Lucy Wang went from trading bonds to writing scripts.
In her 1994 play Junk Bonds, Lucy Wang, MBA’86, details the fast-paced world of Wall Street bond traders—the power plays, bluffs, and betrayals—along with the question of just whom you could trust. Wang was writing from experience: before becoming a playwright, she was a bond trader. “It’s a tough world. They want to make sure you can handle it,” she notes, adding that she endured her share of nicknames.
The year Junk Bonds premiered, the play won awards from the Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays and the Katherine and Lee Chilcote Foundation. It was a good year for Wang: the New York Times featured her on the cover of the Business section, with a two-page article inside, and the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles selected her play Bird’s Nest Soup, about an immigrant family, for its New Work Festival.
Born in Taiwan, Wang was raised in Ohio by her father after her mother abandoned them when Wang was a teenager. Although she was a “good writer”—she wrote a short story in tenth grade about Holden Caulfield going on The Tonight Show—Wang felt she needed to pursue a more practical career. “People would tell me, ‘You didn’t come all the way from China to be a starving artist.’ So very early on, it was ingrained that that I must make money.”
The self-described “business nerd” studied economics and Asian studies at the University of Texas at Austin and then moved to New York to work on Wall Street. At a party, she met someone who thought she’d be a good fit in Mayor David Dinkins’s City Hall, so she took a detour into politics, working as deputy chief of staff to the deputy mayor. Almost two years later, Wang found herself out of a job when Dinkins lost his 1993 reelection bid to Rudy Giuliani. “To chase my blues away, I joined a writing group,” she recalls. The group encouraged her to turn her stories into a play.
The result was Junk Bonds, and she’s been writing ever since—13 published plays and eight monologues to date. In mid-March Wang completes a ten-week residency at the Annenberg Community Beach House in Santa Monica, California, where she will have hosted a series of public events about storytelling. At the first meeting, titled New Year, New Beginnings, Wang opened the discussion by talking about the subject of luck and how many of the attendees thought of themselves as lucky—a lot, surprisingly, Wang thought. “In today’s economy, I know a lot of unemployed and underemployed people, struggling, carrying upside-down mortgages, no health insurance, worthless pensions,” she says. The discussion made her rethink the definition of the word: “Is luck a random windfall? Is luck simply an attitude? Or the byproduct of hard labor plus timing?”
During her residency, Wang hoped to finish a play in progress, “Moo Goo Gai Pan Asian.” She has also branched out into other genres. An as-yet-unpublished young-adult novel, “Teen Mogul,” is about a girl working in corporate America to support her family after her mother leaves. When Wang was about 15, she used some connections to get a job as a marketing research director. “And then I ended up on the board of directors because they didn’t know how old I was.”
When trying to publish “Teen Mogul,” “I was told by some people that nobody cares about a smart, precocious Asian American girl,” Wang says. “I was told to make it a boy, and not make him Asian American. ... So I’m adapting my novel into a play, and I’m making it race neutral, because I want it to be done in more than one city.”
Wang also has begun performing stand-up comedy at the urging of Gloria Steinem, whom Wang met during a monthlong writers residency at Hedgebrook. “She said, ‘You’ve got to dare yourself to do it,’” Wang says. “So I started trying last fall, and it’s a huge rush. Normally I let actors perform my lines, but it was cool to do my own stuff.” Wang finds the medium terrifying but rewarding. “I’ve had one guy tell me, ‘I almost peed in my pants,’” she recalls. “And that’s just the best compliment you can get.”