Mai Wang is the author of the story of The Night Mr. Li Won Jeopardy, which appeared in our October 2015 issue. We connected with her about the writing process. Here are her responses.
What inspired you to write The Night Mr. Li Won Jeopardy?
I was born in Beijing and moved to Miami when I was a child, where I grew up in a Chinese community. Potluck dinners and late-night poker games were frequent occurrences as people tried to create a “big family” to replace the ones they had lost. Naturally, my childhood provided me the material for this story, though the characters and plot are semi-fictionalized. I wanted to capture both the lively group dynamic of immigrant life and the hidden loneliness of the individual immigrant experience through a young girl’s perspective.
What was the greatest challenge in writing it?
Reimagining parts of my childhood proved to be an immensely difficult task–first, I had to remember how certain foods tasted, how people dressed, and how they spoke to each other. Next, I had to transform those sensory impressions into a legible storyline. Also, since the story is semi-autobiographical, I worried about revealing too much about my own family and our vulnerabilities. But finally I decided to go ahead and risk publication.
How do you balance writing and your other commitments?
I’m currently pursuing my PhD in English at Stanford, where I am in the fortunate position of being able to structure most of my own time. I try to write in the mornings before classes. Every day, I wake up feeling incredibly privileged to be able to read, write, and think with no constraints on my intellectual or personal freedom. Despite the struggles that my family went through, I know that we ultimately made the right decision by moving to the US.