tv In Depth In Depth with Gish Jen CSPAN June 4, 2018 12:00am-3:01am EDT
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>> now, the in-depth program they include typical american, and world in town. >> you run in 2009", done chose me as his successor. i never got to ask him why. successor to what? >> there was a magazine in london and they were doing a millennial special. was turn-of-the-century and they asked everyone who they thought was preeminent in their field to name their successor. and so john updike and for reasons i never understood, chose me.
i have never let him i never even knew he knew my name. we picture taken together. never got to ask him why. >> are you a fan? >> of course. but i would not have said he was a major influence on me i was an influence on us all. that's because like me have immigrant roots and seen america -- think they could give us the idea that that was what the novel was for. the novel was for capturing amera. it was part of the adventure of inventing america. they wanted to capture america in the books.
that was his project. i think he understood that there is more to america than just what we saw.and maybe h saw me e o is going to carry on that project. >> there is also something else interested. of all the things he valued in fiction, he valued people who had a relationship with the world. he called it glass quality. there is nobody who has their nose pressed more firmly to the glass than the daughter of immigrants. so there is a way in which he was hugely influential. although, i would not have said that.
probably before meeting him and thinking about how he influenced me, i probably would have said something like all-white author, i'm running against him. but in truth, as wro against people likehat i was carrying on a deeper project. as like the going against your parents. it's all about your parents. >> when you look at some of your novels are you writing the great american novel? >> i don't think of myself that way. i don't know if there is a great american novel. i do think of myself as adding to the american heritage.
if you asked me what did i imagine, was the ultimate thing i'm doing, i would say lots of people like me are trying to add a volume to the library of america. you can't tell the story of america without it. you can't talk about the 20th century without. that's their way of say we are really here. were not here's visor we are really here. there's a way in which world saying us, too. we are here. i don't think it is about the good american novel but it is
about adding a true picture of america in a permanent way. >> is there an asian american genre? >> i think there is a way in which we are very influenced by the jewish but when i think about what they meant to me, it was an example of what was involved in adding the volume. they put such different tactics. they're all going at the same problem but in different ways. so they took the high road meaning no ethic authors.
-- does the exact opposite. his like in your face america. now they'll take a different approach. they reject the idea that they must along the writer. she manages to make her name synonymous with -- james. i think it's something we don't appreciate today. kinda what it took for this american girl to make herself a person that anytime we had a thing about american james today that she is the expert.
what i took away is that all of the above. there's no one path are one way to do what we need to do. they all must be going at it in every possible way. whether it's bringing in the jewish -- in the tremendous deep sense of -- weather were going to take whatever road or identify with james. the answer is all of the above. >> nearly all of your protagonist are asian americans. could you write a white male - of course. ralph j are not all asian american women. actually my very first public
story had no markup at all. what happened is i was in a writers workshop and i'm in a forms class with barry hannah. barry had a contest in his cla class. probably accurately that they would never leave this come complex i did read the story and i did win, they say who wrote this piece and i thought i was me. but, that very first piece
there's nothing asian or asian american about it. they're waiting for the girlfriend to come out of the bathroom where he's hiding. so i can write back, it's clear that i can do that. i talk about all the ways that we can go about remaking america. in the course as part of my project. the about mothers and daughters the you can be writing about religion and fundamentals. the nature of art, nothing about using an asian american female protagonists that is at odds
with any of these subjects. the answer is, of course. asian american women like people everywhere are concerned with politics in every big possible question. it's not like they are in this little groove. >> often on book tv we hear about the iowa writers workshop. how has that sustained itself? >> at the time that i applied to iowa there's only three big programs. that's a big change. there is iowa, stanford and -- iowa was five times bigger than any of the other programs. at the time was at stanford many
books. in he was for someone like me an immigrant who didn't really know what america was, i was had my nose up against the glass. he was interested in writing about america. many years later after we graduated from iowa one of my classmates gave me a birthday present. it was a poster of a woman named eileen kollek. underneath it were the words, american vision. that's what they're talking about all of the time. this invention of america, the american project. what did that mean? the idea that it was part of what we should be doing as writers. many people would say, that you
are too close to a social project. this is not about art for art's sake. will be very much in dialogue with your contacts. luckily for me,he first teacher was not interested in art for art's sake. is very much involved with america. so iowa, for me was a great choice. there were other wonderful teachers there. third teachers coming in and out. not just like one big writer was dominating the program. give different people coming in. iowa is an interesting place to be. when i first got to iowa, this
tiny little airport. my father had come with me basically the little garage and they open the door somebody went and took my suitcase and my father immediately said that's my suitcase. and he said no, i'm just helping you. it was a revelation to us. also xena phobia. another writer and i were once hitchhiking then people are like, where you? you go into a bar and everybody stops talking.
but there is something else there too. nobody's stealing your suitcase. >> was it just recently in your hometown of cambridge, massachusetts that somebody told you to go back to where you came from? >> that happened yesterday. i was in massachusetts which is very liberal. generally an idyllic place in general. not entirely. i was there to walk with a friend. it is a place for many of the cambridge. there is a woman patrolling up and down on officially to make sure everybody was there for a reason.
but really talk about what are you doing here, she got me and said where's -- and i said it's up here. up until last year you put your sticker on the back of the car, honestly, you can put all the stickers in the back. but my sticker was in the windshield. they clearly did not believe me. what color is it. i said why do you want to know. she said i protecting people. and i said i don't think you're protecting people you're harassing people. and she said what he mean? you go home. the fact where you came from. and i think this is true of all
places but it depends on who you're talking to, there's a general -- >> you refer to yourself as an immigrant a couple of t. >> daughter of an immigrant. i'm second-generation. but i'm a daughter of an immigrant. >> you took the different route to get to the iowa writers workshop. walk us through the. >> you are going to be a dr., ceo i was an english major.
