Dear Librarians: A Letter from Vanessa Hua, author of Forbidden City

By Rachel Mann | May 9 2023 | NewsFrom the Author

Dear Librarians,

Thank you for making me the reader and writer I am today. I’m the American-born daughter of Chinese immigrants, and as a girl, I often felt torn between worlds. But I felt at home at the library, where I’d spend all afternoon reading by the tall windows and coming home with a stack of books. It felt like I’d won the jackpot—it still does.

My literary heroes were headstrong young women who were also aspiring writers: Jo March in Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, and Laura Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie. Like them, I wanted to be a writer too. Sharing the same dreams and ambitions with them made it seem more possible to me.

I’m deeply grateful to the librarians who selected my debut novel A River of Stars as a Library Read. And it was an honor when El Cerrito (Ca) Library selected my short story collection Deceit and Other Possibilities for its One City, One Book program.

I’ve loved reading at libraries in person and on zoom across the country—San Francisco, Monterey, Houston, Arlington, Philadelphia, to name a few, and I’m always happy to appear at library fundraisers. Other thrills: searching WorldCat to see where my books have ended up—for example, there’s copies in Alice Springs, Australia! And I love seeing my books displayed on “Lucky Day” tables’ I hope that the patrons who end up checking it out feel as lucky as I do, when I chance upon a much-coveted title.

Forbidden City, my latest novel, drew upon the treasure house of resources at the library.

I requested so many books about the Cultural Revolution and Chairman Mao via interlibrary loan each week that once, when I went to pick up the latest stack, the clerk noted, “So you’re Vanessa Hua!” I also combed through online databases to read newspaper articles from that era. In total, I spent 14 years researching and writing my novel, which tells the story of Mei, the Chairman’s teenage protegee and lover. What was it like for a peasant girl to get swept into the patriotism of those times, I wondered, and to meet a man she’d been raised to worship as a god?

Mei’s harrowing journey raises questions about power, manipulation and memory that resonate then and now. The past is never as distant as it seems.

Thank you for your support of emerging and established authors and welcoming generation after generation of book lovers. Ever since my twins were infants, my husband and I brought them to the library every week. They’re now eleven, and we’re excited for yet another fun summer of reading and programming at branches throughout the Bay Area.

Thank you for your support of all my books, and I hope very much that much you’ll enjoy Forbidden City as well!