Who is Celeste Ng? About the Bestselling Author Who Brings Diversity to Literary Ohio

By Allison Bolam, History Collections Intern

2020 marked the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which granted many women the right to vote. Passage of the 19th Amendment has enabled women to pursue higher education, enter new professional fields, and influence politics, and women have continued to advocate for issues that affect their families, their communities, and the nation. As part of our continuing commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, the Ohio History Connection is sharing stories of amazing Ohio women, past and present

Celeste Ng (pronounced “-ing”) is an American best-selling author of fiction whose works often explore themes of race and family relationships. She was born in 1980 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her parents were both scientists and immigrants from Hong Kong who had come to the United States for graduate school.(1) They moved around before eventually settling in Shaker Heights, OH in 1990.(2) Her father was offered a job at a NASA research center, and the Ng family chose Shaker Heights because it was fairly racially integrated, progressive, and had an excellent public school system.(3) Celeste Ng lived in Shaker Heights from 1990 until she graduated from Shaker Heights High School in 1998.(4)

Ng’s interests in both creative writing and issues of race were already apparent even when she was a teen. At Shaker Heights High, Ng participated in the student organization SGORR (the Student Group on Race Relations), which visited local elementary schools to talk about discrimination and stereotyping. Even in high school, Ng was interested in creative writing. She co-edited her school’s literary magazine, Semanteme and took creative writing and playwriting courses. However, Ng only imagined herself writing “on the side” until later in life. She said in an interview that it was not until well after graduate school that she considered writing professionally. (5)

 

Celeste Ng at the 2018 National Book Festival.

After high school, Ng attended Harvard University in Boston, Massachusetts, for her bachelor’s degree. She later went to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan for her Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in writing.(6) Ng had already been writing short stories for years when she published her first novel in 2014. Her debut novel, Everything I Never Told You (2014), quickly became a success. The New York Times named the book its Notable Book of 2014, and it is a New York Times bestseller.(7) The novel explores racism in a fictional Ohio town and centers around a family in crisis.(8) Along with several awards which the book has received, it is also being produced as a television series.(9)

Ng’s released her second novel, Little Fires Everywhere, in 2017. Like Everything I Never Told You, critics praised Ng’s sophomore work. The New York Times also named this book a bestseller, and over 25 publications named it a best book of the year.(10) The Ohioana Library Association, an organization that celebrates Ohio authors, artists, and musicians, honored Ng with its award in fiction in 2018.(11) The novel is set in Shaker Heights in the 1990s and is focused on the mysterious background of a new-in-town family and a contentious adoption case. Like Everything I Never Told You, her second novel explores ideas about race, privilege and life in suburbia.(12) Little Fires Everywhere also explores “the weight of secrets, the nature of art and identity, and the ferocious pull of motherhood.”(13) Hulu adapted the story and released it as a limited television series in March of 2020.(14)

Ng is known for her captivating stories about family dynamics, race, and life in the suburbs.(15) She has written fiction stories and essays which have appeared in many publications, including the New York Times and The Guardian. The National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency that offers funding and support for artists, awarded Ng the Pushcart Prize fellowship in 2012 for her short story “Girls, At Play.”(16) Ng has been called an inspiration for other Asian-American women writers, but she does not see herself this way. Instead, she says her success has opened up “more seats at the table” for other women like herself to be recognized in the literary world.(17)

Recommended reading:

For young adults and adults: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Selected essays and short stories by Celeste Ng

The cover of Celeste Ng’s second novel, Little Fires Everywhere.

Citations: 

[1] Sarah Begley, “Celeste Ng Tackles Race in the Rust Belt in Little Fires Everywhere,” Time, September 14, 2017, https://time.com/4941018/celeste-ng-novelist/.

[2] Paul Laity, “Celeste Ng: ‘It’s a novel about race, and class and privilege,” The Guardian, November 4, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/nov/04/celeste-ng-interview-little-fires-everywhere.

[3] Joanna Connors, “Writer Celeste Ng talks about growing up in Shaker Heights and her buzz novel of the summer, ‘Everything I Never Told You’,” Cleveland.com, January 12, 2019, https://www.cleveland.com/books/2014/07/writer_celeste_ng_talks_about.html.

[4] Connors, “Writer Celeste Ng…”

[5] Connors, “Writer Celeste Ng…”

[6] “About Celeste,” CelesteNg.com, accessed October 20, 2020, https://www.celesteng.com/about.

[7] “About Celeste,” CelesteNg.com.

[8] Connors, “Writer Celeste Ng…”

[9] “About Celeste,” CelesteNg.com.

[10] “About Celeste,” CelesteNg.com.

[11] “Past Award Winners,” Ohioana Library, accessed October 20, 2020, http://www.ohioana.org/programs/ohioana-book-awards/past-award-winners/.

[12] Laity, “Celeste Ng: ‘It’s a novel about race, and class and privilege.”

[13] “Little Fires Everywhere,” CelesteNg.com, accessed October 20, 2020, https://www.celesteng.com/little-fires-everywhere.

[14] “About Celeste,” CelesteNg.com.

[15] Nicole Lamy, “Celeste Ng Is More Than a Novelist,” New York Times, December 20, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/20/books/celeste-ng-everything-i-never-told-you-little-fires-everwhere.html.

[16] “About Celeste,” CelesteNg.com.

[17] Lamy, “Celeste Ng Is More Than a Novelist.”

eNewsletter Sign-Up