Kevin Kwan Interview
B is for...book. What is your favourite childhood book?
The Wishing Chair by Enid Blyton.
A is for… animal. If you could transform into one animal for one week, what would you be?
A dolphin. I would love to get inside the head of these incredibly intelligent creatures, and of course frolicking in the world’s most beautiful oceans wouldn’t hurt either.
N is for… necessary. If you were banished to a desert island and could only bring two items, what would they be?
A sturdy plastic tarp and some flint. (I’ve been a “Survivor” fan for years, and know how essential these two items are.)
A is for… authentic. How would you describe yourself in three words?
Open. Seeking. Hopeful.
N is for… novelist. Which writer do you most admire?
A is for… appetite. Would you like a Banana milkshake? Banana fritter? Banana cake? Or just a plain banana?
Goreng Pisang, a fried banana fritter popular in Singapore and Malaysia, has always been one of my favorite snacks.
evin Kwan is the author Crazy Rich Asians, a hilarious bestseller that is a satire of uber rich, super mad Singaporeans. A cross between Bergdorf Blondes and Jackie Collins, Crazy Rich Asians is fabulously different from many of the historical Asian novels in the shop. Shortly after its release, the movie rights were snapped up by the Hollywood producers of The Hunger Games.
Before writing his debut novel, Kwan worked on a variety of creative projects, including consulting for ted.com, acclaimed visual books for Oprah Winfrey and co-authoring a non-fiction book about luck.
By: PP Wong
What inspired you to write Crazy Rich Asians?
I felt that over the last several years there had been so much news coverage over “China’s New Rich” or “Asia’s Economic Miracle,” but few knew of the wealthy Overseas Chinese families that have long existed in South East Asia and beyond. Moreover, no one was telling the story from the point of view of what it’s really like to be part of these enormously private families. I wanted to create a story that would go beyond the stereotypes and reveal a more nuanced portrait of individuals who are having to contend with the privileges and burdens of possessing great wealth in Asia today.
The novel has many examples of materialism and the excessive spending of rich Asians. From your experience, do you think too much money can make people go a little crazy?
I think the extremes of anything –too little money or too much of it can make people go a little crazy. Unlimited wealth can give one an extraordinary opportunity to do good and make an impact on the world, but it can also delude one’s perspective. Too often, I’ve seen money control people instead of the other way around.
What is your writing process like? Have you ever suffered from the dreaded writer’s block?
For this book, my process was rather haphazard – I wrote whenever I found the time, whether late at night or in between other projects. Much of the book was written in 2011, when I was producing a book for Oprah Winfrey. I had to make many trips from my home base in New York to her studios in Chicago, so I had countless hours of waiting time in airport lounges and lots of evenings alone in hotel rooms to write. I have suffered from writer’s block on previous writing projects, but that didn’t happen for this novel -- the story came like a torrent and I couldn’t make it stop. The first draft was over 600 pages long and I could have kept on going!
The story is very funny and fresh. It is unlike anything we have read by an Asian author. By being one of the rare Asians to write in this kind of genre, did you have difficulty in selling your book to publishers?
I’ve been tremendously lucky on this score. I submitted my manuscript to Alexandra Machinist at Janklow & Nesbit, knowing that she was a specialist in fiction. I waited for three weeks (probably the most nerve-wracking weeks of my life) until she called to tell me how much she loved the book. A month later, we submitted the manuscript to a select list of publishers, and within a week I had offers on my book.
I didn’t have much difficulty, but I think I also went into it trying to be as well prepared as I could. I was EXPECTING it to be a difficult sell, so I really spent many months “doing my homework” and focused on finding the right agent to represent this project. I wanted someone who would really “get” the book, and really passionately love it. I also think the timing was very important – there had been so much media attention and curiosity about Asian wealth here in the U.S., I think publishers were ripe for such a story at the very moment I was trying to sell it. I feel that writers who want to get published by a large commercial house need to really consider the marketplace. Publishers and agents are inundated with hundreds of manuscripts every single week, so you really have to write a story (and a really good pitch letter) that stands out from the pile.
A Benefit Reading for The Centennial Guild of Children's
Hospital Los Angeles.
Many Asians who have migrated overseas still see their birthplace as home. Do you still see Singapore as home?
I feel very comfortable in Asia and enjoy my visits immensely, but I’ve lived in New York for 18 years now, almost twice as long as anywhere else I’ve lived, so this is very much home for me.
The thing I miss most about Asia, of course, is the food! You just can’t get the truly authentic dishes and the flavors anywhere else in the world
How was it like moving from Singapore to America when you were 12?
Initially, it was pretty traumatic. I had to adjust to a whole different way of life, and not in the way one might expect. Singapore in the mid 1980s was actually far more cosmopolitan and modern than Houston, Texas, so I went from being a big city kid to suddenly being stuck in the middle of suburbia. I remember walking out of my house and looking around at all the empty streets in the middle of the day and wondering whether this truly was America or some time warp. But I think this was all part of my father’s plan – he wanted his children to become more self-reliant and to have the opportunity to pursue our passions.
How have your parents felt about your chosen career path?
My parents have always been very supportive. My mother is a pianist, and my father came from a creative family, so there has always been a certain level of respect for people who choose a life in the arts. I think they were concerned at first that I didn’t ever choose to pursue a 9 to 5 career, but over the years they’ve begun to trust that I won’t end up homeless and begging on the side of the road. That’s every Asian parents’ worst fear, isn’t it?
What happens next in the life of Kevin Kwan, bestselling author?
I hope to start working on the sequel to “Crazy Rich Asians,” and I’m also very excited to see the book get adapted into a film.BW