This week, filmmaker and author Curtis Chin discusses his book Everything I Learned, I Learned in a Chinese Restaurant, a memoir about coming of age and coming out. Chin traces his journey through 1980s Detroit as he navigated rising xenophobia, the AIDS epidemic, and the Reagan Revolution to find his voice as a writer and activist—all set against the backdrop of his family’s popular Chinese restaurant. Chin is joined in conversation by Grace Chan McKibben, Executive Director at the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community. This conversation originally took place November 7, 2023 and was recorded live at the American Writers Museum.
More about Everything I Learned, I Learned in a Chinese Restaurant:
Nineteen eighties Detroit was a volatile place to live, but above the fray stood a safe haven: Chung’s Cantonese Cuisine, where anyone—from the city’s first Black mayor to the local drag queens, from a big-time Hollywood star to elderly Jewish couples—could sit down for a warm, home-cooked meal. Here was where, beneath a bright-red awning and surrounded by his multigenerational family, filmmaker and activist Curtis Chin came of age; where he learned to embrace his identity as a gay ABC, or American-born Chinese; where he navigated the divided city’s spiraling misfortunes; and where—between helpings of almond boneless chicken, sweet-and-sour pork, and some of his own, less-savory culinary concoctions—he realized just how much he had to offer to the world, to his beloved family, and to himself.
Served up by the cofounder of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop and structured around the very menu that graced the tables of Chung’s, Everything I Learned, I Learned in a Chinese Restaurant is both a memoir and an invitation: to step inside one boy’s childhood oasis, scoot into a vinyl booth, and grow up with him—and perhaps even share something off the secret menu.
A co-founder of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop in New York City, CURTIS CHIN served as the non-profits’ first Executive Director. He went on to write for network and cable television before transitioning to social justice documentaries. Chin has screened his films at over 600 venues in sixteen countries. He has written for CNN, Bon Appetit, the Detroit Free Press, and the Emancipator/Boston Globe. A graduate of the University of Michigan, Chin has received awards from ABC/Disney Television, New York Foundation for the Arts, National Endowment for the Arts, and more. His memoir, Everything I Learned, I Learned in a Chinese Restaurant will be published by Little, Brown in Fall 2023. His essay in Bon Appetit was just selected for Best Food Writing in America 2023.
GRACE CHAN MCKIBBEN is Executive Director at the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community (CBCAC), which seeks to empower the Chinese American communities in Greater Chicago through planning, advocacy, and organizing. For over 25 years, Grace has held senior level positions in education, government, corporate, and nonprofits and is a fierce advocate of equality, inclusion, and belonging for immigrants, persons of color, the low-income community, and the LGBTQ+ community. Grace is also co-founder of a pro-bono legal clinic in Chinatown, three consultancy firms, and a women’s choir, and serves on many volunteer boards and commissions, including the ACLU, City of Chicago’s Community Development Commission, and the State of Illinois Asian American Employment Plan Advisory Council.