Skip to main content

tv   In Depth In Depth with Gish Jen  CSPAN  June 3, 2018 12:00pm-3:00pm EDT

12:00 pm
continues with a memoir from actress christina this is me. then foommu ccations director for hillary clinton jennifer pulmonary hears her thoughts on how future women leaders can succeed in deer mountain president. the world of warcraft chronicle volume 3 is next, followed by strength 2.0 by comrade and wrapping up our look at some of the books from the wall street journal's nonfiction bestseller list is the story of jesus by jane warner. >> ..
12:01 pm
gish jen, you wrote in 2009 that quote john updike chose me as his successor. i i never got to ask him why. >> guest: i know. >> host: successor to what? >> guest: what happened was it was a magazine in london and they were doing this millennials special. it was the turn of the century and so they asked all these people who they felt were preeminent in their fields. to name their successor for the 21st century. kate twiggy chose take moss, and john updike for reasons i never understood chose me. so here's this incredibly auguste man i've never met. i did not even knew my name. we had our picture taken together but i never got to ask him why. >> host: are you a fan of john
12:02 pm
updike? >> guest: of course i am a fan. but i would not of said he was a major influence on the accept for somewhat indirectly. indirectly he was an influence on us all and that's because here i am, i've immigrant roots compare interested in america. i see america, everything. i think updike gives the idea that's what the novel was for. the novel was for capturing america and writing america, one of the adventure of america. i have no idea. it was to capture merit in these books. that was his project. i think he could see me somebody come maybe he understood there was more to america than just what we saw in the rabbit books and think maybe some somebody was going to carry on the
12:03 pm
project and in that he was right. he was right. there was something else that was interesting about updike, andtll the things he valued in fiction, he really valued people what he called a relationship with will pick it like this he called the nose press class quality. of course there's no one who has their nose pressed more firmly to the class than the daughter of immigrants. here i am in this world and that's my knows he's talking about. so there is a way which updike was hugely influential although i would not have said that. because probably before meeting him and get them thinking about how it influenced me in this indirectly i probably would've said something like white wasp author, i'm writing against him. probably would've said that but
12:04 pm
in truth even as a vote may be a little bit against people like that i was carrying on their deeper project. to write against him, think he's your writing against income is like rebuilding against your parents -- rebelling against your parents. like writing against updike but it's all about upde. >> host: when you look at some of her novels, "typical american," "world and town," "mona in the promised land," short stories in "who's irish?" are you writing the great american novel? >> guest: i don't think, i don't know if there is a great american novel but i do think of my so that adding to the american narrative. if you ask me like what did i imagine, what in the wild streams like what is the ultimate thing i'm doing, i would say not just me but lots of people like me were trying to add volume to the library of america.
12:05 pm
the way we can tell the story of america without updike. then the jews did it. you can't talk about the 20th century without the jews and that is fine with the way saying like we are really here. we are not here as visitors. we are not to risk passing through. we are really here. there's way which many of us were all sort of saying, you know what, us, too, we are also here. so there is a way like us i don't think it's about the great american novel but it is about adding to our picture of america in a permanently. >> host: you mentioned one of her favorite writers, the jewish ghetto experience. is there an asian american genre treader at him know there's an asian american genre but i do know there is a way in which, i
12:06 pm
was influenced by the jewish, you know that. but when i think about what they meant to me, is really kind of an example of what was involved in adding this volume, the library of america. and that is that they took such different -- balogh, roth, cynthia, grace kelly, my very dear grace kelly. they were all going at the same problem but in such different ways. bella took a hybrid meaning no ethnic markers. hard to tell if he was jewish in many ways. with all of his jewish but he does going to make an ethic white which is what do that. we are all the exact opposite. it's like i am jewish, and neither is in-your-face, america.
12:07 pm
much more soulful kind of approach. grace pauly rejects the idea was only be a writer, the writer is not part of your social activism. she's out in the streets protesng all the time. cindy manages to make a name synonymous with henry james. it's something we really don't appreciate today, kind of what chutzpah it took for this jewish american girl to make herself the person every time we were reading thing that henry james, blah, blah, blah we always had to go to cynthia. jewish girl. she's the expert. there's a lot of chutzpah. but what it took away and this goes back to the pushbutton great american novel is that all of the above. the answer is no one path, there is no one way of doing what we need to do. we need to do all the ways, all just be going at it in every
12:08 pm
possible way. whether it's bringing in the jewish humor, where the bring in the jewish soulfulness, tremendous deep sense of morality, you know what i mean? whether we're going to take amanda wrote or whether we will with henry james, whether we will be in the streets? the answers all of the above because we've a challenge. >> host: most, and all your protagonists are asian-american women. did you write a white male wasp peace? >> guest: of course. ralph chang is typical american male. it's not they are not all american asian women. actually my very first published story had no ethnic markers at all. my very first published story was called bellying up. i was in the iowa writers workshop 1981, i'm in a forms
12:09 pm
class with arbeiter named barry hannah, a sexist guy, i will say. anyway, he had this contest in his class which was the carver writer like this contest. the idea was right a thesis for him. the women perceiving probably accurately that a woman would never win this contest we all site are stories william carver. i did write the story and i did when. i still have we found out -- who wrote this? i thought shit, it's me. anyway, but that very first piece had nothing, there's nothing asian, asian american company thing about protagonists and a guy named barry lost his job and he's waiting for scoping to come out of the bathroom where she is hiding from him. and, no, and so i i can write
12:10 pm
that. like is that i got that, i want to contest. it's clear i can do that. of course, i think all the different ways we had to go about remaking america to a writing project. of course given american asian women on the page, course as part of my project. not to write about that nearly like mothers and daughters but you can writing about religion fundamentalism, whatever you writing about the nature of art, there's nothing about using an asian-american female protagonist that said writing but in these big subjects. the answer is of course. of course, it is asian-american women like people everywhere are a concern with politics, you know, with everything possible
12:11 pm
question. it's not like they are in this little group with liberty but what it means to be asian-american. >> host: often here in booktv we are about the iowa writers workshop. how has that sustained itself? what does it do that makes it so successful? >> guest: it was the earliest workshop. the time that i applied to iowa, there were really only three big programs. now there are a gazillion but that's a big change. so there was iowa, stanford and hopkins. iowa was like five times bigger than any of the other programs. at the time i was, you probably i dropped out of stanford business school to become a writer. my boyfriend husband was there but i just felt like this thisa bigger, you know, program, you will see more, morgan internet.
12:12 pm
as a got that early, kind of the early advantage. also i would did not have a shtick. hopkins had a littlef shtick. little bit because of john burrow. iowa is always a place with the kind of just let you be an kind of encourage you to do whatever that meant. it was for me a fantastic choice as it happened because my first teacher there, very influential, james mcpherson, you know, pulitzer prize winner in author, wrote many wonderful books, and it was conveniently for someone like me and immigrant who kind of didn't really know what america was, always busy discovering america. i had my nose up against the glass. and he was interested in writing
12:13 pm
about america. many years later when of my classmates gave me a birthday present. what was in the present? the present was a poster woman named eileen pollock. the poster was a patient with photograph and enemies with the words american vision. that's what we are taught about all the time. kind of this invention, the american project what did that mean lex and the idea that was part of what we should be doing as writers. that's not what anybody thinks provider should be doing. many people would say that's kind of, you are too close, you are too close to a social project. that this is not about art for arts sake. it was very much in dialogue with your context. so some people say that's not the highest -- i don't care if it is or not. italy, likely for me at first
12:14 pm
teacher was not interested in art for arts sake pick is interested in a kind of novel that was very much involved with america. so i worked for me was just a quick tour is because there is a wonderful teachers there i will save but that's another thing. the teachers come in and out, there's not like one big writer whose kind of dominating the program. you have a lot of different people coming in, a wonderful thing. >> host: iowa is an interesting place to be i will say, for somebody like me who is very wide coastal. when i first got iowa, tiny little airport and my father had come with me. they didn't have a chat with it like that. they bring the luggage out, basically they open the door and you could see the airstrip right
12:15 pm
the other. somebody took my suitcase. my father millie said that's her suitcase. i just helping you, sir. you know? i mean, it was a revelation to us. both the furnace but also kind of the xenophobia i will say, too. it is also a place where another writer and i, too asian americans around were once out hitchhiking, you know, people are like who are you? we were towbar and everybody and everybody stopped talking. a little xenophobic. i do what pain as a kind kind of paradise but there's something else there, very wonderful for me. it was kind of , was in a recent hometown of cambridge,
12:16 pm
massachusetts, that somebody told you to go back to where you came from? >> guest: yes. it happened yesterday. you saw that on facebook. i was at fresh pond. i lived in massachusetts which is very liberal. generally, just a kind of idyllic place, in general, not entirely, , right? i was there, , took a walk witha friend. it is a place where only cambridge residents are supposed be parking, but many others do, and parking walk around. there was this woman traveling up and down unofficially of course, to make sure everybody there really had a cambridge parking sticker. she's trolling up and down. but really yelling at people like what are you doing here? i pay taxes to support this place. she got to me and she said where is your sticker? and i said it's up here. cambridge just this year changed the places we put your sticker. up until last you put your
12:17 pm
sticker on the back of the car. this year the site of the corporate honestly you can see all the stickers on the back, you can tell soma has been the public 15 years. my stickers and when should i say it's right here. she clearly didn't believe me. what caller is it? i said to her, you know, why don't you, why do you want to know? why should i tell you? she said i'm protecting people. and i said i don't think you're protecting people. i think you are harassing people. she merely says what you mean on harassing people? you go home, go back from where you came from. just like that. so the answer is i think this is true of all places that are two faces, depends on who you're talking to, a general culture and there's always some undertone. >> host: you repurchase of as an immigrant a couple times. were you not born in new york city? >> guest: daughter of immigrants. i was born in long island.
12:18 pm
i am second-generation. did i say i'm an immigrant? i usually don't let that slip. but no, i am a daughter of immigrants, born on long island. >> host: you took a rather strange route to get to the iowa writers workshop. walk us through that. >> guest: well, you know, should i go back to the very beginning? >> host: why don't we start with college. go back to the beginning of college. you were going to be a doctor or ceo? >> guest: i thought i would be -- you know, there i was. i was an english major. i was at harvard, an english major, undergrad. as an english major i did take this course, english 283 which is with the wonderful translator, robert fitzgerald whose translations of the iliad
12:19 pm
and odyssey are still my favorite of course. i took this course because i felt i was a junior and i was an english major at i didn't really -- poetry had to be written in those little lines. why don't they just say what they mean? i took this course and i thought if i take this course i will finally understand, and that was two. what i didn't realize is he said this will be a weekly exercise and i did not realize he meant it a weekly exercise in first. that is going to be like paper. the very first week i was like oh my god, and so straight something -- i can barely say it today. i sat down to write my poem and get as soon as i started writing it, i loved it. i did take to my limit at the time, i loved it. i could do this for the rest of my life. which i am the daughter of immigrants but i've never known a writer. people like me did not become poets.
12:20 pm
i was premed at the time. i had already been prelaw. he was one who sat me down and said why are you premed rex the question i couldn't answer very well. i had just gotten a c in chemistry i think. the other signals that maybe this is not the right path for me. fitzgerald was a one to say i think you should do something with words, and if you're not going to be a a poet which is t he thought i should do, you should at least like be in publishing or something. he did give me my first job. now realize it's one of those legendary harvard stories. he called up his editor at double the inset i have a student give her a job. so my first job was in publishing. that said, i have been prelaw. i have been premed. even after i was already in publishing and i taken my first writing class, that teacher had
12:21 pm
said with this new little piece about dogs and henry james, i don't know, and he said you should really be a writer. people have told me that but even at the beginning, then i wanted to do something practical so i thought if i can't decide can maybe i will try the more practical course first of a can't decide because i felt i was going to be able to make a living and do what he wanted. i went to stanford business school, of all places. very confused young woman. i went to stanford over harvard because they had a good writing program. like i say, i was very confused. i met my now husband, almost the first day. he had exempted out of everything, so impressed. not only did he know all this course, i was like what is microeconomics?
12:22 pm
i said oh my god, like that is -- you can take courses across the street, meaning the regular university. he looked at me and said but that's not what it before. i remember thinking he knows what he is here for. what do i do? i'm totally in the wrong place. and so i did, i was intending to finish. i am the daughter of immigrants, you don't start a program and drop out. but i found the first day of the second year, i overslept. second day i overslept. third day i overslept. i was never going to be able to get myself to go to class. so i took a leave of absence i went to china for your instead, i wonderful year in china. but with very funny about business school class still claims a so they always say there are two well-known dropouts from this class.
