tv In Depth In Depth with Gish Jen CSPAN June 9, 2018 8:01am-11:02am EDT
also, former president bill clinton and author james patterson discussed their collaboration in writing a suspense novel. sunday in anticipation of the us north korea summit on june 12, we have put together a book program dealing with north korea that's this weekend on c-span2 book tv and for complete schedule visit book tv.org. first up as we begin our special fiction edition of in-depth with novelist gish jen including books like "typical american", "mona in the promised land" and "world and town". >> now, book tv's monthly in-depth with novelist gish jen. herb brooks include "typical american", "mona in the promised land" and "world and town". >> you once wrote don wrote me--
pick me as his successor. i never got to ask him why. successor to what? guest: there was a magazine in london and they were doing this millennial special, so it was the turn-of-the-century and they asked these people who they thought were preeminent in their field to name their successor, so kate twiggy 12's-- chose kate moss and john updike for reasons i've never understood chose me so here's this incredible man of letters. i had never met him and did not know he knew my name and we had our picture taken together, but i never got to ask him why. host: are you a fan of dog updike? >> of course i'm a fan, but i would not have
said he was a major influence except indirectly, i mean, indirectly he was an influence on us all because i have immigrant roots and i see america the way a tuberous sees america. and it give us the idea that that was with the novel was for. the novel was for capturing america and writing america and is part of the adventure of inventing america. the idea was to capture america. that was his project and i think he could see in me someone-- i think maybe he understood there was more to america than what we saw in the rabbit book and i think maybe he saw me as someone who would carry on the project and he was right.
he was right. something else interesting about updike and of all the things he valued in fiction, he really valued people-- what he called a fervent relationship with the world and he liked this quality he called the nose pressed against the glass quality and of course there is no one who has their nose pressed more firmly to the classed than the daughter of immigrants. wsre i am in this world and that is my knows he's talking about, so there is a way in which updike was influential. although, i h would not have said that because probably before meeting him and kind of thinking about how "me and this indirect way i probably would've said something bllike i'm writing against him. i probably would have said that, but in truth even as i wrote a little
against people i was actually carrying on their deeper project i need to write against them or think you are writing against them it's like going against her parents. going against your parents is all about your parents, like writing against updike, but it's alll about updike. host: when you look at some of your novels, "typical american", "mona in the promised land", "mona in the promised land" are you writing the great novel? guest: i don't think of myself that way. i don't know if there is a great american novel, but i think of myself as adding to the american narratives. if you asked me like what did i imagine in my wildest dream like what is kind off the ultimate thing i'm doing; right? i would say lots of people like me were trying to add a volume to the library of america. you know, we can tell
the fervent of america without updike and then the jews did it. you can talk about the 20th century without the jews and that's they way of saying we are really here. we not hear as visitors. we are not tuberous-- tuberous. we are all-- we are all -- you know what us to, we are also here and yeah, so this-- there is a way like i said i don't think it's about the great american novel, but it's about adding picture of american and permanent weight. host: you mention paul bello is one of your favorite writers. is there an asian-american genre? guest: i don't know if there is an asian-american genre i'm a but i do think there is a way-- it's very influenced by the jewish--
[inaudible] guest: when i think about what they meant to me, it was kind of an example of what was involved in adding this volume to the library of america and that is that they took-- it's not just below its many others, you know, they were all going kind of that the same problem but in such different ways, so bella took the high road meaning no ethnic markers. hard to tell you are jewish and anyways. noth ethnic markers because he did not want to be ethnic writerer. roster the opposite. he was like i am jewish and here it is in your face america.
grace kelly rejects the idea that you must only be a writer that writer is not part of your social activism. she's in the streets all the timeut protesting. owes me manages to make her name synonymous with eshenry james and i think it's something we really don't appreciate today kind of what guts it took for this jewish american t girl to make herself the person that anything we hear about harry james today we always have to go to 06, she was the expert. what i took away and this goes back to your question about the great american novel is all of the above. the answer is there is no one way of doing what we need to do. we need to do all the ways, all the register and we must all be going at it in every possible way. like i say whether it's
a bringing in the jewish humor, the jewish deep sense of morality-- you know i mean? whether we take the mandarin road or identify with henry james. the answer is all of the above because it is a big challenge ahead of us. host: nearly all of your protagonists are asian-american women. could you write a white male? guest: of coarse. irst of all ralph and typical american with mail, so they aren't all asian-american women and actually my very first published story had no ethnic markers at all. i first publish story-- what happened was i was in iowa writers workshop in 1981. i was in a formed class with a writer named barryam hannah.
