MV Times: "At her reading last Friday night, the audience brought a palpable excitement with them, and rattled off questions about the plot, the heroine, comparisons with Lolita, and comments about the luxuriously detailed language in Mayumi."
Date: Jun 10 2015
The West Tisbury librarian, poet, and debut novelist drew a standing-room-only crowd to Bunch of Grapes bookstore in Vineyard Haven Friday night for a reading and discussion of Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness, published last month by Europa Editions.
Jennifer Tseng’s first novel has attracted some serious national and international buzz. The Los Angeles Times has it on the newspaper’s list of 22 books to read this summer, and the Boston Globe covered it. Kirkus Reviews, Goodreads (almost 5 stars), and the international online hub the Island Review all loved this intense, complex story about a 41-year old librarian’s yearlong affair with a teenage boy on a small Island off the coast of Massachusetts.
Ms. Tseng coordinates literary events and circulates materials for the West Tisbury library when she is not building a growing body of well-received literary work. Raised in California by a Chinese immigrant engineer and a first-generation German-American microbiologist, Ms. Tseng holds masters degrees in Asian-American studies, has taught Asian-American studies and creative writing at UCLA and Hampshire College, and is active in several literary organizations. Her first book, The Man with My Face, won both the 2005 Asian American Writers’ Workshop’s National Poetry Manuscript Competition and a 2006 PEN American Center Open Book Award. Her second book, Red Flower, White Flower, won the Marick Press Poetry Prize, and included Chinese translations by Mengying Han and Aaron Crippen. She is currently working on a second novel.
Like so many “overnight” successes, Ms. Tseng has spent several decades producing literature that has attracted top-rank literary publishing houses, like Marick Press and now Europa Editions, to her work.
At her reading last Friday night, the audience brought a palpable excitement with them, and rattled off questions about the plot, the heroine, comparisons with Lolita, and comments about the luxuriously detailed language in Mayumi. One audience member, unfamiliar with the book, exclaimed joyously that “this book sounds like How Stella Got Her Groove Back, except it’s set on Martha’s Vineyard rather than in Jamaica,” which generated howls of laughter.
Ms. Tseng told the audience that she had peppered co-workers with questions during the 2½ years spent writing her book. Ms. Tseng admitted to an audience member that she “was scared” that readers would think her protagonist was autobiographical, and then in her wry, self-deprecating style, admitted a library colleague had to explain the term “cougar.” “I can’t believe I didn’t know that,” she said. In a 10-minute reading from Mayumi, Ms. Tseng created a protagonist with a ruthless commitment to self-reporting, to telling on herself in a manner that riveted listeners.
“You know, there was never any question in my mind that we would be sitting here tonight,” Laura Coit, a colleague at West Tisbury library, said on Friday night. ”It feels good just to have witnessed the entire process,” she said. Beth Kramer, library director, said earlier this week, “We love and celebrate Jennifer, and we’re having a party for her at the library on June 27 to which everyone is invited.”