12:23 pm
one is gish jen and one is steve palmer, ceo of microsoft, two very, very different outcomes. but in any case i did drop out. my parents could not forgive me for doing this. for so because my mom did not speak to me. you know, you --, literally did not speak to you? >> guest: literally did not speak to me. very upset. i have been going part because i grew up in scarsdale. partly because i been reading. i had been reading really all these subversive books, and i have been growing with american self that was very, very different than the nice chinese girl self. i had just kind of cross that line where i couldn't go back to the lillian jen, they know of my youth. i couldn't go back anymore. had to go forward. >> host: if you are tuning
12:24 pm
into booktv now and our little surprised to see a novelist on, this is part of our special "in depth" fiction edition all year long with the first sunday of the month we're featuring novelists. this month we are pleased that gish jen is joining us. very quickly here are some of her books, if you're not familiar with her. "typical american" came out in 1991. "mona in the promised land" in 96. who's i wish a collection of short stories in 1999. "the love wife" in 2004, "world and town" came out in 2010. her most recent books happen to be nonfiction. "tiger writing" in 2013 and the girl at the baggage claim is some last you could choose going to our guest for the next two and a half hours. if you like to dive in and talk with her, here's how you can do so. 202-748-8200 for those in 488200 for those in the eastern/central time zones or (202)748-8201 if
12:25 pm
you live out west or in the mountains. you can also contact us via social media @booktv ever handle. for facebook, instagram as well as twitter and other email booktv@c-span.org. we. we will cycle through those as the show goes. you'll see them on the bottom of your screen so you don't worry if you don't, didn't catch it right now. gish jen, in your writing and want to start with "who's irish?" first of all your husband's last name is o'connor. did that influence the title of this collection of short stories? >> guest: of course is one of the reasons i know what it means to be irish-american because i married an o'connor and he does come from one of those boston clans, like they've been there forever. everybody is ready to everybody else so i know a little bit about that world. >> host: did you get blowback for the essay and the dialect
12:26 pm
that the narrator use? >> guest: i did not. it's kind of surprising, what about from yourself, did your trouble writing it that way? >> guest: what is true is to be at an ethic right in america means so many things. there's so many ways in which you see your identity is that you are in dialogue with your body. one of the ways from you is it was clear to me that i i couldt write in that voice. if i had written the same story before typical american, instead of to the new yorker i'm sure people would've sent back and said wonderful story, be happy when your english is better. in other words, there would noticing that it was -- they would've thought i did know english very well. that story would depend on the fact i already established myself as somebody who's very fluent in english.
12:27 pm
do you know what i'm saying? i don't reestablish that voice or the fact that it was an author, and so this is -- each book gave me permission to write a new kind of book. of course i had written "mona in the promised land" in this kind of new york jewish voice, to go from a new york at that point to write in another kind of voice, immigrant chinese voice, was something i'd already done the jewish boys so i i could do ths voice, too, right? but you're right there's a way which i had to kind of an establish myself in a way to write in a voice that was very familiar to me. because there was way in which, my parents grew up -- in truth we spoke a lot of chenglish.
12:28 pm
interestingly, recently my daughter and i went to go visit my in the hospital. my daughter was born here does have that much contact but buti could hear her simplifying her speech to get across to my mother, you know? my mother, her english isn't it but she's sick and she's a little out of it. i could hear her simplifying speech and i'm like my daughter is speaking chenglish. kind of interesting. there's a way it can apart all the way back to even further. but yes, for this story i did the kind of go back to what may be probably my first language really, and -- >> host: are you fluent in mandarin? >> guest: no, no, no. i'm the sort of perennial chinese student. when i'm in beijing people are say to me, you can't say anymore
12:29 pm
that you don't speak chinese budget axes speak chinese. on the foot because i feel that if i i speak chinese i sound gd enough that people -- i can't follow it. but i will say that yes, my english, my first english was very heavily overlaid with chinese everything, including chinese grammar. so when i studied chinese, the grammar was no problem. i'm like yes, i mean, just the order of things was completely natural to me because of the fact that early english, we were speaking in that order. even talking about it, you see how my english is getting a little screwed up. so the answer is that the sentence structure closed very natural to me. >> host: b.i.d. jiffy and pidgin english. you know what that term counsel? >> i don't know where the term comes from. did you know? >> host: i don't. i was hoping you would try do i
12:30 pm
should know. >> host: you talked about mona and writing in the jewish boys. mona was a chinese-american girl from scars heal new york. a little bit of biographical elbit unit? >> guest: there is. i grew up in scarsdale, new york, and scar still is in the novel obviously. a relative of scarsdale, and, of course, i was interested in the because writing about america, fascinating to me i both grown up in a place, a minority with the majority. also it's such a point, the book is set in 1968 and so just at a point where dealing with the civil rights movement, i'm black and the bread and the jews are saying i'm jewish and a printer i was supposed to send if it's a asian and a present. asian and i am jewish, you know? which is true i think of most people in the new york area, the fact of the matter is that
12:31 pm
jewish culture very much informed like the way we joke, everybody knows kiddush, you know? i guess i was interested in this hybrid self -- kiddush. i will say that jewish tinged voice was also voice i knew amazingly well. so there's way and wish i know this dialect of english extremely well. i'm very, very easy for me to write in it. i thought that in itself spoke to the actual complexity of life in america and the entries right now it's very fashionable for people to say like i need to go to college and 82 -- you look like me. or reflects me. who exactly would that be? for me would have to be somebody who came from one background but grew up in new york and, therefore, had become a little jewish.
12:32 pm
you know what i mean? i think it's too simple to source a somebody who looks like me, they are black hair is like me. that's just not the case. >> host: when you're in china to chinese to your american? >> guest: sometimes just and sometimes no. my students when i taught at beijing normal university for a semester, and my students would say that they would know me by the way i walked. i walked in and american way. if i was not walking they would not know. once i started walking they would know. >> host: 202-748-8200 (202) 74r those of you in eastern time zone. 8201 for those in the mountain and pacific time zones. let's hear from can who's calling in from atlanta.
12:33 pm
are you with us? sorry about that. i don't know -- maybe if i push the button. can you hear me okay. >> host: i apologize to you. it's my fault. please go ahead. >> caller: i work with the georgia general assembly and all 50 legislators are about to roll out a project in citizenship this year and were going to encourage students in every school to get together and do the stories about their own elementary, high school, and we have discovered not all in georgia but other places that most americans are associated with organizations like religions and schools and government, and know almost nothing about the organization
12:34 pm
that they spend most of the vice associated with. and i just wanted to let you know about it because we're also going to reach professional writers so that they can be available to the schools where they went to school, where you went to elementary school and high school, and you would be, being an artist like you are, it would be a great example for young people. i just wanted to share the idea with you. >> guest: that is a fantastic idea. i have to say i have written a lot about growing up in scarsdale, new york, and i would be thrilled if they were to invite me back. i think, i was also that while you are inviting people, you should invite people from other areas as well. i don't know if you know the
12:35 pm
group pinfall. washington. they bring writers from all over the world into the d.c. schools. i i would encourage you to get n touch with them and see whether you can likewise be bringing writers from all of into your school. i have to say that this program is fantastically successful. really a great delight for the writers and, of course, for the students it's just a fantastic thing as well. more power to you. >> host: you mention your parents a couple of times. who were they or are they? >> guest: my father has passed away. my mother is still alive. my parents were immigrants from china, so what -- >> host: what year? >> guest: 1943 would be my father, towards the end of the war. so what happened in my fathers case is that there were talks during the war, the second world war up opening a second front against the japanese in the shanghai harbor.
12:36 pm
so they needed hydraulic engineers to help with this effort. so they had an exam, the transportation department this exam my father scored very high on this exam so he was one of the people he was supposed to this. and you can to go to the united states. so he was sent of course you couldn't cross the pacific, it was too dangerous point so all the way overland, over the hump as they say into india all the way across europe, the atlantic, by the time the chinese got to get states the war was over. he did stay to get his phd at the university of minnesota, and then because he is getting wite intention of going back, but then in 1949 of course the communists took over and what is not a well-known chapter of mechanistic and the u.s. government struck a deal with the nationalists in china to
12:37 pm
keep the chinese students here. because at the time they got all the cream of the chinese science community were in the united states, like my father getting a phd. they all wanted to go back, but people try to go back and literally taken off the boat and hawaii. they were not allowed to go back because they fear was all the scientist would go back and help the communists. they were luckier. my father was offered citizenship then under a refugee act. my father said i'm not a refugee. i am a political prisoner. he refused to submit for the american -- i grew up with an undocumented father. my father was an illegal citizen. he was a stateless citizen. it was not clear what country was his country, and but he was i was a very good at engineering. my mother came interestingly, there didn't plan plan to marry
12:38 pm
her off while she had not wanted to be married off, and kind of in the ensuing awkwardness i guess, they sent her off to get a graduate degree in america as well. and so she also kind of got caught here. she was a citizen because she had come via her local church. she had gone to a catholic church in high school in shanghai, and so she was affiliated with the church so they help to become a citizen. she became a citizen. i thought like i said would have nothing to do with it. i will say they had, being an immigrant then was really -- my father had tremendous sense of humor. he would always tell the stories with a laugh. he would tell stories like about when he first got here, it was not, people did not think the chinese could do engineering.
12:39 pm
kind of a a funny thing today given the stereotypes we have today but at the time they didn't think they could do engineering. my father was out in the field with a bunch of u.s. army people, and they had at this guy with him so they gave him an algebra book to study any given back the next day. they said you finish the book and when i? he said yeah, yeah, yeah. the next day they gave him another book, geometry. the more he gets it back. finished that book one night? yeah, yeah, yeah. they give a trigonometry book. meanwhile they're trying to fix this bridge. the bridge is a truss bridge and the want to replace one of these trusses. they're having a lot of trouble doing that. my father said why don't you put a truck on the end of the bridge and you can fix the bridge? this was his first day. they ignore him because he's chinese people what does he know? the second he says why don't you
12:40 pm
put a truck on the end of the bridge and did you can fix that truss? they ignore him. the third day he says why don't you put a truck on the edge of the bridge? finally they put a truck on the into the bridge and, of course, takes the weight off and they can fix the trust. my father always told us would like it was the funniest thing ever. like can you believe this? a lot of people today would be offended, and our time the thing like, everybody is offended if my father always told like what is the matter they can't fix a bridge? the person who can fix the bridge is right with them. but, of course, this is just the story of his life. he laughed about it but a lot of it was very difficult. he did among the things he worked on the beltway right here in d.c., one of the engineers. the chinese engineers and then they get a lot of this kind of work but it always did it as kind of the equivalent of an
12:41 pm
adjunct professor jay. they didn't have real jobs. they were hired for the job at the end of the job they were all fired. they were never promoted into management ever. and there was a lesson in that. it was not so much as matt about it so much as told him that this is a tough place and yeah, i guess instilled the kind of realism in him about what he's going to have to do. to make it here here if you think about it, very flexible view of that, i will say. willing to do whatever it took. i think it's willing to my idea about the jewish writers. you try all the different ways. it's not one with all the different ways. my father was very much like that. >> host: 1949 occurs in a lot of your books. why is that? >> guest: well of course that's the year china is liberated or fell, depend on
12:42 pm
your perspective. it's just a huge historical moment. and it is that time for pretty much i guess every chinese, chinese american where something is changed about your identity, right? if you are a nationalist with the old government that had just fallen from your summary part of this government and part of this world that has kind of, had been the dominant power and is now kind of in control of this little island, taiwan, which no one had heard of the time. all of a sudden you're in exile over there, then of course overtime you're using a writing system that is no longer the dominant writing system. you using a method that is no longer the dominant method and all these changes are all traced
12:43 pm
back to 1949, the communists have one. for people, you can almost imagine for my pitcher, it was just unreal. you decided to do graduate work in china and while you were there, the united states fell, your whole country is gone. your neighborhood, everything is upside down. nobody he remember as being in power is in power anymore. you can only imagine the shock. >> host: glenn is in michigan. good afternoon. you are on with author gish jen. do you know what? i have to push the button. [laughing] i have done this once or twice before. i apologize to you. go ahead. >> caller: that's no problem. thank you all very much. before i asked my question i'd like to make a quick comment, if
12:44 pm
i could, about what ms. jen will sing about 68 and lack of fat and all that. i can understand that with certain ethnic groups, racial and ethnic groups like irish, et cetera, chinese that had a history of historic discrimination in this nation. at this point though i think we be better off if everyone would just be a human being and humble, if you know what i mean. anyway, my question is, i was listening to her talk on norman mailer some years ago, and he said that when it comes to writing fiction, the worst person you could have as a narrator is yourself. it should just be somebody you're comfortable with. my question would be, how much action that she think is really basically autobiographical
12:45 pm
writing in that kind of pain? thanks very much. >> host: thanks. >> guest: that is such an excellent question. people, especially if it done a good job people always do think that is really you, right? they think that it must be you. of course it is your job to make it seem that way, but, in fact, just as norman mailer said the worst possible thing you could ever do is write a book where you are the author, the narrator and it is your life. not interesting enough to be a novel. they are not structured like a novel, and more importantly the facts are often not as interesting as the facts told -- i will say that because they grew up with what seemed to be an underrepresented world, the world my father grew up in, it was not on the page.