anyway, barry had this contest in his class, which was the raymond carver contest any idea was to write the story and send it into him. the women perceiving probably accurately that a woman would never win, we all find our stories and i did write the story and i did when. i remember when he throughout this piece and said it was me. but, that very first piece, there's nothing asian, asian-american, anythingan about-- it's about a guy named barry who lost his job in his waiting for his girlfriend come out of the bathroom where she's ehiding from him and-- anyway i can write that work like i said i won a
contest. it's clear i can do thatt of the course, when i talk about the different ways we had to kind of go about remaking america through our writing project, of course, given the positive asian-american women on the page of course it's part of my projects, not to write stuff narrowly like all the mothers and daughters. you could be writing about religion, and a metal, whatever you are writing about, the nature of our, there's nothing about using an asian-american female protagonist that's writing about any of these big subjects. the answer is, of course because asian-american women like people everywhere are concerned with the relation, with politics, you know with every big possible question. it's not like they are in this little groove
where they only worry about what it means toer be asian-american. host: often here on book tv we hear about the iowa writers workshop. how is that sustained itself and what is it due to make it so successful? guest: it was the earliest workshop, so at the time that i apply to iowa there were really only three programs and now there's a gazillion, but that's a big change. there was iowa, stanford and hopkins, but iowa was like five times bigger than any of the other programs, so it's funny because at the time i was actually-- i dropped out of stanford. it was convenient to go to stanford. my boyfriend now husband was there, but i felt like this is a much bigger program like you will see more. there's more coming in and out, so i think i got that early, that
early advantage. also, iowa did not have a shtick. hops-- hopkins had a little bit of a shtick, little bit because of john burrell and-- i what is always a place with a kind of let you be in kind and encouraged you to do whatever that meant. it was, for me, a fantastic choice as it happened because my first teacher there, very influential figure was james alan mcpherson pulitzer prize winner and author, wrote "elbow room" and he was conveniently for someone like me and immigrant to kind of didn't really know what america was, kind of busy discovering america with my nose up against the glass and he was interested in writing about america. many years later long after we graduated from
iowa when my classmates gave me a birthday present. the present as a poster of a woman named eileen pollock. the poster was a picture with a photograph and underneath it with the words: american vision. that's what he was talking about all the time kind of like this invention of american, the american project anuld that mean in the idea that that was part of what we should be doing is writers. that's not what everyone thinks a writer should be doing. many people would say that-- you know, you are too close to a social project that this is not about art for art's sake sort of very much in dialogue with your context, so some people feel that's not the highest. i don't know if it is or not. luckily, for me that first teacher was not interested in art for
art's sake. he was interested in a novel that was very much involvedit with america and yeah, so iowa for me was great because there are other wonderful teachers there i willwo say. that's another thing. ea ateachers coming in and out, so it's not like one ae big writer whose kind of dominating the program. you have got a lot of different people coming in. wonderful thing. guest: iowa is an interesting place to be for someone like me who's quite coastal. i first got to iowa, this tiny little airports and my father had come with me and they didn't have a jetway or anything like that. they bring the luggage out and basically they open the door and someone went and took my suitcase and-- my father
immediately said that's her suitcase covered-- because he's from new york and he said i'm just helping you sir. [laughter] i mean, it was a revelation to us. i will say about the cleanliness and also the xenophobia i will say, i mean, it's also a place from another writer ben and i to asian americans around and we were once hitchhiking and people are like who are you, you know. went to a bar and everyone stopped talking , so they words enough zero because wells i don't want to say it's a paradise, but there was something else there. very warm and friendly and know it is stealing your suitcase. it was kind of-- host: wasn't it recently in your home town of cambridge massachusetts, that someone told you to go back to y where you ce from the two yeah, that happened just today on facebook.