>> undergrad. >> as an english major i did take this course, it was english 283 which was with this wonderful translator robert fitzgerald. i took the course because i was a junior in english major and i didn't understand my portrait had to be written in those little lines. i thought if i took the course are probably understand. what i didn't realizes he said there's going to be a weekly exercise. i didn't realize it was going to be a weekly exercise in verse. i sat down to read my poem as soon as i started writing it i
loved it. i could do this for the rest my life, i will. i'm the daughter of immigrants. size premed at the time and i had always been prelaw. they sat me down and said why are you premed? and that's a question i cannot answer well i just got a c in chemistry. there are other signals that was maybe this was not the life for me. fitzgerald said, i think you should do something with words. if you're not going to be a po poet, maybe you should be in publishing or something. now it's one of those legendary
harvard stories. if you are in premed, they had set a little piece about dogs enry james. then he said you should really be a writer. you're beginning to get the idea that maybe i was interested in writing, that i wanted to do something practical. but if i couldn't decide maybe i'll try a more practical course first. you know if i was going to be able to make a living i went to stanford over harvard because a good writing program.
i got there i met my now husba husband. he was exempted out of everything. i thought what is it statistics i said that is so great that you can take those courses. he looked at me and said that's not what i'm here for. and i thought he knows what he is here for. the first five minutes i was in the wrong place. so, i'm a daughter of an immigrant you don't start a program and drop off. but the first day of the second year i overslept. the 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 and went to china for a year. but there was say there are two well-known dropouts from this class. one is myself. two very different outcomes. in any case, i did drop out. my parents could not forgive me for doing this. for several years they did not speak to me. >> literally did not speak to? >> literally. but, i have been growing in i have been reading all of these books and i have been growing with the american south there was very different than the chinese girl.
i just cross that line where i could recoup. i couldn't go back anymore. i had to go forward. >> if you are tuning into book tv now and are surprised to see a novelist on, this is part of our special in-depth fiction addition all your long. on the first sunday of the month we are featuring novelists. this month we are pleased for you to join us. some of her books, typical american cannot 1991. moment a tram on and the promise land in 1996. the love life in 2004, world intern came out in 2010. her most recent books happen to be nonfiction. tiger writing in 2013 and the
girl at the baggage claim is from last year. she will be our guest for the next one half hours. if you'd like to dial and you can do so. you can contact us via social media at book tv is a handle for facebook, instagram and twitter. our e-mail book tv at c-span.work. we will cycle through those and you'll see those at the bottom of your screen. don't worry if you do not catch it. >> in your writing, your husband's last name is o'connor, did that influence this collection of short stories?
>> he does come from a boston clan, they been there forever. so i know little bit about the world. >> did you get blowback for that essay in the dialect that the narrator is in. >> i did not. what about from yourself? did you have trouble writing it that way? >> to be a writer in america mean so many things. your identity and dialogue. one thing for me is that it's clear that i cannot write in that voice. i'm sure they would have said these wonderful stories were happy to hear for you when your english is better. another words the thought i do
not know english very well. the story depends on the fact that i have establish myself as someone who's fluent in english. and so there is permission. each will give me permission to write a new kind of book. of course i had written on the promise land in this new york jewish boys and then to write in an immigrant voice so i could do this was to. but there is a way in which i had to establish myself to write to the voice that was familiar
to me. my parents brought us up english-speaking but we spoke a lot of chinese english. interestingly my daughter and i went to visit my mother in hospital my daughter was born here doesn't have that much contact with chinese culture. i can hear her simplifying her speech to get across to my mother. you know my mother sick and she's a lot of it. i hear her simplifying speech. it's kind of parts back there even for her. so for the story i did go back to probably my first language.
>> are you fluent in mandarin? >> no. when i said beijing people i say you don't speak chinese because you do speak chinese. but i'm not fluent. i speak chinese i sound good enough that people will come back and talk very fast and that i can't follow it. but my first english was very heavily overlaid with chinese everything including chinese grammar. so that when i study chinese, the grabber was a problem. there is just an order of things that was very natural to me. my early english we're speaking in that order. so, the answer is that the
sentence structure was very natural to me. >> pidgin english, to know where that term comes from? >> i do not. do you? >> i do not. >> you talk about mona and writing in the jewish voice. mona was a chinese-american girl from new york. so little bit of a biographical element to 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 tha 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 kno 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. you know what i mean? i think it's too simple to a somebody that looks like me but hass black hair is like me and this is in the case. >> host: when you are in china,n? do they know you are american? >> guest: sometimes yes and sometimes no. students would say they would know me either way that i walked, i walked in an american way so if i wasn't walking, they wouldn't know that oncwould knod walking, they would know.
