Authors IRL: Meet Jenny Tinghui Zhang

Can I tell you a story? In 2017, I upended my life in Nashville to move to Laramie, Wyoming so I could study for my MFA in Fiction. I was a little surprised when I learned that I would be in a cohort of only four writers. Lucky for me, one of those writers was Jenny Tinghui Zhang. I first got to know Jenny for her nonfiction—her gorgeous essays have appeared in places like Catapult and The Cut—but it wasn’t until we were almost halfway through the MFA program that she confessed to me she’d been writing a novel.

Lucky for all of us, that novel turned out to be Four Treasures of the Sky. Jenny’s spectacular debut spans from China to Idaho, following the journey of Daiyu, a young Chinese girl kidnapped from her home and sent overseas to America. Bold and breathtaking, Four Treasures of the Sky redefines the American Western novel. Daiyu’s story might be set in the nineteenth century, but it resonates so strongly with today’s world. This is the kind of historical fiction that prompts us to reevaluate what we know of this country’s history and leaves us better for having done so. 

I’m back in Nashville now, working as the book buyer for Parnassus (hi y’all!). One of my favorite parts of my job is seeing the writers that I came across in grad school publish their first books—books that I get to stock on our shelves, write staff recommendations for, and talk to readers about.

It’s been such an honor to know Jenny and her work over the past few years. Now you can get to know her as well, and, if you can, I hope you’ll join us on April 4 for an in-store event. Topics of conversation include but are not limited to: writing historical fiction, our favorite karaoke songs, and K-drama recommendations.

— Lindsay Lynch, Parnassus book buyer

Get to know Jenny Tinghui Zhang as she answers our Authors In Real Life questionnaire!

Jenny Tinghui Zhang

I’ve been listening to: A cafe music-style rendition of songs from Studio Ghibli films (the album is called “Cafe Music ~Studio Ghibli Jazz & Bossa~”) and the new Charli XCX album. 

I love to watch: I have always loved horror movies, but it has been difficult to put myself in that headspace during the past two years. Instead, I have veered towards K-Dramas and cozy content lately–I think because they feel very soothing and healing to me. (For K-Drama newbies, I highly recommend Crash Landing on You!) When I’m in need of a good laugh, I rewatch old Run BTS episodes. 

Something I saw online that made me laugh, cry, or think: Jason Brown’s free skate at the 2022 Winter Olympics. Allow me to nerd out for a moment: figure skating has been all about who can jump the most quads for quite some while now, and many bemoan the loss of artistry in favor of athleticism. Jason Brown came to the competition with a program that had no quads, likely knowing that this would not put him on the podium, but his program was one of the most exquisite and moving programs at the competition because you can tell he simply loves what he does so much. It was really emotional for me to watch someone commit themselves to their art purely because they love it so, not necessarily because it will win them gold. 

A creator who’s doing something I admire: I think Chanel Miller is just so wonderful.

A book I recently recommended to someone else: Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey. 

Something I started doing during the pandemic: Running…a lot. I used to frequent my local gym, but wasn’t able to go back once the pandemic started. I find myself tensing a lot throughout the day, whether it’s my shoulders rising to meet my ears, or my brow furrowing, or my lips pursing. Running seems to dislodge that tension as well as all the thoughts colliding in my head. It’s nice to be able to physically discard in this way. 

If I could teleport anywhere in the world right now, I’d go to: Straight to my grandparents’ apartment in Changchun. Before the pandemic, I visited them in China every year, so it has been difficult not seeing them for 2.5 years now. I know they are hurting from it–I am, too. 

I wish I knew more about: Languages. I’m so in awe of people who are fluent in multiple languages.

My favorite thing about bookstores: The sense of comfort they provide. No matter where I am, I know that the bookstore will be a place of safety. It’s like having a home in every city.

Four Treasures of the Sky will be released on April 5. Join us on Monday, April 4 at 6:30pm for an in-store event (and early access to the book!) with Jenny in conversation with our own Lindsay Lynch. Registration is required. Sign up here!

Four Treasures of the Sky: A Novel Cover Image