Texas Book Festival 2018: Meet the Indie Next Authors
Faves R.O. Kwon, Tommy Orange, and Nicole Chung get personal
By Rosalind Faires,
5:30PM, Sun. Oct. 28, 2018
Who among us hasn’t wanted to sit at the cool kids' table? Moderator and bookseller from Jersey City’s WORD Bookstore, Hannah Oliver Depp, acknowledged right off the bat that her seat next to novelists R.O. Kwon and Tommy Orange and memoirist Nicole Chung was a prime one: “Everyone I know is jealous of me right now.”
Depp's enthusiasm was shared by the diverse, intergenerational crowd that filled the Eighth & Congress tent at the start of the Texas Book Festival’s first day. Kwon’s The Incendiaries, Orange’s There There, and Chung’s All You Can Ever Know have been steadily picking up kudos and hype throughout this year, and all had earned spots on the Indie Next List, hence the panel’s title.
Their books might not have a great deal in common on the surface – The Incendiaries follows two college students who wrestle with radicalization and loss of faith, There There is a multi-perspective novel about Native Americans living in Oakland, and All You Can Ever Know charts its author’s experience as a transracial adoptee – but Depp deftly found common ground for the panelists with questions about the intimate nature of their work, the way all three books play with structure, and the experiences Kwon, Orange, and Chung share as nonwhite authors surrounded by a very white literary canon. Kwon recounted her youthful lightbulb moment, realizing that she didn’t have to have white protagonists: “Oh, Korean food can be in a book!” Orange admitted that working on something as personal as There There was scary, but that he took comfort in the fact that “the people close to [him] know what’s true.” Chung shared her worries resulting from the fact that “scarcity is the norm” – there are so few Korean-American memorists or stories about and by transracial adoptees, and she wants to be clear that she is sharing her own specific experience, not speaking for everyone.
It was a conversation suffused by warmth and frankness, and the last audience question to the whole group betrayed everyone’s reluctance to let them go: What are they all working on next? Everyone’s answer suggested we might have a bit of a wait – Kwon is two years into her second novel and expects at least four more years of work; Orange is developing an autobiographical novel, as well as a novel that would be a follow-up to There There; and Chung has started a novel and expressed interest in writing a book of essays – but if the panel made anything clear, it was that it would be worth the wait.