12:46 pm
figures like me and scarsdale new york were not on the page. it was a natural thing for me to use those worlds, and the rules of those worlds to inform my fiction. but if you look at a book like -- i am not motor. i am extremely not mona. none of that happened. the way that it is autobiographical though i will say is that tensions in the book are my tensions. gertrude stein once said an interesting thing. she said the artist works by locating the work in itself. we all wish that should set herself of course, but the fact of the matter is that as a result of our contact with the world we have all developed nerves and sensitivities. it's my opinion that if you can find one of those nerves, you will have a book but it was much more and it will be very
12:47 pm
personal because they are your nerves, but it will be far more interesting than the facts of your life. we know the nerve in mona is a chinese girl turned jewish bitwise at funny? it's really literally i used to say i will keep beds of index cards, these little spiral-bound notebooks and i would write ideas that london and then i will flip through the years later look of ideas. i came to the card that said mona turns jewish. because a monopolist i thought what's that about? why is that funny? why is irish american girl turned jewish funny? what is the difference between chinese american and jewish american? is there something, isn't something that's different about it? and why? i felt like a win if there is in europe there, that's why i'm laughing sure enough there was a
12:48 pm
big nerve and the book wrote itself. like i say, it is i biographical in the sense that with minor -- autobiographical but it's not, i'm not jewish and i've never really thought about converting to judaism. and all the facts of the book are all made up. it's autobiographical, it's a dream that you are able to have and it tells a kind of truth that is like the truth in dreams. it's not the facts, truism is the factually. many people talk about assuming a mask, kind of the truth in mask. that's a very wise thing. in fiction we assume a mask that we can get at the truth which is true or then kind of mere truth, if you will. >> host: humor is a pretty concept throughout your work.
12:49 pm
>> guest: yes, yes, yes. i think people often ask where you get this from? i will say my father was this funny. my father had tremendous sense of humor and like i say things of the people would be very upset about, my father always laughed about. and, of course, the nature of my material lends itself. i think which are releasing is with all these constructs of the world, what a chinese american is. that is so far off, like the gap between that and reality is so large. because we have this picture and a 12, seven chinese-american everything she does is kind of wrong and everything she does is kind of funny. so to me the humor is good novel because laughing is good for you and we enjoy humor, but there's
12:50 pm
a truth underneath it because every single time we laugh at something that mona does, we laugh because we realize, our picture was wrong, right? it's a good kind of humor i think. >> host: this battle of an old quote i'm going to read to you here, but i want to get your reaction to see if it still stands up. from 1991 in the nuke times, my thumb and a i didn't like most with white america which looking back was partly wishful thinking, hardly racism and partly an acknowledgment that whatever else we did face, at least we didn't have to contend with the legacy of slaves. >> guest: that is true. that i said that in 1991? >> host: you did according to "new york times." >> guest: i surely got it right because it's in the "new york times." that would be true. it would be very hard for me then to identify as
12:51 pm
asian-american but it's true just in a gentle kind of way, like the jewish americans we were kind of a middle minority. i always saw us, we were not, we might have identified as whites going up but it quickly became apparent we were not white, but we were the minority that was not african-american. and i will say you can be black and also not be the minority that is african-american-nigerian americans are great example of a yes, they are black at the also do not have this legacy and i think there is a huge wall between all the minorities that have lots to deal with, there is plenty to deal with, especially today, and people who actually may have been in america since
12:52 pm
the get go and to of been slaves and that's a huge divide turn let's hear from patty in wisconsin. i've got the button. you are on bktv with author gish jen. >> caller: thank you for sharing this subject. my youngest nephew is adopted from the philippines. he came as an infant. he's a beautiful, wonderful man in his 30s by the handle cisc rumination with humor also. i had a private conversation with him and i said are you just covering? he said no, it's just have to do. and i'm so thankful and appreciative but unlike to punch everybody's lights out that does he seem a little bit. god bless you. thank you. >> guest: make you so much. this is just a little like what is saying about the jewish writers. there's no right or wrong. some people are very offended and really angry and outspoken, event of the people who can kind of shrugged and laugh.
12:53 pm
i personally feel like this is as a matter of personal preference i'm happy to come person tends to shrug and laugh. i just think it's an easier and happier way of being. but there's no right or wrong. i guess there's a way in which i am grateful for the people are angry and kind of that in the angry mode. there's a way in which they enable me to laugh, if you know what i mean. an interesting thing about her writing, she cried so i could laugh. there is a way which that is also true, that she cried so i could laugh. all i can say is that those of us who can laugh, we must laugh in footnote and say and say thank you, maxine kingston. we must footnote and say thank you, all james baldwin, all you
12:54 pm
people who are angry. we must acknowledge that like a say we are all part of an ecosystem and some of us are freed of really to be one way by people who are another way. >> host: first of all where did your name come from? >> guest: i was born lillian jen, and that was actually a very elegant name that i've been given by my mother because my chinese name was -- [inaudible] it sounds like lillian. also they both have the same root. they both have lily as a root. so it's very elegant name. i was named for the lotus that grows up out of the mud but opens up. as it opened up my mother thinking this is not the pure white lily i had in mind. and so i'm going along with this really very beautiful name, but
12:55 pm
when i was a junior in high school, i went always, weight, okay. i was in junior high school and i was part of a creative writing group, a little club. this was run by a guy named -- [inaudible] everybody got a nickname that was related to the name. we were in this kind of come in defending ourselves, going into new york city to go watch cinema as opposed to the regular old unsettle. i had a friend whose last it was housman. my name is willing so the company gish after lillian gish, and actors whose movies i'd ever seen. i had no idea who lillian gish was. had to know she was in movies like -- elucidating a couple people used and limited circumstances. until i went away in the summer
12:56 pm
to an archaeological dig in pennsylvania. i'm away from home. there's a hurricane so the building had just been hit by lightning and so the electricity was out. we're going around the circle by candlelight and we are introducing ourselves. they got to me and with no premeditate whatsoever, i introduced myself as gish jen. like i don't know why. i don't know what came over me. it just popped out. today i know something is something a lot of writers do. tennessee williams, mark twain. at the time i didn't know that this self and is very going on to be a writer. but i will say that that summer, the idea of self invention within which undermined, gish jen did all these things that lillian jen never did.
12:57 pm
lillian was in high school. gish jen was speaking at all hours. just general kind of carried on with a kind of freedom i was a kind of an american freedom that lillian jen did not have. i was over the years, gish jen has a different handwriting than lillian jen. lillian jen is to using the palmer method from my catholic school upbringing. gish jen is a completely different thing. what's interesting is the equations like in the middle of the night, if this incoming emergency and underwrite one note for dashing out the door which handwriting would it be? the answer is gish jen. i really can only write one thing in my old handwriting now, and that is my name on my checks with that name but instead of signing the checks i do not use that script at all. it is critical. if i look i look at things whes
12:58 pm
in grade school i can see it but i can't, i literally can't do it anymore. so interesting. i would have become kind of this other pson. i will say my very first story that about and i was published under lillian jen. all my friends said who is she? i said that so right, it's like the person who writes these stories is not lillian too. the person writes these stories is gish jen. there it is. the only reason left is why don't i just change all my papers? because it's kind of a pain, let's hear from dorothy in buffalo, new york. >> caller: this follows really well with what you just said. i'm very interested in the technical aspects of her writing. does she need of a certain environment? how did she get her ideas?
12:59 pm
where did she write? that she write every day? et cetera. >> host: now before you leave us, are you a writer? >> caller: no, i'm not. >> host: are you an aspiring writer? >> caller: no, but i enjoy reading good writers. >> host: who are some of your favorite authors? >> caller: well, i've to say that one of my favorites is, i love wuthering heights. >> host: gish jen has been described as a writers writer and she has won many awards for her writing, so to answer her question try to everybody is interested in these things, and let's see, so i write as often as i can. i don't have a set schedule, and if left to my druthers i will write 15 hours a day. if i didn't have to sleep, i i
1:00 pm
wish i didn't have to sleep, you know? partly because of the way that a right as i describe because it is kind of dreamlike. the one thing that you do not like as a writer is interruption. because i dream isn't easy when you're in it and as soon as you leave it, it disappears. you do not want to be interrupted. if i didn't have to sleep i would sleep but i do have to sleep. .. like many writers after that time, i typed, even though many
1:01 pm
people sort of feel like real writers write by hand. i've never been able to read my own handwriting and i can't write as fast as i think. so i -- always been a typist, but because my husband was an apple in the early days i had access to early computers so what would happen is the people would be frustrated and put everything together, the engineers would give a machine that was useless to my husband and he would bring it home so i would write on these early machines, the early lisa, the early macintosh. which i found was wonderful. i wrote do. >> host: what was the title. >> i don't remember. they make up the title. >> host: my muse was an apple
1:02 pm
compute sneer something nation about the computer that had this little blinking green light. just like talk to me. talk to me. i'm waiting for the next word. so i actually liked using the computer, but like i say, back in those days it was kind 0 of a stigma against us. so those who had gone into using a computer were often, do something to our manuscript dozen make it look like it had handtyped like putting aened whiteout on it so it was thought of as like a machine. i found it very liberating, and i will say that in a general kind of way, we see huge diversity in our writing, the last few decades, and i think one reason is because of the computer. those of us, for instance, who just -- with a type writer people didn't mind the noise. with a computer, you can type
1:03 pm
all night and nobody knows. in the early days, tolstoy had his wife retyping everybody. all of a sotted you can clean up your own manuscript, so were you not the assistant to some great writer, but you did not yourself require an assistant. so to me the computer has just been an unbelievable gift. >> host: what but a the loss of early drafts. >> guest: well, there is that, and i think scholars don't like it because -- >> host: ever print out your early drafts? some of them i -- tip typical american, i keep summit be so much paper and i'm sure scholars will not like that. but the scholars have this view that something in those first drafts as their coming out that is more authentic. but the writers don't like that.
1:04 pm
why write the book if their early -- the early drafts are just -- they're just like -- i used to say one school thought but how to write you do everything perfect he the first time from the get-go and another school which we used to call barf and polish, which is you just kind of write anything and then you look at what you have and then you try to find the book in it. so to me it's like it's far from polish. it's not a book. so why do you want this early stuff? and it's not a book, and also if you had the feeling that someone was going to look at that it you couldn't barf probably so scholars look at it differently. it's been a real interest in things like reth any sizing cough could, so kafka, his early drafts are in his native prague
1:05 pm
german, and then he would clean them for publication, and that is how he wanted them. but because there's so much interest in this kind of original self, which means, ethnic self-chess more rally carve fka. he would have been horrified and i'm on his side. you know what? he was making something, and there's a way in which -- say this earlier thing is kind of -- is some n some ways greater or more real or more authentic. very mistaken idea what authenticity is. say we like the final drafts, every semi colon in place. >> host: another quote from gish jen in "the new york times."
1:06 pm
never enough time for writing, every moat spent in one's real life is a moment missed in one's writing life and vice versa. >> guest: it's so true. they're in competition, your real life and writing live. i tried to quit writing because -- i was trying to quit and when you quit, though, you just realize, my god, your writing life is so much richer in some ways. i like real life, too. but to me i have to say that i do not like this business of feeling like they're in conflict and i have to choose. if i could change the world, i would change the world so i could have my real life 24 hours a day and my writing life 24 hours a day. i don't like to pickout law of the to. >> host: do you keep your offers separate from your home. >> guest: yes. i've never been able to work in my house. >> host: you have kid. >> guest: yes, but but my youngest one has left the house.
