Hua Hsu with E.J. Koh — 'Stay True: A Memoir'

A gripping memoir on friendship, grief, the search for self, and the solace that can be found through art, by the New Yorker staff writer Hua Hsu.


Third Place Books is thrilled to welcome Hua Hsu to our Lake Forest Park store! Hsu will be celebrating the paperback release of his Pulitzer Prize-winning, staff-favorite memoir, Stay True. Hsu will be joined in conversation by local author E.J. Koh, recently named "Most Influential" by Seattle Magazine. Koh is the author of the memoir The Magical Language of Others and the forthcoming novel The Liberators. Tickets are required in advance.

Stay True was a "Best Book of the Year" for well over a dozen publications, a National Book Critics Circle Award Winner, and winner of the Chinese American Librarians Association's Best Book Award for Adult Nonfiction.

"Hua Hsu spent 20 years writing this book as an homage to a friend, Ken, who was randomly murdered in a carjacking one night after a college party. The first half details their friends' lives in college at Berkeley in the 90s, and the sense of infinitute you feel when you're young. The second half is a completely arresting tribute to Ken and their friendship as Hsu struggles to process the grief of losing Ken, and the guilt of surviving without him. I can't put into words how good this is—just read it for yourself and let Hsu tell you how much he loved Ken." —Marii H, Third Place Books

What you need to know:

  • Book-bundled tickets come with a paperback edition of Stay True. Sales from General Admission tickets ($5) will be donated to our Books to Students Fund.
  • This event includes time for audience Q&A and a public signing. 
  • If you are unable to attend the event, your book will be placed on hold at our Lake Forest Park store. You may request to have your book placed on hold at our Ravenna or Seward Park location. Please allow time for transfer.

Copies of Stay True will be available for purchase at the store. Sustain our author series by purchasing a copy of the featured book in advance!

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About Stay True. . .


A Best Book of the Year: The New York Times, The Washington PostThe New YorkerTIMEThe Atlantic, VogueVanity FairKirkusPublishers Weekly, NPR, The Boston GlobePitchforkRolling StoneThe MillionsBookPageLit HubReader's Digest, Vulture, Goop

In the eyes of eighteen-year-old Hua Hsu, the problem with Ken—with his passion for Dave Matthews, Abercrombie & Fitch, and his fraternity—is that he is exactly like everyone else. Ken, whose Japanese American family has been in the United States for generations, is mainstream; for Hua, the son of Taiwanese immigrants, who makes ’zines and haunts Bay Area record shops, Ken represents all that he defines himself in opposition to. The only thing Hua and Ken have in common is that, however they engage with it, American culture doesn’t seem to have a place for either of them.

But despite his first impressions, Hua and Ken become friends, a friendship built on late-night conversations over cigarettes, long drives along the California coast, and the successes and humiliations of everyday college life. And then violently, senselessly, Ken is gone, killed in a carjacking, not even three years after the day they first meet.

Determined to hold on to all that was left of one of his closest friends—his memories—Hua turned to writing. Stay True is the book he’s been working on ever since. A coming-of-age story that details both the ordinary and extraordinary, Stay True is a bracing memoir about growing up, and about moving through the world in search of meaning and belonging.


Praise for Stay True. . .

“An elegant and poignant coming of age account that considers intense, youthful friendships but also random violence that can suddenly and permanently alter the presumed logic of our personal narratives."
2023 Pulitzer Prize Committee

“New Yorker staff writer Hsu braids music, art, and philosophy in his extraordinary debut. . .Hsu parses the grief of losing his friend and eloquently captures the power of friendship and unanswerable questions spurred in the wake of senseless violence. The result is at once a lucid snapshot of life in the nineties, an incredible story of reckoning, and a moving elegy to a fallen friend.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Masterfully structured and exquisitely written. Hsu’s voice shimmers with tenderness and vulnerability as he meticulously reconstructs his memories of a nurturing, compassionate friendship. The protagonists’ Asian American identities are nuanced, never serving as the defining element of the story, and the author creates a cast of gorgeously balanced characters. A stunning, intricate memoir about friendship, grief, and memory.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Quietly wrenching. . . To say that this book is about grief or coming-of-age doesn’t quite do it justice; nor is it mainly about being Asian American, even though there are glimmers of that too. . . This is a memoir that gathers power through accretion — all those moments and gestures that constitute experience, the bits and pieces that coalesce into a life. . . Hsu is a subtle writer, not a showy one; the joy of Stay True sneaks up on you, and the wry jokes are threaded seamlessly throughout.”
The New York Times

“'I was a storyteller with a plot twist guaranteed to astound and destroy,’ Hua Hsu says of himself, in a tone that is slightly ironic. And yet what he has achieved in Stay True is exactly that: to astound and destroy his reader. This book is exquisite and excruciating and I will be thinking about it for years and years to come.”
Rachel Kushner, author of The Mars Room

Hua Hsu is a staff writer at The New Yorker and a professor of literature at Bard College. Hsu serves on the executive board of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. He was formerly a fellow at the New America Foundation and the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center at the New York Public Library. He lives in Brooklyn with his family.

E. J. Koh is the author of The Magical Language of Others, which won a Washington State Book Award, Pacific Northwest Book Award, and Association for Asian American Studies Book Award, and was longlisted for the PEN Open Book Award. Koh is also the author of the poetry collection A Lesser Love, a Pleiades Press Editors Prize for Poetry winner. Koh’s work has appeared in AGNI, the AtlanticBoston ReviewLos Angeles Review of BooksPoetrySlateWorld Literature Today, and elsewhere. Koh earned her MFA at Columbia University and her PhD at the University of Washington, and has received National Endowment for the Arts and MacDowell fellowships. She lives in Seattle, Washington. (Photo credit: Adam K. Glaser)

Want a signed edition of the featured book, but can't make it to the event? Order through our website or over the phone, and write your request for a signature or personalization in the comments field at checkout. Please call the hosting store if you're placing your order within 24 hours of the event.

Third Place Books Events Code of Conduct: Third Place Books is committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of event attendees and guest authors, during both online and in-store events. By registering for this event, you are agreeing to refrain from engaging in inappropriate behavior and harassment of any kind throughout the course of this event (i.e. racial slurs, profanity, hate speech, spam comments, etc.). Please note that any participants who engage in inappropriate behavior or harassment of any kind will be immediately ejected from the event.

For media inquiries, access inquiries, or questions about our Covid-19 policies, please email or call our Lake Forest Park store at (206) 366-3311.