TCQ&A: Author Carmen Rita Wong

Photo by Deneka Peniston

Where to start with Tribecan Carmen Rita Wong? Her recent memoir, “Why Didn’t You Tell Me?” was reviewed by The Times as “vivid conversational prose that will make readers feel they’re listening to a master storyteller on a long car trip.” She was the co-creator and television host of “On the Money” on CNBC and was a national advice columnist for Glamour, Latina, Men’s Health and Good Housekeeping. She sits on the board of The Moth and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

This isn’t her first book; she is author of a series of novels and two bestselling advice books. And she is the founder and CEO of Malecon Productions, where she develops female-focused media and entertainment.

She was kind enough to share a copy of the book — and it is riveting. (Scroll to the bottom for an excerpt from the prologue.) And now, in her own words since she is a master of them, the TCQ&A.

1. How long have you lived in the area? Where are you from?
My daughter and I have been in the area for over 10 years after 10 years in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. I’m originally an uptown gal, Claremont/W 125th St. My grandfather’s cleaners/tailor shop was on the corner of 125th and Broadway. It’s now a Starbucks (of course). My parents split when I was young so my world was between Dominican family uptown and my father’s side in Chinatown. When my mother remarried, I spent some years in New Hampshire. Quite the change!

2. Married? Partnered?

3. Kids? Pets?
I solo parent my daughter who is 15 and a junior at Calhoun. We have two pups, a 13-year-old rescue-puggle, Gloria, and a 2-year-old mini poodle, “Q”, short for both the James Bond character and Q-Bert the video game, a favorite of my late brother’s when we were kids.

4. Where do you live?
We’re on Barclay in the old New York Telephone building. I think we were the 9th or 10th family to move in 6 years ago. It’s such a gorgeously detailed bit of NYC history. [Note the wonderful portraits, shot in the historic lobby by Deneka Peniston]

Photo by Deneka Peniston

5. What do you do for a living?
I’m researching and writing my next novel as well as a book adaptation/script for screen. Happy to focus on my creative side after a 20+ year career in broadcast and media (had a TV show, hosted radio, was a magazine editor and advice columnist, etc.) and was on faculty at NYU as a professor of behavioral economics.

11. Most delicious cocktail
Spicy/jalapeño margarita on the rocks always. (Though I’m down to maybe one or two a month: Age.)

18. Where I get beautiful
My darling Edris at Maverick House in the West Village (@Edrisjustedris). She’s an icon of NYC hair and nightlife and the only person I trusted to give me my pixie cut years ago. A master of textured hair.

19. What’s the area’s best-kept secret?
That it’s a triangle of everything you need as a parent—especially as a solo parent—(and kid) in the city. Basics like groceries and Target, fun at Oculus and Brookfield, parks and boat rides, movie theaters, then a short walk to Chinatown and Soho, restaurants of all kinds and now galleries.

24. Rainy day activity
We love popping across the street to the Regal Cinema and catching a matinee. Or, if it’s not too rainy, we absolutely love the Alamo on Liberty. My daughter and I are both film-obsessed so we’re particularly grateful to have these options just a walk away. A gift!

32. My favorite spot
My new favorite spot is The Tin Building. It’s so escapist. The butcher/fish counters are very worth-it to pick up what to cook for dinner and I could get lost in the international spices, salsas, snacks.

35. A doctor I’d recommend
At the risk of making her any busier, our dear Dr. Peggy (Margaret) Chapman at One Medical on Hudson has been a lifesaver of a pediatrician, particularly as my daughter’s been living with (and managing) long-COVID for over two years. She’s a treasure.

36. My most memorable celebrity siting
Having been in TV for years, I’ve known and know my share of celebrities (some amazing, some not so much) but in terms of our neighborhood and chance, I took my daughter years ago to see the “Annie” reboot at Regal Battery Park and as we waited in our seats, the original Broadway “Annie,” Sarah Jessica Parker, and her kids sat behind us. I smiled big with that one.

41. A business I’d like to have here
A small, curated bookstore (though we love our local Barnes & Noble; shout out to Kevin the manager!) with author and nonprofit fundraising events like the new and absolutely magical Yu & Me Books in Chinatown. The owner and manager, Lucy, is a neighborhood treasure who’s turning into a huge influence in the book world.

42. A business I miss
Racines on Chambers [now Chambers]. It’s such a lovely, friendly, delicious haven that I regularly took visiting family to, friends and my agent (who really loved it). Many great memories. Unfortunately, with an immunocompromised child I can’t eat indoors but I can’t wait to return!

48. Best reason to go AboCa
The Whitney and The Shed. Art and performance, two favorites of mine. I am a supporter of both and have friends who are curator/director at each.


And here’s an excerpt from “Why Didn’t You Tell Me?”. (Copyright © 2022 by Carmen Rita Wong. Published by Crown, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.)

My youngest sister only recently gave me a photograph that she had found in our dad’s closet. If I had seen it at any point in my first three decades on this earth, it would have burst my life—and our family’s lives—wide open.

It had to have been taken in 1971 because the swaddled baby that my mother is holding in the photo is me and I am a newborn. The scene is on the narrow terrace of an apartment in Manhattan. My mother, Lupe, stands in semi-profile in what looks like the late afternoon sun. To the left in the photo is the man I knew later in life as my stepfather, Marty, holding another baby, the son of the tall woman in the middle of the photo. This woman’s arms are open to the friends on each side of her, her Afro the apex of the photo’s staging. I had been told all my life that my stepfather—the man in the picture—didn’t know my mother when I was born. So why was he in this picture? Why were we—my mother and I—with his friends? And why was this photo just surfacing now?

Seeing this photograph two years ago was like finding one of the biggest clues in a long-unsolved case. By the time I saw it, I knew only some of the truths it revealed.