>> host: for those in the east and central time zones eight to 201 for those of you in the mountain and pacific time zones. are you with us? >> sorry about that. maybe if i push the button. >> i apologize to you. that is my fault. please go ahead. >> caller: i work with the at te general assembly and all 50a legislatures are about to roll out of projects and citizenships this year they are going to encourage them to get together and do the stories about their own elementary high schools and
they are associated wittheir ase religions and schools and know almost nothing about the organization that they spend most of their lives associated with and i just wanted to let you know about it because we are oing to reach professional writers so they can be available to schools where they wenthe to school a he would be an artist like you are it would be a great example of and i just wanted to share the idea with you. >> guest: that is a fantastic idea. i've written a lot about growing
up in new york and i would be thrilled if they would invite me back. you should invite people from other areas as well. i don't know if you know that group in washington, they bring writers from all over the world into the dc schools and i'd encourage youto to get in touch with them and see whether you can likewise bring writers from all over to your schools. the program is successful and it's a great delight for the writers and of course for the students. it is a fantastic thing as well, so more power to you. >> host: you've mentioned your parents a couple of times. who are they? >> guest: my father has passed away, my mother is still alive. my parents were immigrants from china in the 1940s and the
1943. what happened in my father's case if there were talks at the end of the war openi against the japanese in the shanghai harbor so they needed hydraulics engineers to help coordinate this effort so they had an exam in the transportatio transportat they hadan an exam and he was oe of the people they needed them to go to the united states s une was sent of course you could cross the pacific and was too dangerous. they went over land, all the way across europe. but he stayed to get his phd with the intention of going back
but then 1949 of course communists took over and it's not a well-known chapter of american history. the government struck a deal with the nationalists in china to keep the chinese students here. they all wanted to go back. so they were stuck here. my father said i'm not a refug refugee. i grew up with an undocumentedp my father he was in a legal
citizen but he was i was a very good at engineering. she hadn't wanted to be married off and kind of in the ensuing awkwardness they send her off to get a graduate degree in ameria as well and so she had gone to the catholic church in shanghai and they helped her become a citizen. being an immigrant was a very
wealthy thing. my father had a tremendous sense of humor. people didn't think they could do engineering and the stereotypes. so my father is out in the field with a bunch of u.s. army people so they gave an algebra book study s and said you finished td the book in one night? yes. the next night they gave another book, geometry. he gives it back so they give him a trigonometry book.oo meanwhile they are trying to finish a bridge and they want to
replace one of the trestles and thethey have trouble doing it. my father said why don't you put a truck on the end of the bri and then you can fix it. of course they ignored him because he's chinese, what doeso he know. the second day why don't you put one on the end of the bridge then you can fix it. the third day, finally they put a truck on the end of the bridge and they were able to fix it. butli it was told the funniest thing ever. today a lot of people might be offended by father thought what is the matter, they can't figure this out. but this is the story of his life and he laughed about a it t a lot of it was very difficult.
they always did it as a criminal adjunct professor they didn't have real jobs and at the end of the job they were all tired and they never were promoted into management ever. i told him that this is a tough place and it instilled what he was going to have to do to make it here kind of willing to do whatever it took and that is related to my idea of the jewish
writers.h >> host: 1949 occurs in a love of your books. why is this? >> guest: that ihe year cha is liberated and it's a huge historical moment and it's the time for pretty much every chinese-american where something had changed aboutut their iden identity. if you are a nationalist he were a part of the world that had the dominant power in and all of a sudden you are in exile and over
time you are using a writing system that is no longer the government writes of the method that is the method of all these changes. you decided to do graduate work in china and while you are there, the united states fell and the whole country is gone. everything is upside down. nobody that you remember being in power is in power anymore. imagine the shock. >> host: gland in michigan, youu are on. >> caller:
>> host: you know what, i've got to push the button. i apologize. go ahead. [laughter]wii >> caller: that's no problem thank you all. before i make my question i would like to make a quick comment about what she was saying a about 68 and all that. i can understand that with certain racial and ethnic groups withdi a history of historic discrimination in this country and a this point we would be better off if everybody would just be a human being and humbled if you know what i mean. anyway, my question is i was listening to a talk some years said that when it comes too writing fiction, the
worst person you can have as a narrator is dorsal, that it should be somebody that you are comfortable with. my question would be how much fiction doe she think is nearly basically autobiographical writing in that kind of vein. thanks very much.h. >> guest: that is such an excellent question. people always think especially if you do good job, people do think that is really you, that it must be you. and it's of course your job to t make it seem that way that just as norman mailer said, the worst thing you can do is write a book where you are the author, the narratoof thenarrator and it is. people just are not interesting enough to be a novel, they are not structured like a novel and the facts are often not as
interesting as the facts told slant. because i grew up in an underrepresented world like so it's a very natural thing for me to use those to inform my fiction. it the way that it is autobiographical the intentions are my intentions. it was once said the artist looks by looking the world in itself. we all wish that she set herself of course, but the fact ofof the matter is as a result of our
content with the world, we have all developed nerves and sensitivities. and it is my opinion that if you can find one of those, you will vehave a book. but it will be very personal because they are yours, but it would be far moree interesting than the facts of your f life. so it is a chinese-american girl turned jewish. like why is that funny. we would keep these index cards and i would write ideas downri n them and i came to the card that says mona turns jewish. why is that funny, so what is
the difference between being chinese-american and jewish american is there something different about itng and by so i thought i wonder if there is a nerve there that's why i'm laughing and sure enough there was a big nerve " of sorts that is autobiographical in the sense that that was my nerve but i am not jewish in the effort of converting and al an old effecte book are made up but its autobiographical iit'sautobiogre that it's a dream you are able to have it as a kind of truth that is like the truth in drea dreams. it's a very wise thing.
