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‘Crazy Rich Asians’ author Kevin Kwan draws crowd to The Woodlands

November 30, 2018

Under red paper lanterns and twinkling fairy lights, the John Cooper School hosted “Crazy Rich Asians” author Kevin Kwan in a pan-Asian themed soirée at The Woodlands Waterway Marriott and Convention Center on Friday as part of its Signatures author series.

The book and its two sequels center around the relationship of Singaporean scion Nicholas Young and American-Chinese college professor Rachel Chu — and all the drama that follows when Young brings a girl home for the first time.

Kwan’s story of love, opulence and imperial splendour in the small island nation became a global phenomenon and this year was adapted into the first romantic comedy in the history of Hollywood with two Asian leads.

“I hope its not a trend,” Kwan said. “I hope it becomes the norm where we have a lot more movies that showcase diversity in every community, not just the Asian community.”

Friday’s luncheon was the biggest in the history of the series, with more than 1,100 attendees. Each year, the school chooses a beneficiary in the county to receive a portion of its donations from the Signatures event — this year’s beneficiary, the Montgomery County Memorial Library system, will allocate a portion of its proceeds to expand its Asian book collection with Chinese-, Japanese- and Vietnamese-language works.

With a growing and diverse population and residents who often seek to travel to Asian countries, the need for bilingual books from east and southeast Asian countries in Montgomery County has grown extensively since the collection was first amassed, said Devery Johnson, the county library system’s outreach coordinator.

“(The John Cooper School) asked if we had a need for Asian books, and we really do,” she added.

In its 14 years, Cooper’s speakers series has brought authors like Barbara Bush, Anthony Bourdain and Gillian Flynn to raise money for its fine arts programs.

“When we’re planning for Signatures, we want something that’s going to appeal to all generations, because all generations come to this event,” event co-chair Susan DeMarco said.

For Cooper Students, the benefit of the event is two-fold, DeMarco said. Through the men, women, artists, chefs, politicians and others that have come to speak at the school, students are exposed to the ever-growing diversity not just of the city they inhabit, but of the world as a whole.

“That’s the world we live in,” DeMarco said. “We need to lead by example — we talk about it, but we need to live it.”

And for Kwan, the luncheon was a homecoming of sorts.

The Houston Kwan moved to from Singapore as an 11-year-old in 1985 bears little resemblance to the sprawling metroplex it is today. In its own way, that city, with its choking humidity and concrete rivers that went on for miles, provided a contrast from his luxurious early years in which the author thrived.

“I realize now that my experiences in American high school became so valuable to me, because it’s what started me on the path of being an observer of people,” Kwan said.

“Crazy Rich Asians” debuted in 2013 and at one point sat on the New York Times’ top 10 bestsellers list with its sequels, “China Rich Girlfriend” and “Rich People Problems.” For some, he said, the books were more than just a novel. The batty cast of characters represented not just crazy, rich or Asian families, but reflected a reality to which most people could relate.

The film adaptation became the first to have an all-Asian cast since 1995’s “The Joy Luck Club,” and topped box office charts for three consecutive weeks. It was nothing short of a miracle, Kwan said, that not only that the book was so well-received, but that that the movie about an astonishingly wealthy Singaporean family and their problems was universally praised, giving a boost to the careers of many of its cast members.

“I wrote it for myself,” Kwan said. “I thought, who would be interested in this strange little story?”

Will readers see more of Nick and Rachel in the future? Maybe, Kwan said, but not for a while. The author likes to revisit characters, but with projects in the works with STX Entertainment and CBS, it’s time to create more diverse roles for actors in new stories.

Kwan graduated from Clear Lake High School in 1990 and went on to receive bachelor’s degrees from the University of Houston-Clear Lake and the Parsons School of Design. He lives in New York City and travels often to Singapore to visit family, but Clear Lake and the Bayou City hold a special place in his heart, he said.

“Thank you, Houston,” Kwan said. “It’s good to be home.”

mrincon@chron.com

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