Author Abigail Hing Wen Discusses Asian American Identity and New Movie

by Connie Ma, Alumni & Community Outreach Officer

TAS held its first in-person author visit of the 2021-2022 school year with Abigail Hing Wen, author of the New York Times bestselling book Loveboat, Taipei on Friday, January 21. Wen spoke first to parents and alumni and then did a separate flex period talk for upper school students. Wen came to visit TAS at the invitation of the Head of School, Dr. Grace Cheng Dodge, a college classmate. Wen traveled to Taiwan in December 2021 as an executive producer for the Loveboat, Taipei movie, which just finished filming. 

Loveboat, Taipei tells the story of Ever Wong, a Chinese-American girl whose parents sign her up for a summer program in Taiwan to study Mandarin language and culture . She quickly learns that the program is better known by its well-deserved nickname "Loveboat". In real life, Wen and her husband both attended the Loveboat program, officially known as the Overseas Compatriot Youth Taiwan Study Tour to Taiwan. 

Wen began her talk by discussing her convoluted journey to becoming a professional writer. Though she professionally trained as a lawyer and later worked in Silicon Valley, Wen has always enjoyed writing. She talked about how the book and movie Crazy Rich Asians and the award-winning musical Hamilton opened up the world of diverse story-telling and made it possible for more stories like Loveboat to be picked up by mainstream audiences. Loveboat, Taipei is actually her fifth novel and her first to be published. Wen shared, “Failure is just a step along the way, and I think that was important for me as an artist to learn so I could keep writing.”  

Loveboat, Taipei is also Wen’s first book to have an Asian American female protagonist. “In my MFA program, my faculty were very encouraging of me writing about who I was,” Wen said. In talking about the making of the movie, Wen emphasized the importance of finding new talent. “There are thirty different Asian American characters in my book. We did an open casting because it was important for me to find new talent to represent them all. It was this incredible experience like none I’d ever had to see these characters I’ve lived with for so many years who are reflective of who I am and who I know come to life, scene by scene.” The movie will now go into editing and post-production. 

Wen also shared details about Loveboat Reunion, which was released on January 25, 2022. The sequel to Loveboat, Taipei brings back the characters Xavier Yeh and Sophie Ha, two of the main leads from the first book. For Wen, it was important to represent a character like Xavier whose neurodiversity is a part of his individuality and his artistic talent.

Of reconciling her craft with her family and Asian American background, Wen said, “Art and anything we love doing is such a vulnerable place for us and so hard for us to share. I never told my family about writing.” In fact, Wen even wrote an essay about being an undercover novelist for her website. 

Today, her parents are very supportive of her writing and the pending movie. “They are excited about the representation,” says Wen. “I credit my parents with my sensitivity to political issues that Asian Americans are facing around the United States and just racial issues in the United States in general.” 

Audience members were delighted to hear from Wen about her writing craft. “I was really encouraged to hear Abigail's story of resilience and persistence in the face of failure in pursuit of a successful writing career,”  said Cassy Lee, upper school librarian. “It's important for students and their parents to hear that even though a career path may not seem linear, all experiences and bumps in the road can be viewed as growth and progress if you don't give up.”

“I enjoyed hearing about how her writing style changed after she did her MFA from a plot-driven approach to a character-driven approach,” said upper school science faculty Dr. Stephanie Hsieh ‘04. “I’m also looking forward to reading the book. One of my students recommended it to me and even gave it a 9.5 out of 10”.