but then everything she does is kind of wrong and everything she does is funny. but i there is a truth because every time we laugh at this something that mona does and we laugh because we realize for picture was wrong so it's a good kind of humor that makes you think. >> host: this is a quote i'm going to readot you here but i want to get your reaction to see if it still stands up from 91 in "the new york times" my family and i identified mostly with white america, which looking back was partly wishful thinking, partly racism and partly an acknowledgment that whatever else we could face at least we didn't have to contend
with the legacy of slavery. >> guest: that is true. did i say that in 1991? i actually got it right. that would be true. it would be hard for me to identify. we were in the minority and i always thought we were not white but we were the minority that was not african-american. you can be black and also not african-american. yes they are black but they also do not have this legacy and i
think it is a huge wall between all of the minorities that have a lot to deal with. there's plenty to deal with especially today people who hado ha in d beenerica from the get-go. don't forget about him. >> host: [inaudible] >> caller: thank you for sharing this object. my youngest nephew is adopted from the philippines who came as an infant and is a beautiful wonderful man in his 30s now that he handled discrimination withit humor also. i had a private conversation i said argue just covering and he said no its just how you have to do it and i'm so thankful that i would like to punch everybody's lights out but does tease him a
little bit. god bless you and thank you. >> guest: this is a little bit like what i was saying there is no right or wrong. some people are very offended and angry and outspoken editors can laugh. i feel as a matter of personal preference i am the kind of person that chooses to shrug and laugh. it's just an easier and healthier way of being that there is no way right or wrong and i'm grateful to the people whoo are angry in this philip roth angry mode and in a way they enable me to laugh if you know what i mean. the interesting thing she said she cried so i could laugh at that is also true.
those of us who can laugh, we must laugh and footnote and say thanknd you and say thank you to all these people who are angry. wege must acknowledge they are part of an ecosystem and some of us arere one-way and other one e under way. >> host: >> guest: it was an elegant name i was given by my chinese mother. they both have liberty as a root
and one is a lotus flower that grows out of the mu up out of tp your. so i'm going along with this really beautiful name but when i was a junior in high school, i was in junior high school and it was part of a creative writing club everybody got a nickname related to their name inventing ourselves as an artsy type going to new york to w watch cinemas d i had a friend my name was lovely and so they called me a
after a actress but it was kind of a nickname a couple - people used in limited circumstances until i went away to an archaeological dig in pennsylvania and it was me away from home. there's a a hurricane and the building was hit by lightning and electricityut was out. we went around in a circle by candlelight introducing ourselves and they got to me and without any premeditation whatsoever ioe introduced myself as gish and it just came out.
at the time i didn't know that this business of self naming was very high to be a writer. that summer at the idea of self invention was on my mind. [inaudible] in general carrying on with a kind of american freedom that lily and defend have and i will say over these years lillian was still using the palmer method from a catholic school upbringing and it's the middle of the night found i can only
write one thing in a own handwritinmay ownhandwriting noy name. it isth completely gone. the story [inaudible] all my friends at who is she and i said that's right it's like the person that writes these stories isn't blowing in from the person that writes the stories is gish. the question is why don't i just change all my papers because this is kind of a pain. >> host: dorothy in buffalo new york.
>> caller: this question almost what you just said. i amn interested in the technicl aspects of the writing. does she need to have a certain environment, how does she get her ideas, where does she write, does she write every day etc. they will take my answer off the air. >>ost: argue an aspiring writer and who were some of your favorite authors? >> caller: [inaudible]
>> guest: everybody is always interested in these things if left to my brothers i will write 16 hours a day if i didn't have to sleep i describe it because it is kind of dreamlike and the one thing you do not like his introductions because the dream is so easy and then it disappears so you do not want to be interrupted. it is hard on your back that you sit there for so long a so one thing i do is have yoga videotapes so i make mysel myset up three times a day just so i don't fall apart. but aside from that i'm not a
very social person when i'm writing i was an early are of the computers are like many writers at that time i typed. i can barely read my own handwriting so i had always been a typist in the early days i get access to some of the computers but what would happen if people would beut frustrated into the machine was useless to my husband. i would write on these early machines, the early macintosh which was wonderful.
i found a piece about this when steve jobs died. >> host: what was the type of? >> guest: i can't remember. >> host: nine years with an apple computer. >> guest: there was something nice it had a clean slate with. i actually liked using the computer and back in those days was kind of a stigma against it. i willnd say also we can see hue diversities and biking the last
few decades and one of the reasons is because the computer. for those of us for instance people didn't mind t noi. for those of iar early days they get somebody to help clean up their manuscripts and all of a sudden you could clean up your own so not only were you athe assistant to somebody's writer but you did not require an assistant so it's been an unbelievable gift. >> host: what about the loss of early drafts? >> guest: there is bad and i think the scholars don't like it. >> host: do you print out your early drafts?
>> guest: [inaudible] i'm sure scholars won't like that but they havew a view that there's something in the draft as they are coming out that is more authentic. then you look at what you have and try to find the buck in it. if you have a feeling someone was going to look at it you havo be very unselfconscious.
like i said i think scholars look at it differently. it's interesting there's things like that upsizing the early drafts and then he would clean them up and that is how he wanted them, but because there is some much iert there is a desire to go back. he would have been horrified and i'm on his side to think he was making something. it is greater or more authentic
and hee was mistaken on that authenticity really is. we like that final draft. >> host: another quote there's never enough time for writing every moment spent in one's real life is a moment based in one's writing life. >> guest: it's so true things are in competition. i was trying to quit but then you realize it is so much richer in some ways. i doic not like this business of conflict and if i could change the world i would choose the world to have my real life and my writing life.