1:07 pm
it's interesting. up to now -- often recommended this to young writers, get an office outside of the house and you can arrange to rent someone's room for $50 a month. doesn't have to be a lot of money. but the separation if you having children can be critical. but for me it's partly related to children, but i think this is also related to a lot of things talking about. what it meant to be a daughter immigrants inventing the second self. and being at home reinforces the self-of obligation, i need to do there is or that. all the duty-bound self and that's important, the responsible self and it's important, i'm in favor of adults being responsible but writing is not responsible. it's not a responsible activity and you can't be doing it with responsibility everywhere. so i think there's a way in which i am just trying to get away from that world, into this
1:08 pm
arena where i can just play, and that's why have tree move myself to another space. >> host: we have spent most of the first hour talking but gish jen as a whiter, person, the structure in her life. we'll spend the next two hours delving into her books a little more deeply. but let's hea hea from karen in andsover, massachusetts. >> caller: this is wonderful. i'd like to ask if you have any interest in poetry. i'm a poet laureate of my town in massachusetts, and did you ever do poetry yourself and do you know of any poets laureate idea in the asian culture as we have in europe has them. i don't know if japan or china or those countries have
1:09 pm
designated specific poets laureate over the years. i know of bosho in japan and other wonderful poets but i just wondered if there's a definite demarcation that you would be called a laureate. >> host: what is it about poetry for you? >> caller: well, poetry to me -- i say that when you're -- when a child is in utero, you are hearing a flow constantly of sounds within your mother's womb, and i feel that the flow of writinging, if it's done wel, even a novel, if it's a poet -- prose poetry, you're pulled into it without even knowing why it's so good to read this book. it's because it's written in a
1:10 pm
poetic style and it flows. that's why we love music. i believe music is the first art we ever heard and started to try to copy, and i believe that poetry flows out of music. >> host: thank you, ma'am. >> guest: i so agree. thank you for your call. let me say i think it's wonderful that you are the peat laureate of north andover, they're very lucky to have you. i think you're absolutely right about, this goes back to is your work autobiographical and just the facts? we don't read for the facts. we read for the melody, the music of the words and there's something about it which of course we're interested in the meaning of the words, that has to matter, but we're really interested in -- there's a preverbal kind of part of this which you're right, probably
1:11 pm
goes back to our experiences in in utero, and that is easily as important, if not more important, than the actual meanings of the words. the answer is, this is not necessarily -- fiction, the way that fiction works, the uncanny way that fiction and poetry work, is it goes back to something deeper than our rational thinking self, and often when people are even in the novel-writing world, when we're looking at something and something we feel -- that we feel that things are prosake, -- prosaic and if it doesn't sing, there's a problem. it's interesting, one of the writers i talk about, grace telly, she tried to write novel and said the trouble with her novel is it was prosaic and
1:12 pm
pedestrian, and so she never -- didn't pursue the novel. she couldn't keep up her singing in the long form for whatever reason tomorrow. get to your earlier question, i did come out of poetry so my very first writing was diversification and they were all poems. loved writing poems. did take all the writing workshops as an undergraduate were poetry writing workshops, not in the novel, but it was interesting that even then, i-under you looked at my potentials, a lot of them were narrative. i wrote narrative poems. so, it's kind of -- i still love poetry, maybe in some dream life i would be a poet. maxine kingston graduate from the world of narrative to the world of poetry, grace paily did the same thing, she spade poetry
1:13 pm
writing is great, you can do it your whole life which is something about the lyricism, the pure expression of something without having to worry but getting the reader through the pages. so liberating and wonderful, kind of liberation i associate with being older so maybe i'll go back to poetry when i have obtain that state of inlyingment. whether there are poet laureates in china, not my knowledge. every child can recite certain poems poems and poetry is very much apply china and a much better tradition than the novelist tradition in china, but to the best of my knowledge i don't think they have poet laureates. if i'm wrong and discover that they do i will post it on
1:14 pm
facebook. so you can watch the post but i don't think they do. >> host: yast novel "world in town." describe it. >> guest: haddies a descend den of missionaries and confucius. like me. but you can see why i would have an interest in some someone like here. she is an immigrant -- >> host: a relative of yours sunny love hady comb and all of her complexity and humility, and there's this way in which -- she's the fact she is 68 and she is still growing and searching and pushing and also trying to make the world a better place. so, i did have middle march in my mind as i was writing that book so you can see a little bit of the dorothy book influence on
1:15 pm
her. but there she is. she is -- but she also redefines what an immigrant can bring to america. so, she is more than a person with her nose on the glows. her nose has been pressed to the glass and who has learned some things that way and has things to give back to america. so she is not just -- like she is not formed by america. she is forming america. she is forming this town, and she is -- she complicate our ideas what its means to be american in the senses that her mother was american so she was american before she came to america even though she born and raised in china. she's a complicated woman. she is a woman, as you know, who lives with an american family, when she first came here, and
1:16 pm
very marked by that experience. there's a way in which she realizes she can never become part of the family, and but she does in the end on her own terms and that's the most important part of the book. a book in which see somebody assimilate but she is made by america but is remaking america and finally about claiming her place in this country on her own terms. >> host: what does she look like? >> guest: oh, that's good question. you probably remember better than i do. >> host: in your mind's eye, what does she look like. >> guest: i wrote that book time ago but i see her as having the look at my children have, i will say. some has black hair, but she is eurasian, amerasian we say today
1:17 pm
>> host: stylistically is that book different than your novels? all my novel, each novel is different from the others. so, typical american, five parts. you can see the influence of shakespeare. you can see i'm still using that side part, five-act play structure. by mona, i've thrown that out, the coursette is off and it's a influence of augie mary and bellow and i'm letting it rip, and that's the poi, is that it's like an unfurling. the love wife, you have -- that's a book i started to write
1:18 pm
after 9/11, thought we needed a different novel to deal with our new reality. and people just talking on the page but also very, very, very much interested in its being poly sonic, a lot of voices, everybody gets to talk who is kind of hyperdemocratic for a novel. everybody gets to talk. this is not a play where they all are -- this is not a play where they're in a single action, and just -- there's just different characters. they're all narrating and you can sort of see this kind of interest in a new kind of novel, to kind of grapple the new reality, and this novel does ask the question by the end, you know, can america really be the hospitable place it has been? can we really live up to this
1:19 pm
ideal that we had of a nation that is a matter of constant rather than descent market of voluntary adherence to certain ideals. is that enough for a nation? so there's a way in which the family in "the love wife" is a metaphor for america and the question of the family, the book ends the day before 9/11. the question mark over the family is the question mark over america and i will say of course i've started the book in -- right after 9/11 and published in 2004 and they're questions we have today. and then "world and town" a book where many people are narrating. there is a suggest that because we have kind of one thing going on and also -- it's almost like a series of in my mind, there's
1:20 pm
a sense that kind of you're getting the stories but there are all these other things-infinite number of other stories that could be in the book. they just wouldn't all fit. so there's way in which i do have enough story that you feel like it's one story but you feel like -- i hope that the boundary around the novel is not a solid thing but a moveable thing. this is a selection of reality but a little bit the way i was talking about, i laugh but must acknowledge i laugh because maxine crimpled we must acknowledge floor realities that enabled this book to be here and are not part of this book. does that make sense? >> host: gish jen, did you know how this book would end when you startedded it? >> guest: no. of course not.
1:21 pm
goes back to the caller who asked about process. i never know where i'm going. more than anything else, we want our novels -- our fiction to live, and it's said if the author is not surprised no one else can be surprised. of course you're kind of driving but you have to be open to wherever you night go. the whole thing about the -- it's interesting because you don't know -- you not only do 0 you not know where your book is going to be you don't know what writing this book is going to do as a person and whether you'll be the same person who started he book the end of the book, and ideally you are not the same person as you were at the beginning of the book. now, part of my writing, not knowing the end, is that i came out of the short story and that's how i knew write. i just knew that you start out
1:22 pm
with a feeling of something,-0 nerve, and just follow the nerve out, so i learned that in long stories and learned that in a longer form. it's also true, when i wrote nonfiction, if i may sneak this in there i did it the same way. why? well, one reason is that i'm writing on a become for often three, four, five years. i have to be interested, too. and honestly having an outline and executing it is not interesting. it has to be an adventure for me as well, so i guess i like it that i don't know where i'm going. i like i that the writing is making -- it's making me, the author, as i go along and i certainly like it don't know where i'm going. and i like the surprise where finally i actually have gotten someplace, which i -- can only hope to hell i really am going
1:23 pm
to, but in truth, until the last page, i myself don't know. >> host: so the fact that hadie is a descendent of confucius and missionary american parents, that just straight up east-west. >> guest: no. it's more complicated than that. no, it's not that simple. it is interesting that she has religion on both sites, right? one of the many thing -- >> host: at the unitarian church. >> guest: yes. there's way in which, when people write about -- know america or if you write a novel with asian-americans in its, it's about ethnicity, but religion is so important. so i wanted to write a book where you have an asian-american but is formed by religions, plural, in this case.
1:24 pm
right? and i think that is the truth. the truth is that it's not only but we eat certain foods and therefore we are x. we eat certain foods and n a certain way and also we eat other foods and also we have religious traditions which is very important to us, whether they are authentically chinese or not. confuse sis is part of her and christianity as well. so i'm writing this ethnic book about america. you can call it an ethnic book but it's expanding our idea of an egg nick book. an ethnic book is a book about america and always about fundamentalism, the changing
1:25 pm
farming practices, everything. they're not at odds. that is what an ethnic novel is, right? >> where is world and town filed in a book store or library? >> guest: under jen. >> host: you know what i meant. you are going to make me say it. under ethnic studies or american history? >> guest: i think it gets put in both. and that's what i -- and that's what -- it's my agent, right? in the sense that, yaw, hard to say where to place it. when you feel like that's an ethnic box, people are like, i'm so offended i'm on the shell this way mitchell idea is you knee to blow that box up. that's our job.
1:26 pm
right? so, yeah, i feel like, okay, so as soon as you have the feeling like we could putted here but, hmm, and we could put it here but, hmm, and i feel like i'm happy because -- maybe it's the difference between desk and nonfiction. a little best too broad but in a general kind of way. we are about mystery and manners but the mystery part is very important. when you get all the manners right, it's important. these are the more rays -- morais of our time, i like when jane austin says acknowledge a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a good wife. i grew up is the truth universally acknowledged that a young woman in possession of good grades must go to medical school. it's our job to know what the rulessen and to get them down
1:27 pm
and say, this the world as we humans have constructed it at this time. and that is part of our job. but the other part of our job is to suggest really the huge mystery on -- below that. and that it is our job not to simplify but to complicate. to complicate, complicate, complicate. you might ask me why? >> host: why do you want to do that? >> guest: very good. the. >> guest: the fact we are busy -- our brain, we make up all these categories. we chinese-american, women, men, and they serve us up to a point but they're always a little bit out of date always a little behind. reality is changing, like look at the woman.
1:28 pm
so out of date and it's our job to suggest, it's really more complicated to get the things to dissolve a little bit so they can be reformed. as a society can renew and actually answer to the very complicate beings we actually are. so, we want to complicate people's views. don't want to just rear describe -- you know what a woman is. here's funny thing that is going to reinforce you idea what a woman is. that's not our job as an artist. our job is, you thought you knew what a woman is but is that what a woman is anymore? we don't know what a woman will be in 50 years. so it's a way in which we instill the humility, but we need all these categories. we cannot negotiate the world but we need have a kind humility about them and beyond that are
1:29 pm
humid who are unfathom bly, and we remind people that we tend to make kind of icons or whatever out of people, but that's not who they are. those are just our representations of them that we use for our purposes to get through our day and it's not the truth. the truth is, like i says, way deeper, way more complicated, way more mysterious. >> host: gish jen, at some point you had to say, in your head, or sitting in your room by yourself, okay, this story is going to take place in maine, and there's going to be this asia-american protagonist, this cam bodessan family, -- cambodian family, wasping ex-love, cellphone towers, jinny the fundamentalist christian. how do you plot all that out
1:30 pm
into a book about the u.s.? >> guest: well. that's why its takes me so long. it's not like i it there and so, oh, i know. but often just as i did with kind of -- alison -- they're right here, the material at hand and no one has ever used them. so i i'll just start at them. did spend a lot of anytime northern vermont and that minute that driving up, i would drive by these church will big crosses on them, so what are these churches and why doesn't anybody write about system don't see them actually in our literature. and of course you can't be there for five minutes or they like no one is going churches on the green anymore. that's the world updike wrote about. what i see is the churches in green or empty and their
1:31 pm
struggling, the people have gone from the traditional church on the green into churches with the big crosses, like what is going on? and so it's kind of like, you can sort of -- just like it's right there in front of me. so i say, oh, who are these people? i actually went and dade lot -- did a lot of research. i would visit these churches and in the beginning i was worried they would realize i was a spy. >> host: did you feel like a spy? >> guest: of course. was a spy. i'm taking notes. what are they're seeing? what is different about this? why are people going to these churches and why have the left the other church? and very funny because -- i'm going to be con pick accuse because of -- conspicuous because of the way i lookings the first church, they asked if
1:32 pm
i was korean and i thought, they're all going to think i'm korean. yes. and then it was -- you're one of us. we know who you are. you're a korean christian. welcome. and basically that's how i got a thehurche to watch what went on, and i asked that a friend at harvard who was -- also took me around to the churches so i can see first hand what are shay seeing, what are these retreats like. what are the preachers like? and very importantly, why are people listening to them? and what is it that is driving people to these preachers and to these churches? of course, i will say that the same things that drive jinny to become a fundamental list are the same things that fills many people to vote for trump.
1:33 pm
it's the same thing. they feel -- people say they're angry. they're not angry. they feel dispossessed. so, this book is a book in which ma pe are differ placed. hadie is displated. but one of my own revelations -- she is displaced but they're also displaced. there is a -- the thing she knows, which means to be radically displaced. literally they lost their farms. literally they've lost -- with the farmers, in jinny's case, the whole legacy that goes with the farm. the farm is the family. it's been there for generations and then all of a sudden they've got to compete with beef from argentina, globalization has hit them really hard. all of a sudden there are developments all around the edges of the -- they're having all the big farms are being
1:34 pm
nibbled away and they have to sell off the land and that is them. so they feel -- there's way in some she is so angry that what has happened to her family and her family's padres so radically disposed and somebody who was a moderate christian, you see the fundamentalist edge. within the evangelical -- well thin learned very quickly, something, something, something, and the evangelicals will talk about the fundamentals like they're very different and evangelical will say, fundamentalist is an evangelical who is really angry and it's interesting news press, they're
1:35 pm
lumped together but they don't lump themselves together at all. that is what happens to jinny. they lose their farm, they're really angry. then all of a sudden the things they're here and this other kind of church -- they're hearing in this other kind of church, not the methodist or presbyterian, they're hearing another kind of narrative and that narrative is a big, angry -- you know what i mean, end to of the world, you'e going to burn type narrative. just embodieses everything that they feel. >> host: one thing i note in the book is you don't just even if you were a spy in your research, it's not a completely negative portrayal. you're giving -- >> guest: very sympathetic. that's m job, too. this is the humility part. it's like it's not a writer's job to judge.
