New York Times national editor Jia Lynn Yang is the winner of the 2021 Zócalo Public Square Book Prize for her debut book, One Mighty and Irresistible Tide: The Epic Struggle Over American Immigration, 1924-1965. Before visiting Zócalo to ask, “Does America Really Want to Be a Nation of Immigrants?,” Yang, whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from Taiwan in the 1970s, talked in the green room about her go-to pizza topping, how being a philosophy major in college has helped her as a journalist, and why she hasn’t been able to find any TV to binge watch lately.
Where did you write most of One Mighty and Irresistible Tide?
In my apartment in Brooklyn at my kitchen table.
What’s your go-to pizza topping?
Arugula, which is weird, but I really like arugula on pizza.
What was the best advice you got about the process of writing a book?
That no one writes a book under perfect conditions where there are no personal or professional obligations aside from the book. It’s important to not pine for that. Keep working—and don’t stop.
You were a philosophy major in college; how do you use that background in your work as a journalist?
I use it to question assumptions. It helps me to see what is foundational in a situation—and to know that that is an assumption people are making—which makes it easier to question it, or to ask why that is, and why that isn’t something else.
What are you most excited for as the world reopens post-COVID?
I miss reading in public. I love reading on trains. In the pandemic I learned that my favorite place to read is in public, in the park, on a train, somewhere outside.
What is your hidden talent?
Doing voices when I read children’s books.
What question have you been asked most often on your book tour?
“What made you want to write this book?”
What’s your short answer?
I wanted to understand why my family was in this country, and our connection to American history more deeply.
What’s your most recent binge-watch?
I have not found anything to binge-watch. I will start something and then—I’m kind of a commitment-phobe with TV. I prefer movies.
What’s been your pandemic silver lining?
Getting to spend a ton of time with family, as I’m staying with my parents. I can heartily recommend intergenerational living, which I did not expect to experience at this age and this stage of my life. It’s been a really special time to be together, despite everything.