i've been in massachusetts as say which is very liberal and a generally just a kind of idyllic place in general, but not entirely. so, i was there to walk with a friend and it's a place where only cambridge residents are supposed to be parking, but many others partnered walk around. there was this woman kind of a patrolling up and down. host: unofficially? guest: unofficially, of course to make sure everyone had a cambridge property sticker, but really yelling at people like what you doing here. i pay taxes to support this place. what you doing here cracks she got to me and said where's your sticker and i said it's up here. cambridge just this year changed the place where asu put your sticker. till last year you put your sticker on the back
of the car ended this year it's in the front. honestly, you can usually see on the stickers in the back and tell someone has been there for like 15 years. my stickers and the windshield and i said it's right here and she clearly did not believe me and she said what color is it and i said to her, why do you want to know and why should i tell you. she said i'm protecting people and i said i don't think you are protecting people. i think you are mrassing people and she immediately said what you mean i'm harassing people. you go back to where you came from just like that and it's amazing, so the answer is i think it's true of all places. depending on who you're talking to kind of a general culture and there's always some undertones. host: you refer to yourself, gish jen, as an immigrant for a couple of time. which you born in york? guest: daughter of immigrants. no, i was born on the island-- long island. on the second generation
i usually don't make that slip, but now i'm a daughter of immigrants. i was born a long island. host: you took a rather secured us route to get to the iowa writers workshop. walk me through that. guest: well, you know, should i go back to the very beginning? host: why don't we start with college. guest: okay. host: you're going to be a doctor, a ceo. guest: you know-- i was an english major. i was at harvard, english major. host: undergrad. guest: undergrad. as an english major i did take this course, it was 283 with a wonderful translator, robert fitzgerald because translation is one of my favorite, other course. i took this course
becausers i felt i was a junior and an english major and i didn't really understand why poetry had to be written esin those little lines like w what they just say what they mean, so i took this course and i thought if i take this course i will finally understand and that was true. what i didn't realize is he said this could-- this was a weekly exercise and they didn't realize he met a weekly exercise at first. the very first week i was like i'm supposed to write something, so i sat down to write my poem and as soon as i started writing it i loved it but i said to my roommate, i just love this and could do this the rest of myy life. on the daughter of immigrants. i had never known a writer. people did-- like they don't become poets. so, i was premed at the time and i had always
been prelaw and fitzgerald was the one who sat me down and of osaid, so why are you premed. it was a question i couldn't answer very well because i just got a c in chemistry, i think. there were other singles -- signals, but maybe this was not the right task for me. fitzgerald was going to say i think you need to do something with words and iff you are not going to be a poet which is what he thought i should do, to at least be publishing or something. he gave me my first job and i now realize it's one of those kind of legendary harvard s stories. he called up his editor and that i have a student, give her a job, so my first job in publishing. with that said i had been prelaw. i had been premed, even after i was already in publishing and taken my first writing class at the new school and that teacher had said-- i
wrote this little piece dabout dogs and henry james and he said you shouldd really be a writer, so people had told me that, but even so, i was beginning to get the idea that i was interested in writing, but i wanted something practical and i can decide so i thought maybe i'll try the most practical. if i can't decide-- i felt publishing was in between. i could either make a living or do what i wanted and i went to stanford business school of all places, very confused young women. to stanford over harvard because that a good writing program. like i said. i was very compute-- confused. i met my now husband almost the first day and he had exempted out off everything. i was so impressed. i was like what is microeconomicst? i was like that is so great that you can take courses across the
street. he just looked at me and said, but that's not what i'm here for the nine thinking he knows what easier for. [laughter] in the first five minutes. on in the totally wrong place, so i did-- i was intending to finish. i am the daughter of immigrants. i found the first day of the second year that i overslept. second day i overslept. third day i overslept. it was clear that i was never going to be able to get myself to get a enass, so i took a leave of absence and i went to china for a year instead. i spent a wonderful year in china. they only say there are two well-known dropouts from this class and one is gish jen and one is steve ballmer, ceo of
microsoft. two very very different outcomes. in any case i did drop out. my parents could not forgive me for doing this. for several years my mother did not speak to me. host: literally did not speak to you? guest: literally did not speak to me. very very upset, but i have been growing i will say partly because i grew up in scarsdale, partly because i had been reading. i had been reading really all these diverse -- diverse of books and i was growing this american self that was very very different than the nice chinese girl. i had just kind of crossed that line where i couldn't go back to the nice lillian jen of my youth. i could go back anymorere. i had to go forward. host: you are tuning into book tv right now and if you are
surprised to see a novelist, it's part of our special in-depth fiction edition all year long. on the first sunday of the month we are featuring novelist in this month we are pleased to have gish jen joining us. quickly are some of her books if you aren't familiar with her, "typical american", came out 1991. "mona in the promised land" in 1996. "who's irish" 1999. "beloved wife" in 2004. "world and town" 2010 and the most recent books happen to be nonfiction "tiger writing" 2013 and "the girl at the baggage claim" is from last year. she will be our guest for the next two and half hours, so if you like to dial in and talk to you call the number and the screen. you cannot-- also
contact us the a social media on facebook, instagram and twitter. our e-mail book tv at c-span.org. we will cycle through those on the bottom of your screen, so don't worry if you did not catch it right now. gish jen, give me your writing and i want to start with "who's irish". your husband's last name is o'connor. did that influence the title? guest: one of the reasons i know so much about what it means to beea irish-american because i married on o'connor and he comes from one of those boston plans like they live forever in everybody knows everyone else so i knowbo a bit about that world. host: did you get blowback for the nsa and the dialect that the narrator used? guest: i did not.