1:36 pm
it is -- because i guess there's a way -- specially since -- what i saw was that they're just displaced just like hadie. in in some ways hadie is better equip -- more radically displaced but is better equipped to deal with than they are, maybe because she is officially differ placed. everybody can see clearly she is displace they're displaced in a more invisible way. they're not as -- no one say, of course you're angry, you've been displaced. you don't have an official name like refugee or immigrant or something like that, where you understand, i see, i've been radically displaced. >> host: you talk about hadie who has been swimming for the shore for 50 years. >> guest: yeah. it's sympathetic to her, too, and i do think in some -- to be
1:37 pm
an immigrant, it's not like you were arrive in the united states and then three year later it's over. she's been swimming her here life for a place that she lost, and i have tremendous sympathy. what i see, it never ends, the immigration, because every stage, everything is different. including -- my father died. what are the rituals now? what do you do? whatever you did for your nature china, well you can't even do that here. like where are you going get the buddhist monks to come and sing. and in china they would have had a register in the family altar with people's names on them and so that when people came to pray that, would pray for the people who died. >> host: the chinese family book?
1:38 pm
>> guest: no. this is on the family altar, something like this. but interesting, your name only stays on the list for five years and then it's gone. you're not on the active mourning lifter anymore. so there's family altar aso where where woo my father's name go so we can mourn them. people will come and remember him. where is the grace day, where we would go and sweep the grave. there's no grave. in other words, so that even though it would seem like my mother had been here 50 years already, she still an immigrant. and like, what now? as if she needed further reminding that her whole world was gone. it's like, everything is -- you have to learn about how it all works, all over again, with every single stage of life. kind of never ends.
1:39 pm
and once you have gotten your english under control, threat not the owned of it at all. geese on for a long, long time ihave left callers on hold for too long and i apologize. greg, missouri go ahead. >> caller: hi, miss jen. >> guest: hi. >> caller: i had a question in reading two academic articles recently, came across liked like the same issues raided in them and if i could read one sentence and if you could shed some light on what the author is lee wong, and he says, quote, since. the 1970s, the famous or, say ex-infamous debate between the incendiary frank tchen and maxine hong kingston toward the how tenth tick representation of chinese culture. i just wonder -- i wasn't clear
1:40 pm
what -- >> guest: what that issue was. >> caller: what that was all about. >> guest: ey. in the very early days of asian-american literature, maxine hong kingston, the iconic figure, and frank tchens who was a minor figure and whose name we would not know except the attacked maxine hong kingston so viciously and he also attacked, jade wong, he and his cronies attacked jade snow wong on stage to the opinion where she started crying on stage. i was really a terrible thing. but he saw them as all writing what the thought was kind of white christian work that was meant to pander, he thought to the caucasian audience. we live in america where most
1:41 pm
people are caucasian so if we explain chinese phrases, well, i you can -- who is going read it. you're living in america. obviously there is some speaking to the audience. but i think in particular he really didn't like it that the -- he shadoff taken this -- she had taken this misand made her into a feminist figure which is just not how he read it out all. the felt the whole thing was unauthentic and the question is whether you can take a traditional figure and make it interesting some for your own purposes? and today, i think it's like clearly she was within her rights. i mean, we have figures like el eldoctorw who has taken
1:42 pm
historical figures and put them in his book. you may not like the conclusions that leo tolstoy comes to but the nap poll chronic war and whether -- napoleonic wars and, and to me i think the real issue is that because there were so few asian-americans at the time, rather than seeing her version of the story as her version of the story, like clearly we have other sources on the nap poll janik wars and because there were so few sores i think frank tchen was afraid which is into be the only understanding that anyone would ever have and that it was quote-unquote not the
1:43 pm
authentic version. very interests interesting tomer the movie moulin came out and the question is are we going to have big protests over the way it was handled in the movie? and there were no protests over the movie, and there were no protests over the movie i think because that moment had passed. the moment where one movie or one book would seem to kind of represent the whole truth about moyn. this whole difficulty that frank chen had with maxine was byproduct of the time they were in did he fact they there were so, so, so few asia-americans and very, very, very few representations of any kind. and i will say to this day i feel -- i think that frank chen
1:44 pm
had a point but i wish he had attacked with less viciousness. maxine hong kingston is the -- the idea he made her lose sleep for even a nanoseconds makes me pretty mad. >> host: you know, one google search i did o you, at whatever page i was on, you may also enjoy maxine hong kingston and amy tan. >> i said that. >> host: no. no. that was search i did and that came up in the artificial intelligence or thing a go rhythm, whatever it was, that's what came up. >> guest: well, we all kind of get groups together, i she jewish-american writes you can group them together. to me it just highlights the differences. to me as soon as you put them together, my god, how else could you put -- it's just kind of --
1:45 pm
feels like an historical accident because their sensibilitieses are so different, and we writers are nothing if we are not our sensibilities. that's -- frank chen -- maxine hong kingston is filtering the world. that's buy she is an author. we want her to fill their the world and filter chinese tradition or you name it, and we read them because of the way they're filtering. and i think to me, as soon as you lump me and maxine hong kingston and amy tan, what you mostly see is, wow, three beam with black hair or black hair that turned to white hair or whatever, three people who are sort of relate, being from a generation ago or so or more to another part of the world where
1:46 pm
there are billion people so they're not so alike, and when we look at their work, we see very, very, very different things. i think that you mostly see how uninterchangeable we are. >> host: as you write in "world and town" the memory rimming e's world view. steve, palm bay florida, you're on with author and novelist, gish jen. >> caller: thank you, gish and peter. just reminded from the first hour of the remark about isolating authors, and i tell you a short humerous eventment my parents were just starting out at young professors and one day they heard a knock at the door and they opened and looked out and saw nothing, looked down, and there were two little children and they looked up and said, we're hungry, our parents write.
1:47 pm
and that's been told in my family for years. >> host: we're hungry, my parents write, write. >> guest: that is really funny. >> host: is it tougher be successful as writer? >> guest: of course, you think about the nature, the whole idea that writer starve, there's some truth to it. the reason this is true is because we're always -- because as i say we're trying to get people look past their realities. so, of course that's uncomfortable. as soon as you said it, is a woman really what a woman is? it's a little uncomfortable and people don't want to pay you do that. because you are kind of on the cutting edge of society and will focus on the things a little bit not right. so, your idea but asian-americans, ideas but women
1:48 pm
or african-americans, capital capitalism, religion, because we're doing that, it's not a path to popularity. now, sometimes you can do it and somehow -- even though you have done this subversive thing, sometimes it will be theind of sub version people are ready for, andt feels -- i don't know if he realize it would be this huge seller it was, but the idea it wasn't -- might have crossed his mind. so, it's a little bit hard to predict. it's not true that all good writers don't make money but it's flew a general kind of way that writers cannot expect to make now and you can -- we are doing the opposite of creating a
1:49 pm
product. so we -- you think, everything you do to create a product, where you have this idea, you think it's what people want, and then you check to see if it's what they really want and try to get it what they want so ty'll play. and if it's -- we hope it would also -- you're a corporation, and think is this good for world, for the environment? but the process of product making isrimarily about making it what people want and if it turns out it's bad for their hail. or the environment, it's like, oh, we find ourselves in this position but that's not their concern. ours is exactly the opposite. we still want to make something that people will wont to read and will find engaging and provocative but you cannot imagine a gazillion people will all want to be provoked that way.
1:50 pm
you just can't. you write it as access by as you, hopefully writing about an americas that people recognize, in any case "world and town" immigrants and you can see globalization and things going on. hopefully people recognize our world in that world ask that gives them -- means they see the book -- should talk about this because there's so much to talk about. but it's not fundamentally designed to be exactly the book you wanted me to write. it's a different book. and because -- like i say, it is really almost an anti-product. it's not a product. and therefore you cannot expect to be rewarded handsomely. that says, i have got an lot of press. do sell enough books that you kind of have to -- you do sell dish do sell enough books and i'm very lucky to have had the
1:51 pm
kind of grant support i've had, and it's funny. i've said in front of -- i feel like i'm personally in a kind of patronage system where i don't have official patrons but i am too embarrassed to give any particular example but if i want to go to a conference it's very expensive, i have professional reason to go to the conference, lo and behold, there is somebody who wail say you can go do this conference. and there's -- so there's a lot of kind of just support of what i'm doing because i'm doing it, and i do receive this kind of support in many different forms, and so in a weird kind of way, there is kind of a modern
1:52 pm
version of the patronage system that august. -- augments the numbers. >> host: as we began, john updike named you as his successor, your books are well-reviewed, well-awarded, which one of your fors is most onused as textbook in high school and college? >> guest: i don't know. but i think that may still be the typical american. and -- >> host: the first book, 1991. >> guest: to give you an idea -- what can happen, a literary write are like me. i've never been on the betts seller -- best seller list, nor near. yourly sell a book for 15-yearers and the assumption is tend of 15 years it's worth
1:53 pm
zero. so you sell the rights to public it for 15 years and then rights revert to you because it's wor zero. in case of "typical american" i got sell the book again because this book was not anywhere near dead at 15 years. i got a second advance for that book. and so that's an example of -- not a best seller but clearly has been selling straight through since 1991 until today. and so i'm still seeing royalties on the book. >> host: every once in achillea check arrives andor like -- >> guest: no. see royalties every year on "typical american." so, the fact that i actually really said something, "typical american," as you know, question this idea what a typical american is. somebody who lives on a farm, eats apple pie or as soon as we ask that question, what does it
1:54 pm
anyone be jewish-american, chinese american, iranian-american, this book suggests that at that point maybe you are an american. so americans are defines by a preoccupation of identity, and i think that idea has actually proven to be a very important idea, and so people are still teaching it but all the books have some thought jive you can't get through on the phone lines you can contact us via social media,@book tv is the handle, at facebook, instagram, twitter. book tv and c-span kansas.org is our e-mail and john than in milwaukee, you're on the air. >> host: i don't know what's wrong with me today. jonathan in milwaukee, i apologize. >> caller: it's okay. thank you very much for take michigan my call, and i wanted to say i recently read a story of yours that was published in the new yorker and that was
1:55 pm
excellent and i wanted to ask, what is the process like for having a short story published in in the new yorker, work with their ed doctors vs. writing a novel separately and working with the novels publisher? is the method different? do you have different thoughts in mind for how to craft the short story when it's published in a magazine versus havity being a novel that is going to be sold in book stores? thank you very much. >> guest: an interesting question. the answer -- you just write your story or your book. you're not the -- you're not thinking like what if "the new yorker" takes it. you just write it and i have to say that is fully -- that takes all of your brain cycles and really not a lot left over. i mostly think, does it live, does it work, what is it really bowed can i show up in this character or this die flog some
1:56 pm
-- dialogue in some way. i'm very lucky, editorial at the norrer is very wonderful and i'm yuck to have a very, very wonderful editor. the same editor, ann klose, since the second back into she has done both my fix and nonfiction with the exception of "tiger writing" which was the university press and she is an editor's editor, and i will say that it's true that "the new yorker," they don't ask you -- they don't see it's their job to help you write the thing you're writing. working with anne done people think the editor takes things out. get rid of theending, i don't get that at all. i tend to be very hard on myself
1:57 pm
and if i send a draft to ann and the second draft i've taken all the stuff out, anne will say something -- memorizes the first travel -- will say something like, i see that you have cut such and such an image. i rather liked such and such an image and you're like, okay, app, i'll put it back in. she'll say you cut such and such a line. i rather liked such and such a line. i'm like, okay, ann, i'll put it back inch this goes on for six hours. knows every cut i made. she thinks i can cut too hard and that i'll cut my own toes off, and so in my relationship with no,er, -- the "the new yorker" -- i have never had that many stores in the "the new yorker," i can imagine them say you cut such and such a line, i
1:58 pm
rather like such and such a line. it is very different. the editing at the "the new yorker" is fantastic. very careful but every word, every come marks every everything. one question i got on the last story, she wondered why it had to be in pigeon english, which is interesting because i had done this early story that was irish, and so it's not like i use the voice all the time. only the second time since 199. but of course since 19 -- between 199 and now the idea that people are actually writing -- speaking another language and it's been represent at english has become very much better established than in 1999 because of ian lee. we understand our characters are chinese but they're just speaking english. but i held firm with the pigeon
1:59 pm
english and i wrote about is, this q & a thing for the know,er and "the new yorker" because for me there's something poignant about the pigeon english. i myself have had the experience of trying to explain something in chinese so i know exactly what it's like to be able -- be trying to convey to somebody -- someone else something that you try to convey something across the language barrier, and i guess this is -- i don't just see it at broken english. he sigh it as this beautiful thing that people try to do...