>> host: do you keep yours office separate from your home? >> guest: i've never been able to work atn my home. >> host: do you h have kids? >> guest: my youngest has left the b house now so it's kind of interesting. i'i've recommended they should t an office outside the house andt you can oftene' arrange to renta room, it doesn't have to be a lot of money but theou separatin can be critical. for me it is partly related to children but it's also related to things we are talking about like what it meant to be the daughter of immigrants. it helps to reinforce the obligation i need to do this or that and that's important and
responsible. writing isn't rponsib if you can't be doing it with responsibilityhi everywhere. so we are trying to get away from that world into this arena where i can just play and that is why i have to move myself to another space. >> host: we spent most of the first hour talking to as a writer and a person and talking about the structure and her life we are going to spend the next delv io r books are deeply but caring from massachusetts. >> caller: good afternoon this is wonderful. i would like l to ask if you hae any interest in poetry. did you ever do poetry yourself
and do you know of any poets in the asian culture i don't know if japan or china have poets laureate over the years. i know of one in japan and some other wonderf poets but i wonder if there is a definite demarcation that you would be called a laureate. >> host: what is it about you?y for >> guest: >> caller: you hear the sounds in your mother's womb and i feel the flow of writing if it is done well even a novel you are
pulled into it withoutnowi why it is so good to read this book because it is written in a poetic style and it slows. that's why we love music and it is the first we ever heard and started to try to copy and it flows out of music. >> guest: it is wonderful that you are the poet laureate and they are lucky to have you. this goes back to skewer work autobiographical or fact.
you're absolutely right there's something about it of course we are interested in the meaning of the word that is easily as important if not more. it's the uncanny way that they work it goes back to something deeper than the rational thinking. when there's something weel feel is prosaic but it doesn't sing g
be in a dream life i would be a poet that graduated from the world ofld narratives to the wod of poetry. you can i do if your whole life and that is true there is something about the lyricism of hre pure expressionth of somethg without having to worry about getting the reader through the pages it is good writing and it's wonderful so maybe i will go back to poetry once i have obtained the enlightenment. as to whether there are in china not to my knowledge. every child can recite certain
problems so it is alive and better established traditions and the novel institutions in china but tohe best of my knowledge i don't think they do have poet laureates. if i'm wrong about that and i discover they do i will definitely post it on facebook so you can watch for that post, but i don't think they do. >> host: her last novel, described that. >> guest: descendent of the missionaries on one side of her family and confucius on the other side. as a kinso kind of a hybrid lik. you can see why i should have an interest. >> host: >> guest: i love her and all of her complexity and humility and there is just a way in which the fact that she is 68 and
still growing and pushing and ying to make the w better h place to. so i did have a little bit of it on my mind as i was writing the book. but it reminds us what an immigrant can bring to america so she's more than a person close to the glass. she's a person that has learned things that way and is forming america and forming this town. she complicates ideas about what it means before she came to
america even before she was born and raised in china. ved with an american family when she first came here and is marked by that experien experience. she realizes she can never become a part of the family and i don't want to giveut away the inevitable but in the end on her own terms maybe that's the most important part of the book in which we see somebody assimilate a good she is remaking america and it's about claiming her place in this country on her own terms. >> host: what does she look like? >> guest: that is a good question.
>> host: in your mind's eye what does she look like? >> guest: having the kind of look my children have, black hair in a situation today. >> host: how long were you working on the book stylistically. >> guest: each novel is different from the others. you can see the influence of shakespearean in that play structure and it's much more kind of a here i am you can see
9/11 and there is a suggestion for most like a series of in my mind the sense that you are getting these stories but there's all these others that could also be in the book they just didn't fit. but you do also feel i hopthat the boundary around the novel isn't solid but permeable so a selection of reality. i'd laugh but they must acknowledge a. we have this book that we must
realize there are realities that enabled it to be here that are not a part of this book does that make sense. >> ht: did you know how this book was going to end when you starstarted at? >> guest: i never know where i'm going more than anything else if the author isn't surprised no one else will be surprised either a so of course you are driving that you've got to be open to wherever you may go. you don't know what writing the book is going to do to you as a person and whether you are going to be the same person that
started the book right venue end of the book and ideally you are not the same. i came out with the short story and itthat's how iknew to write. that's what i learned from the short stories but it's also true even when i wrote nonfiction i did at the sam it the same way ? one of the reasons i'm writing a book often three, four, five years. interested in outlining and executing it is not interesting. it's got to be in adventure for me as well. so i guess if the sources i like that i don't know where i'm going and i like that the
writing is making me, the author as i go along i certainly like it but i don't know where i'm going and i likere the surprise. finally i've gotten some place. >> host: the fact that she's a descendent of confucius and the american parents, is that straight up east-west? >> guest: it is more complicated than that. it's not that simple. it's interesting that she has this on both sides to. >> host: and that the humanitarian church. >> guest: when people write
about america than it's about ethnicity. it's so important. i wanted to write a book where she's also one to get t run ver muchr religions in this case and i think t that is the truth. the truth is that it's not only about eating certain foods and therefore we are this. we eat certain foods in a certain way and have traditions that are important to us that they are chinese or not. so it's kind of like christianity is its real self also. so we are adding to this kind of ethnic book is expanding our
ideas of what it is which is about fundamentalism, the changing practices and everything to. they are not at odds. that is what they novel is. where is world in the title filed at the library? is it under ethnic studies or american history? >> guest: i think it gets put in both. it's hard to say where to place it.