it's kind of surprising. host: what about from yourself? did you have trouble writing about weight? guest: what is true is to be an essay writer in america means many things. so many ways in which you can seek at all-- [inaudible] if i had read veteran that same story before "typical american" i'm sure they would have sent it back and said these wonderful stories -- happy to give you when your english is better in other words they have not have seen it was artist, but that i did not know english very well. it depends on the fact that i had already established myself as someone who is very fluent in english and so i had-- do you know what i'm saying? i had already established that
authority told voice, suite but gave me permission to write a new kind of book and of course i had already written "mona in the promised land" this kind of new york jewish voice so to go from there and write in another kind of voice, immigrant chinese voice was something-- you know i mean? you are right, there was a way in which i had to kind of established myself in a way to write in a voice that was very familiar to me. in truth, we spoke a lot of english. it was a natural thing when you speak to people for whom english is not their first anglo-- language. just recently my daughter and i went to visit my matter-- mother
in the hospital. my daughter was born here doesn't have that much-- i could hear her simple find her speech to get across to the mother. it's not that her english is not good, but she is sick and i could hear her simple flight in the. that's kind of interesting. it's kind of parked all the way back there even for her, but in any case yes, this is story i did kind of go back to what they the probably my first point which, really. nst: are you fluent in mandarin guest: no, no, no. you know, i'm sort of this perennial chinese students. udell, i went to beijing and people always say to me you can't say anymore that you don't speak chinese because you actually do speak neinese, but i'm not
fluent, so i feel bad. i can't follow it when it's fast, but i will say my first language, my first english was very heavily overlaid with chinese everything including chinese grammar, so i will say when i studied chinese the grammar was no problem. i'm like yeah. i mean, the order of things was completely natural for me because my early english we were speaking in the order. my english was a little screwed up, so my answer is the sentence structure was natural for me.ra host: pidgin english, do you know where that term comes from a? guest: i don't know. do you? host: no, i don't. i was hoping you would. guest: i should know.
host: you talk about mona and writing and eight jewish voice, but mona was a chinese-american girl from scarsdale, new york. a bit of a biographical element to l that? iuest: i grew up in scarsdale, new york, and scarsdale obviously a relative of scholars-- scarsdale and of course i was interested in that because i had been writing about america and it's fascinating to me that i grew up in a place where a minority was the majority. also, it's such a point in-- this book is set in 1968 and so to the point where i'm on the heels of the civil rights movement. black and t proud and jewish were saying on jewish and i'm proud and i was supposed to stand up asian and proud. asian and i'm jewish, which is to i think of most people in the new york area, the fact of the matter is. the jewish culture, the way we joke everyone
knows you dish, so i guess i was just it in this hybrid self and i will say that that jewish tinged voice was also a voice that i knew amazingly well, you know there is a way in which i know this dialect of english extremely well, very very easy for me to write in it. i thought that that in itself spoke to kind of the actualel complexity of life in america, i mean, right now it's very fashionable for people to say like i need to go to college and you look like me or reflect me. i'm, who exactly that be for me it would have to be h someone who came from one background, grew up in new york and therefore i become a little jewish. so, unlike simple to say that someone who looks like me with black hair
is like me. i'm thinking that's just not the case. host: when you are in china is chinese know your american? guest: it's interesting, sometimes s andt sometimes no. my students when i taught at beijing university and my students would w say that they would no be by the way i walked. i walk in this american way, yeah. if i was not walking they would not know, but once i started walking they would know, you know. host: the numbers on the screen. for those of you in eastern central time zone. let's hear from 10 calling w in from atlanta. , 10-- can-- are you with us kenneth?