2:00 pm
>> guest: they are just massively careful in every way, shape or form. and as a writer, you can only be grateful to be read that carefully, i will say. i just feel like it's an honor really to work with either her on ann close. it is different, i guess, you know, like i say maybe they just raised different things because they're different people and something like the use of the pigeon english, i don't think at this point it would even occur to my book editor to question that. and that's why it's nice to have a second editor, you know? just sort of things that you think are a given, it's nice somebody ask you about them so you yourself have to think about them again. >> host: five novels, your last two books, though, have been nonfiction. >> guest: hmm. [laughter] >> host: why is that?
2:01 pm
>> guest: well, i would never have written any nonfiction at all had i not been asked by harvard, you know, the american studies department, if i would give the matthews lectures, which is a big annual lectureship. everybody comes, a big to-do. in truth, when they first asked me i said no -- >> host: why'd you said no? >> guest: well, honestly, i was not anxious to do this. it's a lot of pressure. [laughter] i mean, i know these harvard academics and, like, they are very tough. and, you know, just -- anyway, no sooner did i finish my book, i had hit send, and almost five minutes later, so we hear that you've finished your novel. [laughter] and, of course, i had to finish it. it was public information, i can't hide it. so i did have to say yes. and then, well, you know, what's hard about it is because, of course, you know, to give lectures like that you have to try to think of something that
2:02 pm
someone hasn't already said. so much has been said, and these guys have done so much of the saying of it, you know? [laughter] you just feel like -- i once unow, somebod said, thelecture professor said i know about 20 people who could have given that lecture. [laughter] i wish i had, i wish i didn't know these things, you know? so the one thing that's clear to me is i had to say something no one could say i know about 20 people who could give that lecture. oh, my god. so, you know, the bar is pretty high. but as it turned out, i did have something to say. and in retrospect, i was very glad that i had had, you know, some little provocation to get me to say what i had to say. and that was that i, as is very cheer to me now, that i was ash -- very clear to me now that i was ariter who kind of spanned an older world where everything about writing and the
2:03 pm
self came out of, you know, what we call a mine shaft society is, a society that is a based in agriculture and communities and, you know, kind of these intimate, you know, village-like life. it became clear to me that that whole culture, you know, influences not only how you see yourself, the kind of -- it certainly influences your self-expression, influences your memory. it influences your manners. it influences every single thing about you, and it certainly influences your fiction. it's clear to me that i had made a transition from that self and that set of, you know, that whole way of being to include some very intimate things to this new self which is, you know, what the sociologists call a cell shaft self meaning a self that is based on a mobile,
2:04 pm
modern, industrialized society where the values are very different, you know? so just things like how important is your family. of course, we still think our family is important, but it's not so much the extended family, you know? it's really a nuclear family, just, you know, you, your spouse, your kids. it's a much smaller family. and, of course, you know, there's a much cleaner boundary around the self, around the individual. so because why is that? well, you know, it's a capitalist world. you know, the ideal worker in this world is somebody with no ties, right? i mean, the ideal worker can work 24/7, you tell them to relocate, and they go. that's the ideal capitalist worker. the ideal agricultural worker is somebody that has a lot of ties. it's time to put up that barn, you're not going to be able to put up that barn yourself. it's a completely different way of being in the world with, like
2:05 pm
i say, meaning so many differences and certainly many differences that pertain to writing. and so that's why i wrote this book, "title writing: art, culture and and the interdependent self," to really describe my own journey. they had wanted me to write an intellectual autobiography, and this is a big, hugely salient thing about me that i had made this journey and that it was all over all of my books. and so i wrote about that. so why did i -- and i'll say that was the moment in which i realized not only how much i had made by my own books, how much writing had made me and helped me develop this other self, but it's great to have the words for it myself, but i will say the very most germane research, it just so happens, was just happily coming out because all the research about the self and narrative was just coming out as i was writing my lectures done
2:06 pm
at cornell university. and so those, i mean, the papers were being published almost as i was writing, so it was very, very exciting. and i was so grateful to have it, because it explained so many things that were kind of weird or unconventional about my work and the way that i saw things. i could say it was a little bit different than most of my colleagues, and it explained so much. and then when i was done with that, you know, it was kind of a what do i do know, and i suddenly realized i went to china, oh, i see, there are all these people, ex-pats who have lived in china for 25 years, and the chinese were still a complete mystery to them, you know? it was just everything, and they didn't know why. and then, of course, in this country i saw all these people with, you know, colleagues and asian other places, you know, these students in american classrooms, the teachers just don't know what to do. they're trying to get people to relax the first day of class,
2:07 pm
and they would say things, well, write an essay about yourself only to have all the chinese students freeze. far from being put at ease, you know? a creative writing class are, this student was asked to write an essay about herself, and she left. oh, i see, actually i just wrote this book that was really about me and literary culture, but i actually understand something now that will be vastly helpful to all of these people. and people who are not going to pick up a psychology book to study, study, study, study, you know? i knew how to say it in a way that i could explain it to them. so i wrote this book. that was the girl at the baggage claim. and now you can ask -- but we'll talk about that before you ask so what now. my god, she's just taken this big detour, but go ahead. >> host: well, we'll come back to this, but we want to show a little video of you talking about both tiger writing and the girl at the baggage claim.
2:08 pm
>> guest: okay. ♪ ♪ >> guest: well, you know, i am a novelist, but there was something that i knew in my bones that i had just somehow never quite managed to get out on the page despite 30 years of writing. this feeling that the writing world has certainties functions about where, you know, where the truth was, that the writing world valued surgeon things that were -- certain things that were very different than the things i had valued growing up and that it narrated in a way that was very different than the way we narrated in my childhood home. and i was not a narrative native. you know, we didn't do in this my family, you know, i was not asked what do you want as if what i wanted awz with -- was a very important thing. i was not encouraged to think of myself as a unique individual whose uniqueness is really a very important thing. quite the contrary. and so, therefore, it wasn't
2:09 pm
really until i started reading that i realized that in the west, in this world that we had found ourselves, that this is a very foundational idea. that it started with pictures of you as a baby. like i don't have any pictures of myself -- [laughter] you know, one minute after i was born, you know? [laughter] and, in fact, i had very few pictures of myself, and there were very few stories also about me as a child. as i started to get interested in this whole question of narrative difference, you know, which is tied to a difference in self and a difference in perception, i happened to start to work on my father's autobiography. that's something that he had written when he was 85, and i had -- when i first looked at it, it just made no sense at all to me. here was this thing that was supposed to be an autobiography about his growing up in china, and yet he himself did not appear until page 8. [laughter]
2:10 pm
you know? so this autobiography did not start, you know, i was born, you know? i was born in this such and such no no, it started way, way before that, a thousand years before that, went through the generations. i think also by the time my father gets to his birth, i mean, he mentions his birth date in parenthesis -- [laughter] you know, in conjunction with another event. and i remember reading that and thinking, well, how very interesting. i think that i could both see that it was, quote-unquote, weird from a western narrative t of view and yet, of course, there's something about it which was incredibly familiar to me, and i understood this. i understood this diminishment of the self. i mean, it was, you know, you know what i mean? one thing was something i knew with my left hand and one thing was something i knew with my right because i had this conflict between an interdependent self and an independent self, both of which
2:11 pm
are in me. i did have an artistic preoccupation and something which i had to say, you know, would have to say was definitely mine. and so there is a way in which even as i inhabit all these other people and all my fiction regardless of who i'm talking about, i am also sti there. so there's a way in which this problem, if you will, that i have, this split between interdependence and independence has been a tremendous thinking. >> gish, what's the genesis of your book, and what do avocado pits have to do with it? laugh. >> guest: well, you know, like lenore, very interested in education. and and, you know, i heard a story a couple years ago. this story involved milton academy, very prestigious new england prep school. and what happened was that a girl had applied to milton. she had great scores, she had
2:12 pm
great essays, they did a skype interview with her, she did a great interview. and they admitted her, they're very excited, and then, you know, something was a little bit off. as the semester went on, it became clear that the girl who had come was not the girl who had done the skype interview, but her sister. and, you know, i was told this story by a head of another independent school, since corroborated by nelson. and, you know, they tolding the story just like all the heads of schools are talking about it just like this is just so strange. but when i heard that story, i thought this is not so strange, actually. this is in asia substituting one person for another, very kind of close teamwork is actually very common. and so i reck -- recognized this pattern. but as i talked more to the educators, i could see that there were many things about this new cohort of chinese
2:13 pm
students that were just completely baffling to the educators here. and also, you know, i spent a lot of time in china, i could see that in china the reverse was also true. you know, i was teaching at nyu-shanghai where the whole mission is to bring u.s. education to china, and there are a lot of things about the chinese students that they didn't get can and that china didn't get about the school. and i just thought, you know what? i actually understand both sides of this, and there is a book where i can explain it, you know? because there's a lot of deep research, right? >> and avocados -- >> and avocados, well, what i realized is that the piece of information that they were missing was that the self that dominates in the east and the self that.co dominates -- that dominates in the west are very different. we imagine we have a big pit in the center of us, a sacred pit, i will say. this is the thing that we call ourself, we feel this is our
2:14 pm
identity. you know, the whole purpose of u.s. education is to understand the nature of this identity, to identify strengths and weaknesses, to develop it, develop this voice, that we're very much committed to making sure that it's free expression, that it can rule freely. and this is the model that we have. but actually research has established that, you know, in the rest of the world -- and i do mean like most of the rest of the world, meaning asia, africa, south america, central and eastern europe, a lot of maces in western europe -- a lot of places in the united states and even in the united states itself until fairly recently a different self actually dominates. and that's the self that's much more like, you know, a gumby. [laughter] it's a flexy self, a self that is just as pull as agency as the avocado pit self. i mean, it is fully capable of traveling abroad, you know what i mean?
2:15 pm
opening restaurants, doing all these things that we think of. it's not that -- i think when we use the collectivistic, we imagine somehow this is the self that, you know, can't take any initiative. and that's completely wrong, you know? anybody who goes to asia, you know, there's plenty of initiative. there's preppily of entrepreneurship -- plenty of entrepreneurship. but what's different is the meaning of it. in other words, where is it coming from. instead of saying, oh, my god, everything -- they don't care about branding or when it comes to law firms, you know? here you have there's -- [inaudible] in china you have a law firm, this is no thompson and there's no -- [laughter] you know? because the whole idea with, the idea, you know, it's an idea that's kind of integrity involved, there are actual people there. so the law firms are kind of emanations of these people and their avocado pits, you know? where the chinese law firms, they don't have this idea at
2:16 pm
all. what do you think is a good name? be okay, let's use that. it's a completely different view. you can sort of see it's much mo geared to what will work, you know? oh, or that'll work, we'll do that. >> host: it's my first day teaching in shanghai, a few of my students are from china but most are lucky undergraduates from nyu-abu dhabi whose entire education is gratis. an arab royal interested in bringing world class education to the emirates is funding them, and so it is that they have come from all over the world. some are freshmen, some are seniors. it's a motivated, gifted class, and yet for all of that a few -- only a few are comfortable talking in class. you were talking just right there about the difference -- >> guest: yeah. >> host: -- what chinese students, what american teachers
2:17 pm
of chinese students are facing. >> guest: yeah. well, as i said in the tape, you know, it isn't only actually the chinese students. you know, i think we're most aware of them because they look different, right? we can see it as a whole group of people who look different and who are uncomfortable speaking in class. but actually it's many, many, many more people. and there are a number of people that have come up to me from romania or lithuania and said, oh, my god, that's me. but, you know, i don't have the difference -- the difficult difference, but that's me too. and that's, you know, that is the way that we are in our culture. and that it is so uncomfortable to talk in class. and, you know, now we have when they say they're uncomfortable they're not just shy, their cortisol levels are spiking through the roof. i mean, they're having a physiological response to having to do this thing which is so against everything that they've been taught. and, you know, of course the
2:18 pm
question the educators always want to know is, well, so are we kind of -- is this, you know, western hegemony, to make them speak this way? and, you know, of course it is, you know? but the question is then, well, do we not make them speak in class? well, do i make them speak in class? i do, i do. i do because i view it as being very much like speaking english. in one way, of course, it is a reflection of western dominance in the world that they are, that everyone has to speak english. on the other that is the state of affairs, and it will open all kinds of doors for them. you do not regret having learned english, you will not regret learning to speak up in class. and the same way english is uncomfortable and hard to learn and it is hard for you to learn to speak up in class, you can do it. i know be it because i did it, you know? i did it. >> host: was it hard for you? >> guest: exe treatmently hard. it sounds so funny --
2:19 pm
>> host: what are your, what were your parents telling you that made it so hard? >> guest: well, it's not anything that the parents say, right? i mean, they don't tell you don't speak up in class. they don't say that. but it is, you know, the self that we're talking about that doesn't speak up in class, you know, that is laid down by things like how closely you're held, you know, as a baby, you know? and what your -- and the kind of way that your mother talks to you, you know? so that, so things like, you know, it's funny, i myself i'm growing up as you can see, speaks english, blah, blah, blah. i myself did not realize i had the kind of other self until i had a trial myself. and we were going around -- a child myself. we were going around in a new mothers' group, the kids were six weeks old, they were very little. we're going around in a circle, and everyone is asked what do you want your baby to be. everyone else says they want their child to be independent. i'm like, independent? [laughter] i want my child to be happy, you
2:20 pm
know? and also everybody else had taken their baby and just put the baby on the floor. now, they were on receiving blankets but this was a hardwood floor. i could not put my child, i mean, i physically could not put him down. and i, you know, it's striking. and the question is how did i even learn that? i mean, you know, i grew up in new york. how did i know that? that in chinese culture you don't put those kids down, you know? really many cultures the kid just goes from one person holding them to the next. no one puts that child down on the floor. the child is never without physical contact with somebody. and where did i learn that? it's so interesting about culture because, you know, i'm growing up in queens and yonkers, and i did have little brothers, you know, when i was quite old because my youngest brother is 8 years younger than me. i did see them when they were
2:21 pm
infants, but these are very deeply embedded things, you know? a lot of this is embedded way, way, way before you can talk. and then, of course, how to they talk to you. and this is where cornell has done such interesting work. this is many, many people who have worked on this. and, or you know, is the child's attention directed to objects, or is it directed to who is that? oh, that is your are uncle, that is your uncle, you know, on your father's side, you know? that's how you talk to them. and when you talk to them, so what did you think about this, you know? what is your opinion? you know, what happened to you? or why did you do that? was that what you were supposed to do? right? weren't you supposed to get your homework in? why didn't you get your homework in, you know? you know, so not that everything or that you desire, you know? what do you want to be when you grow up but kind of why didn't
2:22 pm
you do that. it's very different. the emphasis on there was something that you were supposed to do, meaning you had a role, and kind of did you fulfill that role or not is the emphasis as opposed to do you have the self and what is the nature of that self and, very importantly, what is unique about that self. nobody cares in chinese culture, you know, kind of how unique you are. [laughter] it's kind of the long view, you know, you may think you're unique, but if you look over 2,000 years of chinese history, you're not that unique, you know? it's a very different perspective. anyway, these things get -- and then when do you speak up and, certainly, speaking up when, like, i have something to say is extremely uncomfortable. so they don't speak up. and i have to say even people who, you know, there are people who have this in them who can be kind of very, very, very, you know, well integrated to the western world. for example, salman rushdie, you know?
