On the day that Anchee Min realized it was her mission to help Americans understand the Chinese, she had taken her daughter to a park in the Chicago neighborhood of Bridgeport.
Min had been in Chicago for most of a decade by then, attending the School of the Art Institute, living in risky neighborhoods, working odd jobs for bad pay and stumbling through the labyrinth of English.
Finally, on that day in the park, Min heard what she now refers to as her calling, a moment she recounts in "The Cooked Seed," her new memoir:
"Are you Chinese?" I heard a tender voice calling behind me.
It was a white boy about ten years old. "Are you Chinese?" he repeated.
"Yes, I am." I returned his smile.
"They" — the boy pointed at three white teenage boys sitting on the fence — "They asked me to ask you if they can **** you."
I was stunned. I looked at the boy and said, "Did I hear you say the f-word?"
The boy scampered back to his friends, and Min headed home with her daughter, thinking that those boys hated Chinese people because they didn't know the Chinese, just as she had been trained to hate Americans when she was growing up in China.
She resolved, she writes in her new book, to "help defrost the ice in the hearts of Americans."
Min now lives in Walnut Creek, Calif., which is where she was when I called her this week in preparation for interviewing her Saturday at the Printers Row Lit Fest.
"Chicago was the foundation of my success," she said.
It was in Chicago that Min wrote "Red Azalea," the first installment of her memoir, about growing up during China's Cultural Revolution under the harsh communist rule of Mao Zedong.
Published in 1994, "Red Azalea" became a worldwide hit, and she immediately got a contract to write the sequel, about her struggles as a Chicago art student, her marriage, her divorce and her move to California.
The sequel she embarked on was, in her view, terrible.
"I killed it myself," she said.
Min went on to write instead about Chinese history and women's history, determined to avoid more autobiography, until events conspired years later to change her mind.
Her mother died. Her daughter grew up and begged for the rest of the story. She herself grew older.
"When you go past 50," she said, "you develop a different, I wouldn't say attitude, a different understanding of life."
But Min wasn't sure she had the courage to write her American sequel.