Ava Chin, Associate Professor of English at CSI, has recently released a new book that explores her family’s roots: Mott Street: A Chinese American Family’s Story of Exclusion and Homecoming (Penguin Press, 2023).

When asked why she wrote the book, Chin explained, “I grew up raised by a single mother, and didn’t meet my father until I had graduated from college and sought him out on my own. For years I yearned to know who he was and this family that I had never known.”

She also had another, more historical and cultural reason for undertaking this research and writing the book, “I’m also the proud descendant of a Chinese railroad worker, who helped build the nation’s first transcontinental railroad, which unified the country after the Civil War,” Chin noted. “When I learned about the railroad in school, and saw the official photograph that was released upon its completion, there wasn’t a single Asian face staring back at me. I thought, ‘What is this nonsense?’”

This set in motion Chin’s attempt to discover more about her family and her heritage, saying that her motivations were “only the tip of something much larger about which most Americans are unaware.”

Chin conducted painstaking research to produce the stories in the book, starting in 2015 after she completed her last book, Eating Wildly (Simon & Schuster, 2014), and continued nonstop until just recently. “In fact, I’m always researching the family stories, now for the next book,” she reported.

Although Mott Street has only been out since April 25, it has been garnering a lot of attention. Chin said that she’s “been interviewed on C-SPAN (BookTV), PBS’s Metrofocus, and the Barnes & Noble podcast Poured Over. The book has been covered in The Washington Post, The New York Times, Publisher’s Weekly (which called the book “stunning”), Kirkus, and The Boston Globe,” among others.

According to her Penguin biography, Chin is “a winner of the Les Dames d’Escoffier International M.F.K. Fisher Book Prize. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Village Voice, and Saveur. She is the recipient of grants and fellowships from the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center, the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program, New York Foundation for the Arts, New York Institute for the Humanities, and the Asian American Writers’ Workshop.”

By Terry Mares