This past Tuesday, October 10th, I had the great pleasure of facilitating a conversation with best-selling author Grace Li in an event hosted by the Asian Staff Forum (ASF) at Stanford. This conversation was the culminating event of ASF's 2023 book club, in which we read Li's debut novel Portrait of a Thief. (For a brief history of how I helped launch the ASF book club in 2021 as a member of the ASF board, check out this previous blog post.) After enjoying several engaging conversations with other ASF members about the book throughout May to September 2023, it was a real treat to get a chance to talk with the author herself about the book's themes and messaging.
During our conversation, Li offered many compelling insights about the origins of the novel, the development of her characters, and her writing process. Describing this novel as an "identity story disguised as a heist story," she shared that writing this book was very healing for her, as it allowed her to reflect on her own search for belonging as a Chinese American. Rather than worry about the audience for this book or limit her imagination based on white-centric norms in U.S. literary culture, she developed a cast of five Chinese American protagonists inspired by her own personal history, experiences, and interactions.
In addition to recently launching her literary career, Li is currently studying full-time as a Stanford medical student. In fact, she joined our virtual conversation in between rounds during one of her hospital rotations. Given her impressive ability to balance so many different commitments, it was particularly valuable to hear her insights about how to navigate a busy routine while also maintaining a consistent writing practice. She gave us some helpful writing productivity tips: to protect your writing time, to establish a daily word count goal, and to "focus on what is important, not what is urgent." Above all, she recommended "tapping into joy" throughout the writing process. Clearly, Li's strategies are working for her, as she is currently working with a production team to turn Portrait of a Thief into a Netflix adaptation, and her next book, Anatomy of a Betrayal, is already slated to be published in June 2024.
To watch a full recording of the conversation and read ASF's recap of the event, click here.
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