Best-selling author Jamie Ford appears at CCBC for book signing, talks novel for 'One Book'

·5 min read

CENTER TWP. — Beaver County readers came together at the Community College of Beaver County to discuss the region's most recent read on Thursday night.

Celebrating a night of Asian American culture in storytelling, New York Times best-selling author Jamie Ford made an appearance at the CCBC Library to discuss the impact of his novels and interact with readers. The event was a part of the Beaver County Libraries "One Book Beaver County" program, which selected Ford's "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet" to read earlier this year.

Opening the evening's event with complimentary tea and candies, readers were able to socialize and discuss the book while Ford informally met with fans of his work. The library was filled with World War II-era jazz music and various references to Ford's library of work, creating a buzz among the large group.

To start the event, keynote speaker and senior curator for the Heinz History Center Leslie Przybylek discussed the paranoia and racism that Asian Americans faced in western Pennsylvania during World War II. Areas around Pittsburgh and Beaver County were often contentious situations for Chinese and Japanese families in the region, despite many of the threats coming from Germany during this time.

"That's kind of an ironic part of the context here," Przybylek said. "There was a lot of fear, and this fear combined with the Pittsburgh kind of sense of their industrial significance, to them they were as important to the war effort as the exclusion zone on the West Coast and it shaped the response here."

Ford followed this historical background by first talking about the film adaptation of "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet," which was auctioned six years ago. According to the author, the COVID-19 pandemic has left the project in the pre-production stage and no updates have been announced as of his appearance on Thursday night.

Despite the roadblocks in the film industry, fans of the book may be able to see the story adapted for the stage in the near future.

"It's also an option for a stage musical, which is really interesting," Ford said. "About two weeks ago, they had another developmental reading in New York City and I went to one of those performances. It was in a developmental theater, about this many people, and the seats were all taken. So I sat in the aisle, and at intermission, everyone was crying. They say in the theater world 'if you cry, you buy,' so that's a good sign."

The popular novel made an impact on many readers, earning it a spot on the New York Times Best Sellers List for years after publication. Over a decade later, the novel has now become a part of academic courses in high schools and colleges across the United States for the messages and storytelling techniques used throughout the book.

As a popular "summer reading list" entry, Ford has received many last-minute questions from students looking to complete projects each year.

Throughout the night, Ford spoke about how his Asian American heritage played a role in the writing of "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet." Audience members asked various questions about the research of the book and inspirations behind the certain elements of the story.
Throughout the night, Ford spoke about how his Asian American heritage played a role in the writing of "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet." Audience members asked various questions about the research of the book and inspirations behind the certain elements of the story.

"I'm not on SparkNotes, but I am on social media and the internet, and they can track me down," Ford said. "So every August, I will get 20 to 30 emails per day. They say these really wonderful things, like 'Mr. Ford, loved your book 'Motel on the Corner of Sweet and Sours.'' It took this sharp turn when my own daughter was assigned my book in high school, I guess it's not cool when Dad is homework."

While the homework may leave some students groaning and scrambling for worksheet answers, many students have also taken to social media to praise "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet" and discuss the characters with other readers. Ford shared his pleasure with the compliments for his work, especially as it has led some of these students to renew their interest in reading books.

"I especially like it when I see the tweet and it's a boy," Ford said. "High school boys are a hard target to reach, because there is sports and video games and all kinds of things going on. When I get (a tweet) and I can see the young dude, he's got his football jersey and probably just made varsity, and he says something like 'this is the first book I was forced to read that didn't actually suck,' that's a huge compliment."

Throughout his discussion of the book, Ford also discussed the nature of his love story, the importance of historical fiction and the various cultural influences that played into the story.

Ford admitted that he had always been drawn to the arts, especially the various love stories that he read and watched on TV while growing up. With aspirations to become a writer and plenty of experience with nonfiction works, he decided that he wanted to write a story in the historical fiction genre focused on the Asian-American experience during the second World War.

One of Ford's largest narrative influences in "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet" was the Panama Hotel, which he visited frequently when preparing to write his story. The hotel still contains the various items left behind when many families were forced into Japanese internment camps during the war, creating a vivid image of the situation they faced.

While Ford can't answer every question about the thoughts of people during this period, many of their personal stories have become lost to time, he hopes that his story can help draw attention to the injustices and struggles that Asian Americans faced during this time.

"I don't have the perfect answer of why people didn't return their belongings," Ford said. "The broadest, most general answer is that hostility towards Japanese Americans didn't get better, as the work progressively got worse, in many cases, the passing or loss of their loved ones overseas. So many people couldn't come back or they didn't have the means to come back. But those belongings are there to this day, and the hotel has now become kind of a living museum. The fact that it's still there makes a powerful statement."

This article originally appeared on Beaver County Times: Jamie Ford appears at CCBC for 'One Book' discussion