sorry about that. maybe if i push the button. caller: can you hear me okay? host: i apologize it's my fault. go ahead. caller: ms. jen come i work with the georgia general assembly and all 50 legislatures are about to roll out a project in citizenship this year and we are going to encourage students in every school to get together and do the stories about their own: tree, high school and we have discovered not only enjoy your, but other places that most americans are associated with organizations like religions and schools and government 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 also going to reach professional writers, so that they can be available to the schools where they went to school like where you went to elementary school and high school and you would be -- being an artist like you are, it would be a great example for young people and i just wanted to share the idea with you. guest: well, that's a fantastic idea and have to say that i have written a lot about growing up in scarsdale, new york, and i would be thrilled if they invited me back and i thinkf-- i will say also that while you are inviting people you shouldou definitely invite people from other areas as well. i don't know if you know the group can falter in washington, they bring writers from all over
the world into the dc schools and i would encourage you to get in getouch with them and to see whether you can likewise be bringing writers from all over into your school. grhave to say the program is fantastically successful, really a great delight to the writers and of course to the students it's a fantastic thing as well. more power to you. host: gish jen, you mentioned your parents a couple of times. who were they or are they? guest: my father has passed away. my mother is still alive my parents were immigrants from china. host: what year? guest: 1943 would be my father present in the war. my father's case is that iere were talks during the war, like a war of opening a second front against the japanese and the shanghai harbor, so they needed hydraulic engineers to coordinate the effort.
so, they had an exam. the transportation department had this exam and my father scored high on the exam, so he was one of the people to coordinate this. they needed him to go to the united states, so he was sent-- of course, he could not cross the pacific it was too dangerous so he went all the way overland over the hump as they say into india across europe , the time he got to the us the war was over, but he did stay to get his phd in new york in minnesota. of course, he had the intention to go back, but in 1990-- 1949 the communists took over and what's not a well-known chapter of american history, the us government struck a deal with the nationalist in china to keep the chinese students here. at the time in the
science community they were in the united states like my father getting phd's and they all wanted to go back, but people who tried to go back at literally they were taken off the boat in hawaii and were not allowed to go back because the fear was these scientists would go back and help the tcommunists. they were stuck here. my father was offered citizenship there under a refugee act of my father said i'm not aot refugee, i'm a political prisoner. he refused his american citizenship. i grew up with an undocumented father. my father was an illegal citizen. he was a stateless citizen. it wasn't clear what country was his country, but he was i will say very good at engineering my mother came interestingly there had been a plan to marry her off while she had not wanted to be married off
and kind of an ensuing awkwardness, i guess, they sent her off to get a graduate degree in america as well and so she also got caught here she was a citizen because she had come via her local church. it was a catholic church in high school and so she was affiliated with , so theyho helped her become a citizen. she began a citizen and my father would have nothing to do with it. i will say they-- of course, being an immigrant b then, you know my father had a tremendous sense of humor and he would tell these stories with a laugh, but he would tell stories like about when he first got here how it was not-- people did not think chinese could do engineering funny today given the stereotype.
they do not think they could do engineering, so my father was in the field with a bunch of u.s. army people and they would have this guy with them and they gave him an algebra book to study and he gave it back the next day and they said you finish that book in one night and he said yeah, yeah, yeah. the next day they gave him another book, geometry. the next when he does it back. you finish that book in one night? yeah, yeah, yeah. they give him a trigonometry book and meanwhile they are in the field trying to fix this bridge and they want to replace one of these trusses and they are having trouble doing that and my father said why don't you put a truck on the end of the bridge and fix your bridge. of course, they ignore him because he's chinese what to see no? the second day he said, why don't you put a truck on the end of the
bridge and fix that trusts? they ignore him. the third day he said why don't you put a truck on the edge of the bridge and finally they put a truck on the end of the bridge and of course takes the weight of the truck and they can fix the trusts. my father always told the story like it was the funniest thing ever like kenny believe it, i mean, a lote of people today would be offended. in our time that they would be like everyone is offended all the time my father felt like what is it matter? they can't figure out, you know the person who can fix the bridge in there like you know. in truth, this is the story of his life and i think he laughed about it, but a lot of it was difficult. he did among other things work on the beltway here in dc, so one of the engineers. the chinese engineers then did a lot of this kind of work, but theylw always did it as kind of the equivalent of an adjunct-- professor today. fot real jobs.
