A Life of Books: Anna Qu, author of Made in China

Anna Qu‘s memoir about her upbringing where she worked in a factory as a teenager, navigating her identity as a Chinese American, and the search for the truth about her family was first published in 2022 to glowing reviews. Kirkus called it “Gripping . . . Well written . . . Brilliantly insightful.”

Qu, whose writing has appeared in Poets & Writers, Lithub, Threepenny ReviewLumina, Kartika, Vol.1 Brooklyn, and Jezebel is also a the Nonfiction Editor at Kweli Journal. She was recently awarded the 2023 BMI Shearing Fellowship.

The paperback of Made in China: A Memoir of Love and Labor is out now and Debutiful asked Qu to answer the recurring “A Life of Books” questionnaire so readers could get to know her better.

Author photo by Alex Pedigo.

Is there a book or series that, when you think back, helped define your childhood?

I struggled to find myself in books or series, but perhaps The Secret Garden and later Oliver Twist, that taught me perseverance. More importantly, these books taught me I wasn’t alone and they gave me the courage to tell my own story much later. 

Would you want any children in your life (yours or relatives’) to read those too? Or what’s your philosophy on what children read?

My primary audience while writing Made In China was a younger version of myself—a young immigrant struggling with identity, belonging and seeing herself represented in the world around her. I strongly believe children should read widely and often. It’s especially important to find representation and models that look, feel, and think like us, in as many ways as possible. I also believe exposing children to different cultures and identities make them more empathetic and sympathetic humans.  

Moving to your school years: what book did you read in high school and hated (or skipped reading at all) that you learned you loved later in life?

English isn’t my first language and it took me a number of years to catch up to the curriculums in school, but by middle school and high school, I read whatever I could get my hands on. I read the whole children section in the Auburndale library, then I read teen book – from mysteries to romance to fantasy novels. 

In later years, Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse took a few tries I remember. I didn’t begin to understand her work until graduate school and then I fell in love with Moments of Being.

What about the opposite way? One you loved in your teens, but realized you didn’t love it so much later on?

All of the romance novels I read… 

Are there any books that you read while writing your debut that helped shape the direction you took your own book?

Structurally some early models for Made in China were Jeanette Walls’ The Glass Castle, and Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime, and Tara Westover’s Educated. For inspiration, I read and reread Autobiography of a Face and the way she writes about pain and trauma. I love the way she thinks about sparing the reader from unnecessary pain. Lastly, an illustrated memoir I came back to for narrative support was Thi Bui’s The Best We Could Do.

What is a book you’ve read that you thought, Damn, I wish that was mine?

Such an unfair questions – the most recent book that I read and wish was mine is Vauhini Vara’s The Immortal King Rao. Before that, it was Victoria Chang’s Dear Memory and Jenny Zhang’s short story collection Sour Hearts. 

What have you been reading / do you plan to read during your debut book tour?

Right now, I’m reading Alexandra Kleeman’s Something New Under The Sun and Melissa Febos’ Body Work

And, finally, I have to ask… I’m sorry. What’s next? But wait! Only use three words.

Keep on writing

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