Angry Reader of the Week: Helen Wan

Photo: Anna Campanelli

Good readers, gather 'round. It is time again to meet the Angry Reader of the Week, spotlighting you, the very special readers of this website. Over the years, I've been able to connect with a lot of cool folks, and this is a way of showing some appreciation and attention to the people who help make this blog what it is. This week's Angry Reader is Helen Wan.

Who are you?

Helen Wan

What are you?

Novelist and lawyer. Champion of outsider stories.

Author of The Partner Track, the story of a young Asian American woman climbing the corporate ladder at a prestigious law firm.

Chinese-American kid from D.C. burbs.

Also, sleep-deprived new parent. I don't really recommend giving birth to a first baby and a first book in the same year while holding down a law job, by the way.

Where are you from?

Northern Virginia, by way of Carmel, California, where I was born. (I know. Who moves from Carmel??)

Where are you?

Usually, NYC. Right this moment, looking out at a gorgeous snowy vista on Cornell University's campus in Ithaca.

What do you do?

I'm at work on a second book. I also frequently give presentations about the ideas in my first book.

For the past fifteen years, I've been a media and corporate lawyer in New York, at law firms and then in-house at a big corporation.

But after my novel was published in the fall, an amazing thing started happening. I started getting asked to speak at law firms, law schools, corporations, universities, leadership conferences, and lots of other places around the country about the themes of my book: How do we -- as Asian Americans, as women, and in my case, as a woman of color -- experience the dynamics of corporate America? What happens to all of us Minority Darlings once the test-taking ends and we must do battle with the sharp elbows in the workplace? What IS the best way to handle the “flag-carrying”/Poster-Child duties of the Minority Darling, anyway? And what can be done to create a more inclusive workplace?

One exciting thing led to another. And as I traveled around the country, speaking to groups of Asian Americans, women, students, and other people about the importance of taking risks to achieve our dreams, I realized I was not taking my own advice. So I took the plunge. I'm leaving lawyering to write my second book and pursue my childhood dream of being a full-time author. Yeah. My parents know. (I think it helped that I told them about quitting my job right before The Washington Post Magazine ran a cover story about my book. This helped convince them that this really wasn't a stapled brochure that I was selling out of the trunk of my car.)

What are you all about?

I'm extremely interested in how diversity, difference, and ‘outsider' status impact the decisions people make in our pursuit of happiness. I write and speak about Asian Americans' and women's complicated relationship with ambition itself, and the sacrifices we make to stay true to ourselves and live authentic lives while achieving career success.
I find group dynamics and social hierarchies endlessly fascinating. Like The Partner Track, my next book will again look at how race, gender, class, and cultural upbringing affect our personal and professional decision making.
I love a good workplace story, and I root for underdogs!

What makes you angry?

1. Mean people. Line cutters.

2. When people think bald jokes or short jokes are the same as being called Chink. They're not. Sorry.

3. When people tell Angry Asian Man and others who write about race to “lighten up.” Hey, why don't YOU lighten up, Baldy.

4. Haters who hate for no reason. Like this:

“I HATE that film/book/album!”
“Really? Did you see/read/listen to it?”
“Um, no.”


But, since I don't like to go to bed angry, I'd like to end this post with another question entirely: What makes you happy?

1. My son's grin when he's toddling toward me as I walk through the door.

2. Unscripted moments of beauty or kindness.

3. People using their talent and intelligence for good.

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