
I am a civil rights litigator and the author of BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY. The book is my debut, and it is a coming-of-age memoir about my childhood years spent living in undocumented status and poverty after I moved with my parents from China to New York City at age 7, in 1994.
[If you are referring to names, please note that I use both my Chinese and English first names and go by “Qian Julie”]
Where can people find your work? (Besides Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester–though they should totally check here first!)
BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY will be available everywhere books are sold, so please support Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester and your local independent bookstores. Independent booksellers are the beating heart of the reading community, and I am so very grateful for all that they do for authors and readers everywhere.
How can we follow your work and share your awesomeness?
You can follow me on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook at @qianjuliewang. My rescue pups Salty and Peppers have been known to make guest appearances!
For readers unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe what you write? What can readers expect from Beautiful Country?
BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY is told from my young perspective, and the voice matures as I do. And while it follows me through some hard years, it is also a celebration of childhood, family, and humanity’s resilience. It is, at its core, an exploration of what it means to make a home. Perhaps even more than an immigrant narrative, it is a return to that wonderous and terrifying world of childhood, back to that time when we were all still tender and open. It is a voyage into the love, pain, and secrets of family, a flight through the confusion, resilience, and delight of coming of age. In the vein of Angela’s Ashes and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY embarks on a special field trip into the childhood wounds, love, and laughter that form the indelible core of our adult selves.
What was the biggest challenge in writing and putting out BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY? How did you overcome that challenge?
There were two major challenges: the psychological stress of putting this story out there and utter lack of time.
I’d always dreamed about writing this book. While I grew up learning English on library books, I never found a book that depicted characters who looked like me and lived in the way my parents and I did. It was my biggest and wildest ambition to write a book that might allow others out there to see themselves reflected in literature, and have them know that it is possible to survive similar circumstances. Even so, I figured I would never make it happen, because I lived under messaging from all directions, my parents included, that my past was shameful and had to be kept hidden. It wasn’t until the discourse of the 2016 election, which took place just six months after I finally became a naturalized U.S. citizen, that I discovered that I had a newfound power and thus responsibility to share my story, that at that juncture of my life, I was making an actual decision to stay quiet — a privilege that millions of undocumented immigrants do not have. It was then that I realized that what I had long thought of as singularly mine was no longer my secret to keep.
But at the time, I was working 60-80 hours a week making partner at a national law firm. The only free time I had was during my daily commute, so I can up with a rule: As long as I was on the subway platform or on the subway on my way to or from work, I had to be writing on my phone. Even with this rule though, there were months (and up to nearly a year) when I just had to take time off writing entirely. In late September 2019, I returned to the project and gave myself until the end of the year to either finish it on my commute or forget about it entirely. At that time, I had maybe 1/3 of the book written. But by December 30, 2019, I finished the entire first draft, almost exclusively written on my phone.
What else can we expect from you in the near future?
I am working on a second book– literary fiction set in an elite big law firm in New York City that centers the experience of women attorneys of color. I’ve long observed our popular culture’s interest in the legal world, but almost everywhere in books and on TV, the world is depicted through a white male lens. My novel’s environment is one that I am uniquely familiar with, given my many years in it, and I hope that the book will offer our society new perspective on the cultural of law and law firms. Further, because I mostly read fiction to begin with, it has been liberating to switch from memoir and fiction; I am having so much fun with it!
What is/are your passions when you’re not writing? How do you make time for your non-writing hobbies/things you love?
I am a civil rights litigator and manage Gottlieb & Wang LLP, the firm my husband and I founded. We are focused on advocating for education rights and for rights against discrimination for people of color, immigrant families, and students with disabilities. We have a fantastic, talented, and dedicated team that makes it a true joy and honor to practice law every day. Outside of the office, I have practiced yoga for 16 years and love spending my free time with my husband and our dogs. It is definitely a busy life, but an amply rewarding one—because everything I spend time on, in the office or outside of it, is true to who I am and what I passionately believe in, it doesn’t really ever feel like I’m working.
Writers very often have furry or feathered or otherwise non-human companions to “help” them through their work. Do you? What do you have? How do they “help” (or, “not-help”) with your writing?
Every memoirist needs an emotional support animal, and I am fortunate enough to have two! My dogs Salty (age 7, a poodle schnauzer mix) and Peppers (age 9, a long hair chihuahua and pomeranian mix) have kept me sane throughout the years of working on my book. Both Salty and Peppers were saved within hours of scheduled anesthesia, and both had behavioral problems from being abused and starved. When I first got Peppers 8 years ago, I came upon footage the shelter had shared of him, whimpering nonstop—completely unlike the playful, mischievous dog who sat in my lap as I watched the clip. I promised myself then that I would only ever adopt rescue dogs and cats off the euthanasia list.
Thanks so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer our questions, Qian Julie!