Henry Chang. Photo: Beowulf SheehanNovelist Henry Chang, who discovered his love of books as a kid at the Chatham Square Library, still remembers how proud he was to get his first library card.
Now Chang has even more to be proud of when he walks into the Library — seeing his own books on the shelf in the mystery section, between Raymond Chandler and Agatha Christie.
“To see my own books on the Library shelf is humbling — the Library has been and continues to be an inspiration,” said Chang, who has published a trilogy of novels set in Chinatown, including his first, Chinatown Beat, which began as stories that he wrote from his neighborhood library two decades ago.
Unfortunately, Library hours are in jeopardy under a $40 million funding cut that would close some neighborhood libraries and reduce service at the rest to just four days per week.
The son of immigrants who settled in Chinatown in the first half of the 20th century, Chang grew up hearing and speaking Cantonese (a dialect of Chinese) at home, then learned English at school. His visits to Chatham Square Library and other neighborhood libraries helped inspire him to become the writer he is today.
“As a grade-school child, I took class trips to the Chinatown-area branches of NYPL, where I discovered books and magazines and developed a love of reading,” said Chang, who previously worked as a lighting designer and security consultant but now writes full time. “I remember how proud I felt to receive my first library card, and to be able to take out books for free.”
Chang also later discovered Chatham Square Library’s wealth of Chinese-American materials, which, he said, “opened my eyes up to telling the stories of my parents’ and grandparents’ generation.”
Chang’s Chinatown trilogy — which also includes Year of the Dog and Red Jade, which was published last fall — all feature the same protagonist, Detective Jack Yu of the NYPD. Chang sees him as a “great tour guide through the underbelly of Chinatown.”
But through his novels, Chang said he also wants to give his readers a deeper understanding of the lives of the ordinary people who live and work in the area and are trying to make their way.
“To know that those books will live on there long after I’m gone, for future generations, is awesome indeed,” said Chang.
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