Friday, January 31, 2014

Amy Tan

By Susan

"What you write is a container for everything you love and hate and fear and desire." ~ Amy Tan

There are books that come along at a developmental time in your life and change your trajectory.
In 1989 I read Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club, and it was one of those books.
At that point in my life, I'd only traveled to a handful of states in the US South, with a few other random trips thrown in: NYC, Montana, a jaunt to the Midwest—but I'd never been to California, and I'd never known women of Chinese immigrant families like June, Rose, Waverly, and Lena.
What I did know was mother-daughter conflict.  I was eighteen when I read Joy Luck for the first time, and my mother and I were at constant odds.  So as much as Amy Tan's debut novel transported me to a different place, introduced me to a different culture, and opened my eyes to a bigger world, it also brought all of those things closer to home, and gave a universal perspective on a problem I thought was mine, and mine alone.

"I know exactly who I am, and I know nothing of who I am. That's why I write. " 

After reading this book, I started writing short stories and playing with fiction. I'd only written news articles up to that point, I saw myself as a serious journalist (or at least I had the hopes to one day—possibly—be a serious journalist.) Writing stories and poetry carried me through my college days as a secret pleasure. I saw news stories as truth—but how could I play with the concept of truth in fiction? I liked that idea. I liked it a lot.

"This career enables me to think deeply and to feel deeply, and you—the reader—enable me that life."

Twenty-five years later, I've grown quite a bit from the wide-eyed teenager mesmerized by The Joy Luck Club, and Tuesday night, Joan and I had the opportunity to meet Amy Tan in Dallas to hear about her new book, The Valley of Amazement. She's smart, gracious, engaging, and authentic about her writing and research processes for this book, and sprinkled her talk with lots of great nuggets of information on creativity, how she researches, and the eight years she spent writing this latest novel.

"The path of distractions leads serendipitously to your novel." 

There is an inspiration that comes with meeting novelists that I admire. Amy Tan was no different. Listening to a gifted writer explain why she writes, what she writes, and how she researches a novel gives me hope as I continue down my own path.

*all quotes taken from Amy Tan's presentation on January 28, 2014 in Dallas, TX.

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