Meet Me Tonight in Atlantic City
2024 PNBA Award Winner

"[Wong] paints her story with flourish."—The New York Times

"A love letter to Atlantic City and the Asian American working class."— The Los Angeles Times

"Blazing, lyrical."—The Boston Globe

"Joyful. . . . Wong’s memoir invites those who have been overlooked in America to hold up their verses, accolades and solidarity in a collective rejoinder to their detractors."—The Washington Post

 An incandescent, exquisitely written memoir about family, food, girlhood, resistance, and growing up in a Chinese American restaurant on the Jersey shore.

In the late 1980s on the Jersey shore, Jane Wong watches her mother shake ants from an MSG bin behind the family’s Chinese restaurant. She is a hungry daughter frying crab rangoon for lunch, a child sneaking naps on bags of rice, a playful sister scheming to trap her brother in the freezer before he traps her first. Jane is part of a family staking their claim to the American dream, even as this dream crumbles. Beneath Atlantic City’s promise lies her father’s gambling addiction, an addiction that causes him to disappear for days and ultimately leads to the loss of the restaurant.

In her debut memoir, Jane Wong tells a new story about Atlantic City, one that resists a single identity, a single story as she writes about making do with what you have—and what you don’t. What does it mean, she asks, to be both tender and angry? What is strength without vulnerability—and humor? Filled with beauty found in unexpected places, Meet Me Tonight in Atlantic City is a resounding love song of the Asian American working class, a portrait of how we become who we are, and a story of lyric wisdom to hold and to share.
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Meet Me Tonight in Atlantic City
2024 PNBA Award Winner

"[Wong] paints her story with flourish."—The New York Times

"A love letter to Atlantic City and the Asian American working class."— The Los Angeles Times

"Blazing, lyrical."—The Boston Globe

"Joyful. . . . Wong’s memoir invites those who have been overlooked in America to hold up their verses, accolades and solidarity in a collective rejoinder to their detractors."—The Washington Post

 An incandescent, exquisitely written memoir about family, food, girlhood, resistance, and growing up in a Chinese American restaurant on the Jersey shore.

In the late 1980s on the Jersey shore, Jane Wong watches her mother shake ants from an MSG bin behind the family’s Chinese restaurant. She is a hungry daughter frying crab rangoon for lunch, a child sneaking naps on bags of rice, a playful sister scheming to trap her brother in the freezer before he traps her first. Jane is part of a family staking their claim to the American dream, even as this dream crumbles. Beneath Atlantic City’s promise lies her father’s gambling addiction, an addiction that causes him to disappear for days and ultimately leads to the loss of the restaurant.

In her debut memoir, Jane Wong tells a new story about Atlantic City, one that resists a single identity, a single story as she writes about making do with what you have—and what you don’t. What does it mean, she asks, to be both tender and angry? What is strength without vulnerability—and humor? Filled with beauty found in unexpected places, Meet Me Tonight in Atlantic City is a resounding love song of the Asian American working class, a portrait of how we become who we are, and a story of lyric wisdom to hold and to share.
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Meet Me Tonight in Atlantic City

Meet Me Tonight in Atlantic City

by Jane Wong
Meet Me Tonight in Atlantic City

Meet Me Tonight in Atlantic City

by Jane Wong

Hardcover

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Overview

2024 PNBA Award Winner

"[Wong] paints her story with flourish."—The New York Times

"A love letter to Atlantic City and the Asian American working class."— The Los Angeles Times

"Blazing, lyrical."—The Boston Globe

"Joyful. . . . Wong’s memoir invites those who have been overlooked in America to hold up their verses, accolades and solidarity in a collective rejoinder to their detractors."—The Washington Post

 An incandescent, exquisitely written memoir about family, food, girlhood, resistance, and growing up in a Chinese American restaurant on the Jersey shore.

In the late 1980s on the Jersey shore, Jane Wong watches her mother shake ants from an MSG bin behind the family’s Chinese restaurant. She is a hungry daughter frying crab rangoon for lunch, a child sneaking naps on bags of rice, a playful sister scheming to trap her brother in the freezer before he traps her first. Jane is part of a family staking their claim to the American dream, even as this dream crumbles. Beneath Atlantic City’s promise lies her father’s gambling addiction, an addiction that causes him to disappear for days and ultimately leads to the loss of the restaurant.

In her debut memoir, Jane Wong tells a new story about Atlantic City, one that resists a single identity, a single story as she writes about making do with what you have—and what you don’t. What does it mean, she asks, to be both tender and angry? What is strength without vulnerability—and humor? Filled with beauty found in unexpected places, Meet Me Tonight in Atlantic City is a resounding love song of the Asian American working class, a portrait of how we become who we are, and a story of lyric wisdom to hold and to share.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781953534675
Publisher: Tin House Books
Publication date: 05/16/2023
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 297,312
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Jane Wong is the author of the poetry collections How to Not Be Afraid of Everything and Overpour. An associate professor of creative writing at Western Washington University, she grew up in New Jersey and currently lives in Seattle, Washington.