from the beginning i always have this feeling whenever you feel there is box other people are just like i am so offended i am on the shelf this way. my idea is you need t to need tt box up. that isur our job. so yes i feel like we could put it here and here but then i feel like i'm happy because and maybe this is the difference between fiction and nonfiction. this may be broad-basebut in a general kind of way. we are about mystery and manners that the v ministry part is what is important to. these are the malaise of our time just like when jane austen says a single man in possession of a good fortune must be a
wonderful life. we need to know what thef rules are just like to acknowledge a young woma woman in possession f good grades once to go to medical school. it's our job to know what those rules are and get them down to sesay this is the world as we kw it at this time. that is our job, but the other part of the job is to suggest the huge mystery below that. it's our job nothat's our job n, but to complicate a. they asked me why do you want to do that. >> host: why do you want to do that? [laughter] it's the truth to be acknowledged. we are busy making all these categories.
if it serves us up to a point, but they are aays a lite bi out of date. reality is changing, so out of date and it's our job to suggest it's more complicated to get those things to kind of does all the little bit so that they can be reformed so they can renew and answer to this complicated thing that we actually are. we want to complicate people's views. not you don't know what a woman is coming here this will reinforce your idea. our job is to i say you should know but is that what a woman is anymore. and it's also to maybe speak to
we don't know what a woman will be in 50 years so there's a way that you can get free in-store bakery installll the humility. we need all these categories but we cannot negotiate the world. we need a humility and to understand beyond them are humans who unfathomably are mysterious and it is our job as writers to endlessly kind of remind people that pretend to make stick figures out of reality, we make kind of icons or whatever out of people, both this and who they are, but it's just oersecuon of them -- representation of them. the truth is deeper and more complicated and way more mysterious.s. >> host: at some point you have to say in your head sitting in your room by your selfg this story is going to take place in
maine and there's going to be this, asian-american protagonist of this could be a cambodian family, there's going to be this cell phone tower, the fundamentalist christian. how do you plot all of that out into a book about the u.s.? >> guest: that's why it takes me so long. often i look at certain materials at hand that no one has used so i will start with them and in this case i spend a lot ospent alot of time in nortt and that meant i would drive by these churches that have big crosses on them so why doesn't anybody writete about these.
i don't see them in our literature and then of courseou you can't be there for five minutes. nobody goes to the church to breathe anymore, but what i see is all of these are e, everyone of them ieveryone of td they don't know what toty do. where people gone, they've gone to these entities and searches. what is going on. so it's like it's right there in front of me d a l of research about this book and i would visit these churches because they would worry that they were going to realize i was a spy. >> host: did you feel like one? >> guest: of course. i was. i wanted to know what are they seeing, what is different about this, why are people going to
these churches and why have they left the others. i'm going to b csp because of the way thatbe i loo. the first church they said are you korean. so they are all going to think i'm korean. so i said sure, yes. [laughter] and then it was of course you are one of us. you are a fleeing christian, welcome. so tha that's how i got into alf these churches to watch what is going on. i saw firsthand what are they seeing, what are these retreats like, what are the preachers like and very importantly, why do people listen to them and what is it that is driving
people t to these and of coursei will say the same things that drive jenny to become a fundamentalist of the same things that so many people do for donald trump. it's the same thing.it'sunny pee angry. they are not angry,, they feel dispossessed. so, this book is a book of which many people are displaced. i think that she knows, they have been displaced, but i believe they lost their farms, literally the whole legacy that goes with that farm, it is the family that's been there for generations and all of a sudden they have to compete like
globalization had been really hard. all of a sudden there are these developments all around the edges and farms are being nibbled away at the edges. so they feel in this way in which she is so angry about what happened to her family and family farm she is so radically dispossessed but somebody that had been kind of a christian but maybe more moderate kind of christian w you see this fundamentalist edge within the evangelical community one thing i learned very quickly they would talk about these things
like they wer that are very dif. they were evangelical and that the evangelicals will say fundamentalist evangelical was really angry. and that is exactly what happened. it was the army and air really e really angry and then all ofey a sudden these things that they wy are hearing this is not the method, it is another kind of narrative end of the world like you are going to burn type of narrative embodies everything they feel. >> host: one of the things i book is even if he were a spy in your research, it
is not a completely negative portrayal of a. >> guest: this is the humility part of this and the writers job to judge. it's especially because what i saw thi as they are displaced ie county and in some ways she is more radically displaced you dmight say to deal with a displacement because she is officially displaced where they are displaced in a more invisible way. once was of course you're angry you've been displaced.
