Independent Bookstore Day: Q&A with Celeste Ng

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On April 28, Independent Bookstore Day will celebrate its fourth year of championing independent bookstores nationwide. In cities and towns throughout the country, independent bookstores will participatin in a one-day national party. Every store is unique and independent, and every party is different. And, in addition to author readings, raffles, scavenger hunts, story times, music, food trucks, literary trivia, contests, and other fun stuff, there will be exclusive books and literary items that you can only get on April 28, by visiting your local participating bookstore in-person.

To help kick off the celebrations, The Rumpus has an exclusive Q&A with Celeste Ng, 2018 National Bookstore Day Ambassador, Rumpus Advisory Board member, and author of Everything I Never Told You and Little Fires Everywhere.

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The Rumpus: You’re the National Bookstore Day Ambassador for 2018’s Bookstore Day, taking place on April 28. How did this relationship come about?

Celeste Ng: They emailed and asked me! I was flabbergasted and honored. I adore indie bookstores, so I was delighted to get to be their ambassador and to spend time talking about how great they, booksellers, readers, and books are. Or, as someone said to me on Twitter, “So, what you do on here every day, then?”

Rumpus: How would you sum up Bookstore Day in ten words or less?

Ng: A celebration of bookstores, booksellers, readers, writers, and book culture.

Rumpus: What bookstores have been especially important to you throughout your life?

Ng: Growing up in the 80s, I spent a lot of time at the B. Dalton and the Waldenbooks in the mall, because those were the only bookstores near me. When I was a teen, Mac’s Backs in Cleveland Heights was a revelation. When I got to college, I fell in love hard with Harvard Book Store—that Used Books section downstairs is still a treasure trove of odd finds. And now I’m lucky enough to have Porter Square Books as my local—it’s right in my neighborhood, and next to my hardware store and the toy store my son loves, so I’m there pretty often, just to pop in and ogle the books and maybe buy one or five.

Rumpus: Can you share a favorite bookstore memory as a reader? As a writer on book tour?

Ng: As a kid, my parents would take me to the bookstore as a form of entertainment; we would all go to our favorite sections and spend an hour browsing, and I’d just plop down on the floor in the children’s section. I’d start at A, pull out any books that looked interesting, keep going until I got to Z, and leave with a stack. This is still my favorite way to browse a bookstore, honestly.

As for favorite moments—well, I was in Ann Arbor the day after the 2016 election, giving a talk at the University. I ended up at the bookstore, where the quotes on their staircase—all about empathy and holding onto hope in tough times—made me break my rule about no crying in public. Fortunately, I was far from the only one. All over the store, people were comforting each other, talking about their fears for the country, offering each other words and books of hope. I loved that we’d all found our way, shaken and uncertain, into the bookstore, knowing we’d find solace—and each other—there.

Rumpus: How would you describe the relationship between authors and bookstores?

Ng: Symbiosis! Lauren Groff referred to Independent Bookstore Day as “a celebration of the literary ecosystem,” and I think that’s such a good way to look at it. A book can be amazingly well written, but it needs to find a readership, and no book is for everyone. A good bookstore is like a matchmaker—no one’s better at getting a book into the right customer’s hands than a good bookseller who knows their tastes. Bookstores couldn’t exist without writers, and writers couldn’t exist without bookstores. We feed each other.

Rumpus: It was recently announced that your second novel, the phenomenal Little Fires Everywhere, is being adapted for television by Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington. Where were you when you found out? On a scale from 1–10, how excited are you? (We at The Rumpus are well beyond 10.)

Ng: I knew for a little while before the announcement was made—and wow, was that news hard to sit on. I’m so glad it’s public now! I’m thrilled—so, 11, I guess. Reese and Kerry and Liz Tigelaar, the screenwriter, and all of Hello Sunshine, really get the book, and I can’t imagine better hands for the adaptation to be in.

Rumpus: In addition to serving as 2018 National Bookstore Day Ambassador, you sit on our Advisory Board, you’re sitting on the advisory board for Wordplay (an exciting new Minneapolis-based festival to launch in 2019)… Why do you think it’s important to engage in these ways with the literary community? Where/how do you find the time? And how to do choose which projects to support? 

Ng: I really do believe in the concept of literary citizenship—no writer can thrive without a healthy literary community. I still have trouble wrapping my head around the idea that I have a “platform,” but if I do, I want to use it to make a positive difference. Specifically, I want to help make more space for writers whose voices are underrepresented, and I focus on projects and groups for whom that’s also a priority. So I do what I can, though it doesn’t feel like enough, and I wish I could do everything. A lot of it is being a voice at the table to help spread the word about up-and-coming new voices, and help connect organizers with writers that they might not otherwise know about. It does take time, but I try to think of it as part of my job, and it’s time that I feel is well spent.

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You can follow Independent Bookstore Day on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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Author photograph © Kevin Day Photography.


Marisa Siegel lives, writes, and edits near NYC but thinks twenty times a day about heading back west. She holds an MFA in Poetry from Mills College in Oakland, CA. Her essay “Inherited Anger” will appear in the anthology Burn It Down, forthcoming from Seal Press in fall 2019. She is Editor-in-Chief and owner of The Rumpus. Find her on Twitter at @marisasaystweet. More from this author →