Born in Richmond, Virginia to first-generation Taiwanese parents, actress Constance Wu caught her breakthrough role in 2015, when she was cast as highly-strung suburban matriarch Jessica Huang in the ABC sitcom Fresh Off the Boat. In the years since, she’s been lauded for her roles as an econ-teaching everywoman in the romantic dramedy Crazy Rich Asians, a stripper and struggling single mom in Hustlers, and a seasoned war correspondent in the Amazon action thriller The Terminal List. Drawn to a wild diversity of roles, her latest project sees her starring opposite Javier Bardem in the live-action musical Lyle Lyle Crocodile.
Alongside her acting work, Wu has lent her voice to several activist causes, including Asian representation in Hollywood, mental health awareness, and feminist issues. Following some personal struggles with harassment, anxiety, and depression, she published her much-anticipated memoir, Making a Scene, this year. A poignant portrait of how she “made it” in show business, it traces her childhood and career trajectory through a series of raw essays on family, sex, shame, and trauma.
In an interview with Elle on the books of her life, Wu spoke on finding realness in Ferrante’s women, weeping from George Eliot, and getting back to her center with Salinger’s Franny and Zooey. From David Foster Wallace to Roxane Gay, explore her recommendations below.
Constance Wu’s Reading List
The Great Fires by Jack Gilbert
“It’s a book of poetry. In it, there’s a description of heartache that I felt so deeply, I quoted it in my own book.” -CW
“I was required to read Middlemarch for a Victorian Lit class, and I groaned about it the whole time. But when I got to the very last page, it suddenly sank in for me, and I started weeping. Throughout that whole book, I’d been judgmental of the characters’ small, mundane worries and that last page made me realize that that was like, the point. The unvisited tombs! Just gorgeous.” -CW
Five Tuesdays in Winter by Lily King
Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout
The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
Writers & Lovers by Lily King
“There’s a line that says how feelings are physical, so write them that way. It reminded me of the sense memory exercises you learn in Method Acting and is a good way to write.” -CW
“I’ve heard some (very smart) folks refer to the women in these books as intense or complicated, but they’re not. They’re real and normal. They only feel complicated in context of how we usually hear women’s stories: from the male perspective, or not at all.” -CW
“I’ve read this book at least 20 times, if not more. It’s about acting and faith—two subjects that are at the core of my personal values. When I’ve lost my way, re-reading this book brings me back to my center.” -CW
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
“Dusk is my favorite time of day, and Gilead has a sort of suspended dusk-like quality to it. An old preacher’s life is nearing its end, and he writes his story for his young son to read when he’s older. The images, feelings, and words of this book sit on the heart like a warm salve.” -CW
“Anyone who likes this book, I like them.” -CW
The Complete Poems by Emily Dickinson