2:23 pm
you think, certainly, he is not going to have trouble talking about himself, i mean, but, you know, when he sat down to write his memoir about his years under the fatwa after the ayatollah khomeini had issued the fatwa, the death sentence on him because because of his writings, satanic verses, when it came to writing his memoirs, he felt we could he could not write that in the first perp. he wrote the whole memoir in the third person. oh, even somebody like many, many, many years into, you know, life in the western world this residual feeling of, like, it's not okay to say i, to be focused on yourself like that, you know, it stays with you. it stays with you. and to this day, i mean, you know, interviewed just about myself i can go a little -- [laughter] i'm very happy to talk about the classroom in america and
2:24 pm
fundamentalism. talking about myself, you know, i can get there, but i have to kind of -- there's like a little speed bump. i've got to get over the speed bump. so i understand these students, you know? it's kind of like i, too, if you hadske, you know, when i was in 11th grade, say, to write about myself i also would have frozen. and teachers will say things like tell me what's unique about yourself, which is exactly the wrong question. i ask my students what was unique about them, and they would say things like, well, i have a little brother. [laughter] that's not so unique, you know? in other words, the students were clearly jamming on that question. i'm like don't ask them that, you know? not if you're trying to get them to relax. definitely don't ask them that. but i understand it because i myself would have been very, very, very uncomfortable with that question. and it's not a language thing. look, i was born in the united states. culture is very persistent, and,
2:25 pm
you know, like i say because it's laid down so early. and i would say even really not second generation, even third generation i can definitely see it in my children. >> host: wel i wanteo ask that. can you see a difference between your parents and your kids? >> guest: oh, of course. it's not that culture doesn't change, you know what i mean? it's not that culture doesn't change, it's not that there isn't change between the generations, obviously, because i developed this big other self, you know, living in america. like i say, it's a hybrid self. and what i see, of course, my children, you know, different than me, very different than my parents. finish but the surprise is how much continuity this is too, you know? i mean, you know, obviously very happy to talk about themselves and, you know, but you would also have to say, or you know, there's a way in which everybody wants to know -- i don't want
2:26 pm
them both on air, but my kids came out great. [laughter] in the sense that they have a sense of belonging to the family, kind of obligation to the family, there's an intimacy there, a closeness there that -- those are the good parts from the old world. there's, you know, there are a lot of or very special qualities there also, and they've retained those, you know? and to a remarkable degree different than their classmates, you know? so an example would be my daughter was moving out of her dorm room, and they had bought a couch, and, you know, the others all left, and they didn't move their couch out, you know? i knew you can't leave this couch here for the custodians, you know, to take care of. i mean, you brought that couch in, it's your responsibility. and she, of course, she and my son took it out, you know? but in those little ways you can sort of see that, actually, she
2:27 pm
saw herself, you know, as part of a whole, you know? to which you have a responsibility. and this is the way that you behave in this -- no one is, no one's going to come and yell at you because you left this couch here, you just don't do, that you know? period. you just don't do that. it's a little example but all the way down the line i think that i can see that my children have this idea that, actually, we belong to a larger world, and, yeah, you know, you're not like a marble unto yourself. you are in a world to which you have obligations. >> host: michael in alabama, you are on the air. please go ahead with your questi >> caller: good afternoon. it's a real honor to be able to speak with you and ask you these questions. i have two. i'm an aspiring writer. i'm trying to get as much
2:28 pm
practice in as my full-time commercial art and studio art business will allow, but that does have something to do with it. with my question. i don't know when to ask you both questions and then hang up -- >> host: michael, if you would just go ahead, state your questions, and then we'll get an answer, okay? >> caller: well, the first one is do you have any advice for people interested in children's book writing, especially for people who come at it from practice and/or a career of being a cartoonist, an animater or a picture illustrator? because i draw in the mgm, warner brothers, disney style, and i know to -- >> host: okay, michael, i apologize, we have other callers on hold. what's your second question? >> caller: is -- oh, i hate these. take razor, go kick me, fund
2:29 pm
starter.com and so forth. and i believe it's possible for me to get into the publishings at least in a small way like comic books, for instance, without using those for any start-up capital. but if the day comes, i hate the way that they're -- these sites that were started for visual or artists and people in the non-performing arts and the performing arts, i guess, are now being abused for as an animation magazine once said -- >> host: okay, michael, i apologize. i'm going to have to leave it. we've got the questions. aspiring writers, children's genres and the gofundme, how to get started. >> guest: yeah. >> host: when it comes to the monetary -- >> guest: i have no expertise whatsoever when it comes to children's -- i'm so sorry, i wish i could help you. i love children's literature, and i'm happy to see more people write for it.
2:30 pm
i will say it seems to me that someone who has a background in graphic anything is at a tremendous advantage, because i do think we see more and more of this wonderful cartooning thing going on, and i'm sure that it's a really great thing to have. that said, i am sorry to say that i know nothing about it. and on the, you know, on the gofundme front, i actually don't know that -- i actually don't think that writers need to have any capital raised. you know, you need to have money to cover your time, so you need to be able to take time off from your work, your paying work in order to write. it's just not a lucrative activity in and of itself. but, actually, i don't think that you need to have an indigo go campaign or anything like that to write your book, you know? all you need is time, an idea, some images and a storyline. and i wish you all the luck in the world. >> host: half hour left with our guest here on our special fiction edition of "in depth." gish jen.
2:31 pm
202-748-8200 in and central time zones, 8201 for those of you in the mountain and pacific time zones. george in fort myers, florida, good afternoon. >> caller: hi. i read your essay on "catcher in the rye," and i'm wondering if you don't see huckleberry finn as a successful person. like holden, he's unique and he's interesting, and he's entertaining, and he's telling his own story, and he's a kid. but he's a successful person. but holden is attractive because he's a failure as a person. do you see -- do you think that too? >> guest: well, you know, i think that, i think he can finn is a wonderful -- huck finn is a wonderful character. it's kind of an interesting question. you know, holden is, you know, his claim to fame is not whether
2:32 pm
he's successful or unsuccessful so much as that he's somebody who doesn't accept the artifice that's his world. and, of course, neither was huck finn. so, you know, i think you're -- you know, i, in a general kind of way to rail against the artifice of your society is not generally a recipe for success. i think it's a recipe for personal fulfillment, so it is, it's a path towards maybe a more authentic life. but it isn't necessarily a path to a more successful life. i mean, those things can go hand in hand. i mean, they go hand in hand, for instance, for writers. but if many other people -- for many other people they can be quite at odds. i don't know if that answers your question, but for what it's worth i think that as characters i think that both huck finn and holden callfield are just --
2:33 pm
caulfield are unbelievable successful characters. >> host: about 45 million copies of "catcher in the rye." >> guest: well, of course. >> host: why "of course"? what makes that a good book? >> guest: well, you know, in many ways from the point of view -- from a writing point of view, it's a mess, you know? [laughter] really there's no sign that, you know, that salinger ever read the art of pic by henry -- of fiction by henry james, you know? it's a mess. but clearly, you know, he's on to something. i mean, partly it was the times, the sort of '50s youth wake was going on. just how repressed the '50s was and kind of overly scripted, you know, all of a sudden we get holden who basically says you're all a bunch of phonies, right? and, you know, that word phony, you know, it's very early to
2:34 pm
sort of say, you know, you guys, you're just so inauthentic. how can you live with yourself, you know? and i think that hit a very big chord, obviously, and i think especially among the youngho were just in the middle of trying to figure out who they are and also becoming aware or that society has all of these ideas about how they should live their lives. you know, and the '60 and, of course, it was a huge explosion, right? a huge explosion although one, again, it was turned down by, like, 13 houses. [laughter] can you imagine, "catcher in the rye" turned down by 13 houses? in any case, you know, i think this idea that, you know, to thine own self be true but kind of, you know, in a '60s incarnation. you know, it was embodied in holden caulfield. and, yeah, i'm not surprised that it sold so many copies.
2:35 pm
think what's so surprising for us today is that many young people do not relate to holden anymore. and i think those of us who grew up in the '60s, '70s, you're kidding? i talk about this, i was teaching at brandeis for a ill while, i was talking about this with my class, and, you know, most of the students just felt he was kind of really immature and, like, what was his problem? to us, you know, he was the antihero. and we respected his, you know, his bravery and his honesty. and it's very interesting to me to, you know, to see this younger generation doesn't see him that way. but i think what we're seeing with the younger generation, i think it's interesting. they are also rebellious, but they're -- it's much more they're rebellious in a socially responsible way, right?
2:36 pm
they want to see the gun laws changed, you know? so it's not this romantic life goal, it's just i want to be free to be me. that's not what they're saying, you know? that was kind of the tune of an earlier or generation, i want to be me, you know? that's not what they're saying. i think they're saying i don't want to be shot, you know? [laughter] that's really what they're saying. but it is interesting to see, to see, you know, the movement toward or something which is a little less self-focused and a little more socially focused. >> host: 2013, got yourself in a bit of trouble with a boston globe essay. [laughter] >> guest: god. that's true. what happened was that, you know, on the heels of the boston red sox winning the world series "the boston globe" asked a number of people in boston -- >> host: and are you a fan of the red sox? >> guest: of course! i mean, goes without saying. anyway, they asked us to write a
2:37 pm
piece about what this victory meant in the light of, you know, the marathon bombings the year before. and to m y know, it was very striking that, you know, some of the big stars or, you know, were immigrants, you know? big papi and the pitcher whose name has just gone out of my head right now, you know, but who had to give his postgame interview in japanese with a translator -- >> host: hochi? >> guest: thank you. so it was a or very big moment to see these two immigrants so prominent in this victory. and i had, you know, and the kind of the warmth of the, you know, of the boston fan base for them. and i just had to say, you know, this is a big moment for boston because boston very well known for its problems with xenophobia, we seemed to have reached a different place. and since the assignment was about, you know, about the
2:38 pm
boston marathon in contrast to jahar and -- joke car and his brother, the tsarnaevs. and i just asked the question, you know, did we do right by this. that's all i asked. i have to say -- first of all, had i had more than 400 words, i probably would have filled that out a little more. and i will say it's a very natural question for me to ask especially since dzhokhar tsarnaev, the younger brother, had actually gone to high school with my daughter. they had gone to the same high school, so i knew -- i didn't know him personally, but i knew his math teacher, he had tutored people in math, he was on the wrestling team, he was actually a very popular guy. he'd gone to all the parties. so it was kind of a natural question -- >> host: typical american. >> guest: yeah. well, as a concerned cambridge parent just wanted to say, you know, was there something we could have done.