at the end of the job they were all fired and a they never asked you know i mean? they were never promoted to management, ever. to my father, there was a lesson in that. not so much he was mad about it, someone told him this is a tough place and yeah, i guess build kind of realism and him about what he was going to have too do tto make it here. if you think about it, very flexible viewing that i will say willing to do whatever it tookll and i think it'sil related to my idea about the jewish writers. try all the different ways, not one way, but all the different ways in my father was in that category. host: gish jen, 1949 occurs in a lot of your books. why is that? guest: of course, that is the year china is liberated or felt begin-- the pain your perspective and it's a huge
historical moments and it is a time for pretty much i guess every chinese american where something has changed about your identity. so, if you are nationalist with old government that had just fallen, you are suddenly part of this government and part of this world that has kind of, you know, had been a dominant power and it now kind of in control of this little island, taiwan which no one ever heard about the time. all of a sudden you are in exile over there and over time you are using a writing system, but it's no longer the dominant writing system. you are using a method-- method of romanization which no longer the method of romanization and all of thesese changes are all traced back to 1949, the communists have one.
for people-- you can only imagine for my parents here it was as if you decided to do graduate work in china and while you are there the united states fell and your whole country is gone. your neighborhood is-- you know, everything is upside down. no one you remember in power is in power anymore. they kind of walk-- you can only imagine the shock. of course, very difficult. host: glenn in michigan. nngood afternoon, glenn.. you are on with author gish jen. you know what, i have to push the button. i have done this once or twice before. glenn, i apologize to you. go ahead. caller: no problem. thank you all very much and before i asked my question i would like to make it quick, about
what you are saying about six ba and all thatll, i can understand that with certain ethnic groups like irish and etc., chinese had a history of historic discrimination in this nation. at this point, though, iff think we would all be better off if everyone would just be a human being and humble, if you know what, i mean. i anyway, my question is i was listening to a talk, norman mailer some years ago and he said that when it comes to writing fiction the worst person you can have as a narrator is yourself. it should just be someone you're comfortable with. my question is how much of fiction do you think is really basically autobiography writing in that kind of vein.
takes her much. host: thanks, glenn. guest: excellent question. aespecially few do a good job people always think that it's really you they think that you must be you. of course, it's your job to make it seem that way. but, in fact, just aut a norman miller said the worst possible thing you could ever do is write a book where you are the author, you are the narrator and it's your life took our lives are not very interesting, generally. not interesting enough to be a novel, they aren't structured like a novel and the facts are often not as interesting as the facts-- [inaudible] i will say becausese i grew up in what was an underrepresented world like the world my father grew up in, not on the page, you know. figures like me and
scarsdale, new york were not on the page and it's very natural thing for me hi to use those worlds and the rules of those worlds to inform my fiction, but like i am not mona, i mean, i'm extremely not mona. none of that happened. the way that it is autobiographical, icthough, is the tension in the book are my tensions. gertrude stein once at a interesting thing. she said the artist works by locating the world in himself. we all wish she had set herself, of course. the fact of the matter is that as a result of our contact with the world, we have all developed nerves and sensitivities and it's my opinion that if you can find one of those nerves, you will have a book. but, it will be very personal because they are your nerves, but it
will be far more interesting than the facts of your life. so, the nerve in mona is in a chinese-american girl turned jewish. likewise that funny? i mean, this literally i would keep these pads of index cards and his little spiral-bound notebooks and i would write ideas down on them and that i would go through them years later looking for ideas and i came to the card that said mona turns jewish and because i'm a novelist unlike what is that about. why's that funnyy? irish-american girl turned jewish is not funny, so what's the difference between being chinese-american and jewish americann? is there something different to that and why and i feel like i wonder if there is a nerve there and that's why my financial enough there was a big nerve there and the book road
itself. like i say, it is autobiographical in the sense with my nerve, but i'm not jewish and i have never really thought about converting to judaism. on the facts of the book coming out it's all made up, but is autobiographical and it's a dream you are able to have ended tells a kind of truth that is like the truth inik dreams mt's not the fact-- true is the fact, really. many people talk about assuming a mask, kind of the truth in masks. that's a wiseer thing in fiction, we assume a mask that we can get outs of truth, which is truer than kind of mere truth, if you will. host: gish jen, humor is a concept or at your work. guest: yes, yes, yes. i think-- people say