yount don't have an official nae like immigrant or refugee or something'v like that. >> host: she's been swimming for the shore for 50 years. >> guest: it's a sympathetic to her and to be an immigrant it's not like three years later then it's over. she's been swimming her whole life for the home she lost and i have tremendous sympathy. it never ends, the immigration because at in every stage everything is different. after my father die died with ae thee rituals now, what do you d, whatever you did for your father in china you can't do that here. where will you get the buddhist monks. where are they coming to come
from a. they would have had like a register with families names on them so wpeople ceo pray they would pray for the people y that died. >> host: is very chinese family that? >> guest: on the family altar. but the name stays theree for five years and then you are not on active morning listct anymor. but there is the family altar so weird with my father's name to so we could mourn him come in other words rituals where people would come and remember him. where is the grave sweeping day where this is going to sweep his grave. so even though it would seem like another had been here for 50 years already, still an immigrant, like with now as if she needed further reminding her
whole old world was gone. you have to kind of learn about how it'll work's all over again with every stage of life. it kind of never. once yo you've got your english under control and so on, that is in the end of it. it goes on for a long time. >> host: i left these callers on hold for way too long i apologize. greg from missouri, go ahead. >> caller: i have a question in reading through the academico ties recently, i came across what looked like the same issues raised in them and if i could read one sentence and you could shed some light. since the 1970s, the debate
between the incendiary frank and maxine kingston towards the authentic representation of chinese culture. i just wasn't clear what that was all about. >> guest: in the early days of the literature of course it was the iconic figure and frank was a minor figure we wouldn't know today accept that he attacked maxine kingston so viciously and also a think that he and his cronies attacked her to the point she started crying on stage and that was a t terrible thing and he was writing what he
thought was white christian work to tender to the end i think to be fairl fair we live in a worle most people are caucasian so who's going to read it. obviously there is some speaking to the audience but in particular he didn't like it that he made her into this kind of feminist figure. he thought the whole thing was kind of inauthentic and the question is whether you can take ae traditional figure and make t into something for your own
purposes. today she was within her rights to. el doctorow hasaken any number of figures and put tm in his work. we may not like the conclusions about the napoleonic war and whether napoleonas responsible or not. you may differ from his opinions but he is with him his rights to present it that way and to me the issue is because there were so few at the time, rather than seeing her version of the story we have other sources in the napoleonic war and because there
were so few sources they wer afraid this would be t only understanding the end it wouldn't be an authentic version. what was interesting to me his years later the movie pitchout and were we going to have big protests but intertingly there were no protests over the movie and i think because the moment had passed where one movie or one book would seem to kind of represent the whole truth nobody thought that anymore so i think it is this whole difficulty that
was just a byproduct of the time they were in and certainly very few representations of any kind and i will to this day i think he had a point that i wish he would have attacked us viciousness. this is the most peaceful creature imaginable and the idea that he made her a slave even for a nanosecond asked me pretty mad. >> host: in a search that i did whatever page i was on, you may also enjoy maxine and when i did a google search that is what came up.
>> guest: to me this just highlights the differences in other words when you put them together it's like how else could you put this together. it just feels like a historical accident because the sensibilities are no different and we are nothing if we are not our sensibilities. it's like saying she's filtering the world. we want her to go this tradition, you name it because of the way that they are filtering. anyway, that i think timmy as soon as you bump us into one
group what you would see is three people who all have black hair or white hair or wtever or three people who are sort of related being from a generation or so ago to another part of the robert there are a billion people and when we look at their work, we see very different things. we mostly see how interchangeable we are. >> as you write the isr acs memory with the ten once in a worldview. steve in florida please click it. it. horowitz author novelist gish. >> caller: th remark about isolating authors i tell you a
short event my parents were just starting out as young professors and e day they heard a knock at the door and opened up so nothing down but children do this if we are hungry and that's been told in my family for yea years, we are hungry, terence write. >> host: is it tough to be successful as a writer? >> guest: thinking about the nature of what we do there is some truth tos it because they try to get peopltried to get pet their a realities so that is uncomfortable. low and behold people don't want
to pay you to do that because you are on the cutting edge of societand you are goi to focus onhe things that are a little bit not right so your ideas about african-americans and the like, capitalism, religion because we are doing that it isn't a path to popularity. sometimes you can dond it and en though you've done this kind of subversive thing it will be different than what people are ready for and then they will buy copies of your book. i don't know if it was realized it was going to be a huge seller that it was, but the idea it's a
little bit harsh to take its not true that all good writers don't make money but in a general way writers cannot expect to make money. we are doing the opposite of creating a product. think of everything you do to create a product where you have this idea you think it's what people want and then you try to get it to be exactly what they want. we hope that he would also think is this good for the world and the environment and so on but let's face it the process is primarily about making it what people want and if it turns out that it's bad for their health or the environment than we find rselves in this position but that isn't the first concern. it's the opposite to say we
still want to make something people want to read and engage in, but you cannot imagine that a gazillion people will t want o provoke that way. you just can't. like i say, you write it as accessibly as you can and hopefully you are writing about in america people recognize the you can see globalization and all these things going onwo whee people realize because there is so much to talk about but it's not fundamentally designed to be saxby the book he wanted me to write. it's a different book. it's almost an anti-product.
and if we cannot expect to be rewarded in some ways, i've gotten a lot planned. i sell enough books. i do so enough books and i am very lucky t to have the kind of support that i've had. i can like i am personally in a kind of patronage system where i don't have official patrons, but i'm too embarrassed to give any particular examples but if i want to go to a conference and it's very expensive and i have a professional reason related to my work why i want to go to this conference, was and behold somebody will say you can go to conference and so like i say there's a lot ofin kind of just support of lingering
because i do receive the support in many different forms so there is kind of a modern version of the patronage system with what i see for the actual dollars and cents which the numbers are lower then you might like. >> host: as we began, john name to you anamed even as his d juno praised you think. the books are well reviewed and well awarded. which of your novels is most often used as a textbook in high school and college? >> guest: : i don't know, but it may still be typical american. what can happen to a literary
writer like me and on the other hand you sell it for a 15 year period and then it's worth zero so you basically sell the rights to publish it for 15 years and then it's worth zero. i got to sell the book again because it wasn't anywhere n ner dead in 16 years. i got a second advance of the book and that is an example of not a bestseller but selling straight through since 91 until today so i am still seeking royalties on that book. >> every once in a while they check arrives?