Read an Excerpt

MEET ME TONIGHT IN ATLANTIC CITY

Let’s begin here: on the ground. Or rather on the slabs of wood above the ground. In July, 1854, a New Jersey tourist train from Camden made its inaugural voyage to Atlantic City. Tourists came to stick their toes in the Atlantic Ocean—steel blue, the color of whales they’d never see. They came to lean against each other in the high dunes and make promises they couldn’t keep. They let the wind lift those promises up, caught in the chandeliers of expensive hotels or the beaks of passing seagulls. The women who came held frilled umbrellas—jellyfish along the shore. And when they returned to their jobs and errands and thumb-sucking babies, they carried sand with them, making the train car a beach in and of itself. Glitter of the sea. This is how the boardwalk came to be: a frustrated railroad conductor and simply too much sand for his own sweeping sanity. On June 16, 1870, boards were erected, 10 feet wide and 12 feet long.

Just to be clear: this is not our story. Not yet. Our story moves across that steel-blue fantasy, onto another continent, toward a place where there is no such thing as “vacation.” My ancestors will stare at that word, 假期, as if it were a cloud that could disappear at any point. On this continent, there are herds of oxen and lily pads the size of promises that can’t be made. As a small child, I dreamt of this story. Of an ox and my mother riding its back, the hair on its hide so coarse, it makes your throat hurt. Our story, our history, is a different Atlantic City.

It is 1988 and my mother is still dreaming in Toisanese—not a single word of English worms its way through her open-mouth sleep world. My little brother, Steven, had just been born, howling like a wolf who knew he was a boy. Four years earlier, when the nurses placed me in my mother’s arms, I stared at her silently. She held me up to the fluorescent hospital light and declared: “I’m afraid. She knows too much.” By 1988, my father had been holding illegal mahjong gambling circles for five years, often in the basement. Cigarette smoke escaped like doves from underneath the floorboards. And the shuffling. The shuffling sound of mahjong tiles, a porcelain earthquake. I learned later that some of these tiles used to be made out of bone or bamboo. Now: Bakelite, plastic. My father always invited the same people to play with him: the Chicken Bone Man, City Uncle, and Balding Uncle. His friends always played with toothpicks dangling out of their mouths, moving the sticks from side to side in concentration. My brother and I named the crew the Toothpick Gang.

Just to be clear again: our story is not about small enterprises. Our story goes beyond the small batons of $20 bills passed around the mahjong table. Beyond the table’s green felt, stained with cheap Tsingtao and sky-high piles of gnawed bones from the Chicken Bone Man’s self-evident pastime.

Our story is Atlantic City. We are talking about the Taj Mahal, Caesars, Bally’s. Casinos depicting worlds my father simply couldn’t fathom. At Caesars, there were towering white columns so extravagant they held up nothing at all. There were white statues of horses braying, a ceiling painted like the sky with white clouds, the busts of white people we assumed were famous but were really just white. My parents didn’t even know where Rome was on a map or that Rome existed. But Caesars was gleaming in its whiteness. Who could say no to the patina of wealth?

This is how we arrived: on that Chinese tourist bus where you have to fan yourself with your $10 gambling voucher and put your cigarette out in a Dixie cup. Or, if you hit it big like we once did, you can arrive in the dolphin-colored leather of your BMW, before you inevitably crash it into the Garden State Parkway median. No air-conditioning and the windows down, to save on gas mileage, of course. We arrived over a century later on a boardwalk full of non-white faces. Shoulder pads, pinstriped suits, and an amalgamation of languages punctuating the salty air. The poor, the working class, the hopeful in red-tag sequin dresses from Marshalls. Here we are! Yes, here, with self-serve wine and crab legs at the Palace Court Buffet—all of which we marveled at, but never touched.

Table of Contents

Contents:
Dragon Fruit
Chapter 1: Meet Me Tonight in Atlantic City
Wongmom.com
Chapter 2: Root Canal Street19
Ghost Archive
Chapter 3: A Cheat Sheet for Restaurant Babies
Ghost Archive (Look)
Chapter 4: Give Us Our Crowns
White Hair
Chapter 5: A Jane by Any Other Name
Guts
Chapter 6: Bad Bildungsroman with Table Tennis
The Watcher
Chapter 7: The Object of Love
Wongmom.com (Don’t Mess with Me)
Chapter 8: To Love a Mosquito
An Ancient Chinese Saying
Chapter 9: The Thief
Nocturnal Forces
Chapter 10: Snow, Rain, Heat, Pandemic, Gloom of Night
Ghost Archive (Look Again)
Chapter 11: Finding the Bloodline
Wongmom.com (Fertilizer)
Chapter 12: Astonished Enough?
Mangoes Forever
Acknowledgments
Bibliography
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