2:39 pm
did we let them down, you know, in some way. and i city stand by that question. i mean, how could this kid have been right there, how could nobody have seen that something like this was in the offing or even the remoteest possibility. how could we not have seen that. and is before that i got completely drawn and quartered by i will say a certain part of the boston population. this was very much fan by the right-wing -- fanned by the right of wing sports casters. and i guess what i see now which i did not understand, these were guys who were going to go on to vote for trump. so it's that same section. so the same part of the population that had so opposed busing, they were still there. and like i say, we do have this right-wing sportscaster who really fanned that up. and because of this one question did we do right by the
2:40 pm
tsarnaevs, you know, is there something else we could have done which is really to me not an inflammatory question, you know, they launched this campaign. they threatened my agent in new york. i came to a short stories reading at which i was supposed to read, and there were three police cruisers outside with sirens going. it was like, what's going on? i was like, oh, my god, they're here to protect me. [laughter] that's the library. i had to be brought into the back. it was crazy, you know? they had this whole online campaign, all these pictures of me. a white-hater.is the portrait i'm like, white hater? i'm married to -- i mean or it was crazy. but like i said, it was -- so later on when we saw the certain districts actually had voted for trump, and, you know, or it was in massachusetts i was not altogether surprised. i really did not know these guys were there.
2:41 pm
and i didn't understand also how much, yeah, they hated, you know, they hated the immigrants still, they're still very upset about busing. and, you know, and also the town thing i lived in cambridge, massachusetts, how much they hated the, you know, the whole crowd that shopped at even trader joe's. not even whole foods, but trader joe's. because they all shopped at market basket. and they just thought that, you know, they slammed me like she probably, she probably shops at trader joe's. you know, guilty as charged. but honestly, you know, even though i keep a close eye on what's going on in america, i really had no idea that this was such a virulent boundary between people who shop at trader joe's and people who shop at market basket. and i did not know that that, you know, that they could say that and you were uninstantly, obviously, one of dem, instantly. i had no idea.
2:42 pm
>> host: gish jen, your last two books have been nonfiction. are you returning to fiction? >> guest: yes, i am, i will say. i mean, there was a moment in which i was thinking maybe i could write another -- it was kind of fun,ou know? i wassing having a good time. but anyway, just as i was hanging in the balance trying to think what to do, i realized that i had agreed to contribute to something to an anthology that was being put together to benefit the aclu. and is so all of a sudden i was like, oh, my god, i haven't written any fiction since world and town, and i've agreed to write this story. [laughter] i kind of dragged my feet. it's due in a week. [laughter] two weeks, it was only ten days. oh, my god, i sat down. and then, bang, out came the story that was in the new yorker recently. and right after that another one, two of them like within, i mean, really within days. and i suddenly thought, oh, i guess i've still got it. [laughter] >> host: are you still using the
2:43 pm
index cards? >> guest: no. i was in so much trouble with this -- [laughter] i didn't even try to look at cards. i just sat down. and i popped out these two stories. and then at that point i think -- and also i love doing it, more importantly, and i just realized, oh, i see. actually i still love fiction. i mean, i liked doing those book, and i'm very glad i wrote them. and i could see, you know, a lot of people have said to me, you know what i mean, it changed their lives. you know, david henry wong, playwright, said this is the book that explained me to myself. in other words, it really helped a lot of people, that book, and so i'm so happy to have done et. you know, it's interesting for me and an adventure as well. but that said, i can also see the fiction writing part of me is not over by any means. >> host: in "world and town," is there a character who is simply a character and not maybe
2:44 pm
representing something or symbolic of something else? i'm thinking ginny, i'm thinking hattie, i'm thinking carter, the representative of the wasps. >> guest: well, i don't think -- i don't like that word representative -- >> host: okay. symbolic of. >> guest: definitely not symbolic of because it's like, yeah, they're just people that you would find in the community. i mean, in other words they're not, you know, and thenst not just ginny, there's a lot of other people who are also from that world. do you know what i mean? you know, it's not like -- yeah, i don't think of them as representative. there's any more than i'm talking to you, but you're not representing the white race, you know what i'm saying? it's just two people. but it is true if you look at it through a certain lens, people say, oh, i see, here's this white host. i don't know, maybe that's sort
2:45 pm
of true but not true at the same time. so i don't think of that in that way. so when i was thinking about it, because there's a way in which, like i say, hattie is half-wasp. >> host: she's got the confucius part. >> guest: yeah. she is the daughter of missionaries. >> host: without giving the book away, what's the meaning of the parents' grave in iowasome. -- in iowa? [laughter] as a reader, help me. >> guest: help me. [laughter] you know, i just want to say so hattie's parents, let's see if i can do this without giving the book away. so hattie's parents, because her mother was a missionary from iowa, they had -- because of her father she had the, the father had the right to be buried in the confucian family graveyard
2:46 pm
in china. >> host: which is a big deal. >> guest: a very big deal. confucius, it's like a big deal. and so but because of everything that's happened they are actually buried near hattie's mother's grave which is in iowa. and, you know, that would be fine except that all of hattie's relatives feel -- her chinese relatives -- feel that they're having very bad luck because her parents are buried in the wrong place, and they really think they're not going at all. so they want the parents relocated to china. and hattie, you know, who is a science teacher is opposed to this because she feels it's, you know, ignorant superstition, and she's just against it, you know? i will say that there's a little
2:47 pm
bit, you know, the story has, you know, has some roots in a story in my own background. and that is that my father, my father's mother was buried in taiwan, and she was buried there because of, you know, political things. she was not buried with my grandfather. so my grandfather was buried in their hometown outside of shanghai. and, but the family responsible for my grandmother being in taiwan wanted to move her to another place that they thought was better luck, a better luck place within taiwan. my father was very against this. first of all, my dug my grandmother up without telling my father. and then once she was dug up -- [laughter] he felt that is if she was reburied, she should be reburied, you know, with my
2:48 pm
grandfather. >> host: on the mainland. >> guest: on the mainland. in the special place that he had been buried. now, he had been -- this is kind of a long -- anyway, he had been buried in a special place that was now actually afar. so so there was a new family graveyard nearby but not the original graveyard, and they wanted to put him there. actually, both grandparents there. and my father definitely didn't want my grandfather to be -- it was bad enough they had already cug up my grandmother. he wanted them in a special place which was undisturbed in china. fantastic place. and so this aunt was on her way to go bury the ashes in this new place that my father opposed, and i was sent to china to go stop her. [laughter] you can't make this stuff up, you know?
2:49 pm
i mean, long story short i did manage to stop her with my broken chinese, and i did manage to get my grandmother buried in the place where my father wanted her, with my grandfather in this original, wonderful spot. so, i don't know, all's well that ends well. and i don't know whether anybody's luck has settled down orbit, but i do know that was probably maybe the most important thing i've ever done for my father. i just know that this was the single thing that he wanted, like, more than anything else in the world. it was to see his parents burr arelied together in this special provisional spot which he felt was their spot. so i'm bringing this other story of my book, you know, i can understand how upset the relatives are about something that hattie just doesn't get, you know? be it is true that the iowa a place is getting, is near a
2:50 pm
shopping center it's really unpleasant. she can see that as very bad luck because now it's really becoming terrible. and she can how upset the, you know, upset the realtors are. -- the relatives are. and she does finally are just say, okay. and i think that she herself is a little surprised at how much peace this gives her. you know? and i guess, you know, i don't mean to say, well, and this means that. she doesn't believe in the things that they believe. it's not her belief system. but she can see in some kind of very profound withdraw -- profound way the tremendous peace and wholeness that it gives her relatives. and she is happy to give that back to them. does that make sense?
2:51 pm
>> host: let's hear from rachel in tucson. hi, rachel. >> caller: good afternoon. thank you for taking my call. i'm enjoying the program. but i was just curious how does she know that the people who castigated her for the column, the newspaper column about the boston bombers, howdy she know they were trump voters? >> host: thank you, ma'am. >> guest: you know, that's a great question. i actually don't know that they voted for trumpment but let me just say that i would not be surprised because i could see that they were very, very, very, very, very, very anti-immigrant. and and i'm, i can see that they were very, very, very, very anti-elite, you know? so i think that, you know, and i'm sure that this reflects, you know, to give yousness of the coastal elites, but,, you know, i like to think that if i had met them at a coffee shop, that
2:52 pm
i would see them as human beings. but the way that hattie kong is able to accept that her relatives are very different than her but that they find a kind of peace and wholeness in something that she herself doesn't get at all but that she just accept them for what they are, i would like to feel that if i had met these guys in a coffee shop, that i would be the same way. that i would say, okay, you know, you have a whole way of different being, and i accept that. and i would like to think that, you know, if they had met me, they would accept that too, you know? but i have to say that, you know, this incident ld toll me that, you know, where they didn't of get to meet me and they only got to meet this very distort picture of -- distort picture of me that had been present by these sports casters, i could see that there was a virulence of there that i didn't get, you know?
2:53 pm
and i am a student of humanity, but it was just the readiness with which they were willing to paint me, like i say, in colors that i did not recognize at all. you know, i associate that with the trump voter but, of course, i don't really know how they voted. i mean, i do know that there were sections of massachusetts -- i mean, we think of massachusetts as so liberal, but the fact of the matter is it's not all that liberal. actually, there are places that are very bright red. and i see it overshadowed by the urban areas. so you're right, i don't actually know that. but there are does seem to be to me, be some kind of correlation. it's much more comply indicate than we like to think, and the behavior of these fans that seemed to me to be correlated. >> host: day one teaching college students in their
2:54 pm
freshman year, what do you want them to know, what to you make them do? [laughter] >> guest: well, you know, more than anything, of course, you just want them to be comfortable in the classroom. so you want them both to know that they're going to be asked to do things that maybe they don't want to do or don't know how to do, and then you want them to be open to it. so it is true, for instance, with this nyu class in shanghai, you know, i did put it -- our very first assignment was to look at this study. i knew that a lot of them would be uncomfortable talking in class. we looked at the study, and i asked them to hook about people's cortisol levels spiking. i td them they were going to bed ask to do this in class, but i also asked them what they thought about that. so they should write a little op-ed thinking that, well, you know, am i right as a teacher who ask them to do this thing
2:55 pm
that's going to cause an uneffort can be reaction or not? even the voice. that is not to say i wasn't giving them a choice -- [laughter] because my point was by signing up to class inyuhanghai tha they knew that this was a western program. that's the wholeoi a this university, and if they had not wanted that, then they should have gone to any of the other chinese universities in which case they would not have been channeled that way. and so if -- by putting themselves in this chat they had, in effect, i greed to be challenged. it wasn't just like, and you will do it they could process what they thought of that and ironically, of course, have an opinion about it. and what i did the second class was i asked them to tell me what they had written in their pieces, and yet they were going to have to say it ahow old in
2:56 pm
crass.. -- aloud in class. they said it. [laughter] passionately and articulately in class. so it worked like a charm. >> host: jamie's in beaumont, texas. jamie, you're on with author gish jen. >> caller: yes. using the same standards and the feelings that you have toward the authors in the books that you love personally, you know, thinking of t words and the flow of them that you mentioned earlier in certain athletes, which musicians, singers, songwriters and certain albums do you love? >> guest: oh. so which musicians do i love? oh, wow. that is a much harder question to answer, you know? i actually love all kinds of music. i love jazz, i love classical, i love pop. but one thing that's really kind of noticeable what i always
2:57 pm
love, i love vocal music, you know? i will take choral music over around keysal -- orchestral music any day. to me, or and i'm not sure how this relates to my writing, i don't know, maybe because i'm interested in voice, but, you know, i love to h the hum voice, you know? like i say, whatever the human voice is doing, i want to the hear it. >> host: we didn't get to this yet, and i want to make sure that our viewers see it and we get it on record. some of your favorite books and what you're reading now. king lear, jane austen's pride and prejudice, leo tolstoy's war and peace, and we already talked about robert fitzgerald's translations of the iliad and the odd city. currently reading -- the odd city. currently reading ellis -- [inaudible] did i say that right?
2:58 pm
>> guest: i actually don't know, i've never heard it. i actually don't know. let me just say in chinese it would be -- >> host: okay. the possessed chemistry by rachel -- >> guest: rachel kushner wrote the mars room as well as the flame thrower. >> host: is there a connection between those books that we're looking at right now on the screen? >> guest: yes. actually, i would say that there is a can connection. yes. they're all books where they have a really clear sensibility. i said that word earlier, right? all these books, you know, it's not just the material. you could sort of say, yes, especially the mars room is very concerned with women in prison. and you could say that's very sociological, but the sensibility that she brings to the subject is really quite extraordinary, and it does take something that might seem to
2:59 pm
have a predictable quality, you know, for liberals of various stripes and kind of it really, younow, it takes that material and just transcends the material. the writing just extraordinary. i would say the same thing with all of these books, it's true of all of them. i think interestingly all three of these authors have such strong voices that you feel like you would follow them everywhere, and you don't really care where they're going. you know? it's not -- the stuff is not about plot. it really very much is about voice and sensibility. and i will say and originality. because i think that in all three cases, you know, you are reading a voice that is unlike anything you've read before and even for those of us who have read hundreds of thousands of books. >> host: gish jen has been our guest for the past three hours. typical american was her first book, mona in the promised land after that, who's irish, the love wife, world and town was
3:00 pm
her most recent novel, and her last two books -- both nonfiction -- tiger writing and the girl at the baggage claim. gish jen, thank you for being on "in depth." >> guest: it's been such a pleasure. ..

60 Views

info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on