>> [inaudible] >> guest: the fact i said something typical american as you know somebody that is on a farm or needs apple pie. when you ask what does it mean to be jewish-american, chinese chinese-american, iranian-american, this book suggests at that point maybet yu are an american. they are defined by their preoccupation identity and i think the idea has actually provenen to be a very important idea and so people are still teaching at. >> host: if you can't get through on the t front lines, yu can contact us on social media booktv is our handle and facebook commands to graham, twitter, booktv is our e-mail and jonathan in milwaukee you are on the air. >> caller:
>> host: i don't know what is wrong with mewa today. i apologize. you very much for taking my call. i want to say i recently read a story of yours published in the new yorker that is excellent and i wanted to ask what is the process like for having a short story published working with their editors versus renting a novels separately is the method different, do you have different thoughts in mind for how to publish it in a magazine versus having it be a novels sold in bookstores? >> guest: excellent question. you are certainly not thinking what if the new yorker takes it. you just write it and i have to
say that it takes all brain cycles and there's notef a lot left over so does it work and what is it about. can i sharpen this character in some way. i am very lucky in that the editorial is unbelievably wonderful and i'm very lucky also in having a very wonderful editor. i've had the same editor since my second book with the exception of title writing done at the university press and she's an editor's editor and i will say it is true in my experience they don't ask you, they don't see that it'she their
job to help you write the things you are writing. people think the editors take things out like get r of th ending,t change this character. i tend to be hard on myself, so if i send a draft into the second one i've taken all this stuff out, she will say some like after memorizing the first draft i like to such and such and i will say okay i will put it back in and then she will say i see that you cut this line, i liked that line and i say okay i will put it back in. this goes on for six hours. she thinks i can be too hard like i broke my own toes off.
i haven't had that man stories in the new yorker into someone with never say something like th to me i can imagine that would say about such a line. it i is different. the editing is fantastic and very careful about every word, everything. every thing. the one question i did get a she wondered why it had e to be in english. between 99 and now, the idea that people are speaking another
language and it's being represented as english has become better established than it was this because of writers we understand the characters are chinese. i held firm in this case and i wrote a little theme about it and that is because i think for me honestly there is something poignant about this. i myself had the experience of trying to explain something in chinese, so i know exactly what like to try to convey something to somebody else, something that you are trying to convey across the language barrier and so i guess the way i look at it i don't just see it as broken english but as a beautiful thing people try to do
so i think it is a shame to lose that. i d argue that was an important part of the story and it added a poignance to the voice and of course i could take it out but i really didn't want to take it out. but in a general kind of way they are just massively careful in every way, shape and form and as a writer you can only be grateful to be read carefully i will say. i feel like it's just been an honor to work with either. it is different i guess. know, n
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 likhat ye to try to think of something that 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 heard after the norton lectures, you know, somebody said, the professor said i know about0 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 cle to me now that i was a writer who kind of spanned an older world where everything about writing and the 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 is new self which is, you know, what the sociologists call a cell shaft self meaning a self that is based on a mobile, modern, industrialized society where the values are very different, you kno 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 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 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, 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 detou 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. >> 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 - 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 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 abo 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. [lr] you so this autobiography did not start, you know, i was born, you know? i was born in this such and such a year. 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 point 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 are in me. i did have an artistic preoccupatn and sething which i had to say you know, would have t 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 still there. so there's a way i 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. e had great scores, she had great essays, they did a skype interview with her, she did a great interview. d the 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 stran,
actually. this is in asia substituting one person for another, very kind of close teamwork illyery 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 c of chinese students that we 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 rever 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.com 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 thehing tt we call ourself, we feel this is our identity. you kw, 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 fe expression, that it can rule freely. and this is the model that we have. but actually research has established that, you know, in theest 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 j as p as agency as the avocado pit self. i mean, it is fully capable of traveling abroad, you know what i mean? 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, ey don't have this idea at all. what do you think is a good na? t. oy, let's use tha it's a completely different view. you can sort of see it's much more 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 americaeacher 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 mn, ty're having a physiological response to having to do thishing which is so against everything that they've been taught. and, you know, of course the question the educators always want to know is, well, so are we kindf i 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 oay, 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 -- >> h 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 wantthe. i'm like, independent? [laughter] i want my child to be happy, you 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 mea 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 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 kd of why didn't 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 cane kind of very, very, very, you know, well integrated to the western world. for example, salman rushdie, you know? 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 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 had asked me, 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 wasorn in the united states. culture is very persistent, and, 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: well, i wanted to 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 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 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 question. >> 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 practice in as myull-ti 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 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 hat 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. i will say it seems to me that someoneho 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. 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 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 -- 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 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 young who 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. 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 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'r relliou i a socially responsible way, right? 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 piece about what this vtory meant in the light of, you know, the marathon bombings the year before. and to me, you 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 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 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 natural question -- >> host: typical american. >> guest: yeah. ll, as a concerned cambridge parent just wanted to say, you know, was there something we could have done. 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 tsarnaevs, you know, ishe 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, wt'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. it's like this is the portrait of a white-hater. 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. 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 th and were uninstantly, obviously, one of dem, instantly. i had no idea. >> 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, you 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 togetr 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 gues i've still got it. [laughter] >> host: are you still using the 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," there a character who is simpl character and not maybe 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 finn the community. i mean, in other words they're not, you know, and thenst not just ginny, there's a lot of other peopleho 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 represting 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 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 iowom -- 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 e confucian family graveyard 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 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 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 ere. 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 t go stop her. [laughter] you can't make this stuff up, you know? 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 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 sen? >> 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 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? 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 a 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 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 told 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,ou know, am i right as a teacher who ask them to do this thing 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 in nyu-shanghai that they knew that this was a western program. that's the whole point at 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 crass.. -- aloud in class. they said it. [laughter] passionately and articulately in class. so it worked like a charm. >> host: jamie's inumont, 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 their 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 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 hear the human 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 ci. cu reading ellis -- [inaudible] did i say that right? >> 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 have a predictable quality, you know, for liberals of various stripes and kind of it really, you know, 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, worldnd tn was 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. ..