Charles Yu Visits LHS

Alex Lau and Seiya Saneyoshi

As a part of the biannual Lexington in Conversation speaker series, Charles Yu visited Lexington High School on Nov. 3 to provide insight on his critically-acclaimed novel, Interior Chinatown.

The selection process for LHS’ first community read began in the winter of 2020. Fifteen months and three rounds of review later, a group of 16 students and 15 faculty members chose Interior Chinatown as the school-wide text, hoping to spark conversations at LHS about the Asian American experience.

“I’m looking for students and faculty alike to come away with more questions than answers. I want people to be reflective about the way that we all operate in our society as it is, and then how we want that to look like eventually,” Abigail Chaffer, a LHS English teacher on the text selection committee, said.

Chaffer cited Interior Chinatown’s unique format, satirical style, and the author’s relevance as reasons why she supported the novel’s selection. However, the text has evoked mixed reactions from students.  

“I’ve heard two opinions. I think one opinion really likes the book… it was …important for us and I think that what was said in the book was true and was really important… A lot of people found it a little bit hard to get through, but I think that was more… the way it was written,” Frances Adiwijaya, a senior and leader of Asian Student Union, said. 

While the novel’s format elicited some criticism, many students connected with the central themes of belonging and developing one’s identity.

“A lot of the things that he went through, the idea of the familial pressure to be something interesting and be exciting, that’s obviously there in my own family and I think a lot of my friend’s families,” Adiwijaya said.

The community read culminated in a conversation with Charles Yu. While a few select classes were in the auditorium, most students tuned into a livestream courtesy of LexMedia to watch Yu answer questions from three student moderators regarding his writing process and the text itself. During the day, Yu also met with the Asian Student Union and humanities classes. In the evening, Yu participated in an event open to the general public in which Samantha St. Lawrence, an English teacher at LHS, facilitated a second conversation with the author. 

“I really enjoyed the whole evening. I thought that the… host of the evening did a wonderful job of asking really insightful questions. I thought that [Yu] did a terrific job of answering some really personal questions too. As somebody who writes as well it’s interesting to hear him talk about how it was a bunch of experiences that he had that led him to where he is today. I connected with that very strongly,” Todd Whitten, an attendee and high school teacher, said. 

Some considered this iteration of Lexington in Conversation a success in creating the change members of the text selection committee hoped to see. Others acknowledged it as a step in the right direction. 

“I think it was important to have a narrative that really fit our school and was really relevant to what was going on right now,” Adiwijaya said.