where do you get this from and i will say that my father was funny. my father had a tremendous sense of humor and things other people would be very upset about my father always laughed. he thought everything was funny and of course, the nature of my material lends itself. i think what you really see is that we have these constructs of the world, like what a chinese-american is and that is so far off like the gap between that in reality is so large and when we laugh in-- because we have this picture and it's wrong so then this chinese-american everything she does is kind of wrong-a and everything she does is kind of funny. to me, the humor is good not only because we enjoy humor, but there is a truth because every l
single time we laugh at something mona does we laugh because we realize our picture was wrong, so it's a good kind of humor, i think. host: this is a little of an old quote i'm going to read to you here. but, what to get your reaction and see if it still stands up. 1991, in the "new york times", myim family and i identify mostly with white america, which looking back was partly wishful thinking, partly racism and partly an acknowledgment that whatever else we did face, at least we did not have to contend with the legacy of slavery. guest: that is true. did i say that in 1991? host: you did, according to the "new york times". guest: i'm sure they got it right because it's the "new york times". of that would bee true. it would be hard for me to identify with asian americans, you know, but it's true that in a
general kind of life-- general kind of way like to show americans we were a middle minority. i always saw us as like you know we may have identified with the whites growing up but it amcame apparent we were not white. we were the minority that was not noafrican-american and i will say you can be black and also not be the minority that's african-american. nigerian americans are sgreat example. yes, they are black, but they also do not have this legacy and i think there is a huge wall between all the minorities that have lots to deal with, i mean, there's plenty to deal with a socially today and people who actually, you know, being in america since the get go and to have been slaves. it's very huge divide.
host: let's hear from patty in wisconsin. guest: don't forget your button. host: i got the button. i have already pushed. you are on book tv with gish jen. caller: thank you for sharing the subject. my youngest nephew came as a infant from the philippines, beautiful, wonderful man in his 30s, but he handles discrimination with humor also and i had a private conversation with him and i said you just covering and he said no, it's how you have to do it. i'm so thankful and appreciative, but i would like to punch everyone lights out. god bless you. thank you. guest: thank you. this is a little bit like what i was saying about the jewish writers. there is no right or wrong. some people are very offended and really angry van and outspoken and then there are the people who kindhe of shrugged and laugh. i personally feel like this is a matter of
personal preference. i'm happy on the person who tends to shrugged and laugh. i think it's an easier and happier way of being , but there's no right oro wrong. i guess there is a way in which i'm grateful to the people who are angry and kind of-- they are in the philip roth and semote. there is a way in which they enable me to laugh, if you know what, i mean,. houston wants seven interesting thing about our writing and she said she cried so that i could laugh and there is a way in which that is also true that she cried so i could laugh ande, i-- all i can say is that those of us who cannot laugh, we must laugh and footnote and say thank you, maxine kingston and we must footnote and say thank you, james baldwin and all you people who are angry. we must acknowledge like i say we are all part of
an ecosystem and some of us are freed up, really to be one way by people who are another way. host: gish jen, first of all where does your first income from because that's a birth name guest: i was born at lillian jen and that was actually a very elegant name i had been given by my mother because my chinese name sounds like lillian. also, they both have the same root. they both have literally as a root, so very elegant name. i was named for the lotus that grows out of the mud but opens up. as i opened up my mother was thinking this is not the pure white lily i had in mind trick on going along with this beautiful name, but when i was a junior in high
school-- okay, i was a junior in high school and was part of a creative writing group, a little club. this was-- everyone got a nicknameib that was related to their name because we were inventing ourselves and going into new york city to watch cinema. and i had a friend whose last name was housing, so they called her ae and my name was lillian so they called me gish after lillian gish, and actor whose movies i had never seen. i had no idea who she was and had i known i would have been horrified, but i did not know to be horrified. it was a c nickname a couple people used and lily is limited circumstances until he went away in the summer to an archaeological dig in pennsylvania, and i'm
away from home. there's a hurricane, so the building had just been hit by lightning and our electricity was out and so we were going around a circle by candlelight and we are introducing herself and the got to me and with no premeditation whatsoever i interest you myself as gish jen work like, i don't know why i don't know what came over me. it just popped out and today i know the self name is something a lot of writers do. it's everywhere. at the time i didn't know that this is self naming and very highly associated with going on to be a writer, but i will say that that summer that idea of self invention was very much on my mind. gish jen did all these things that lillian jen never did. lillian jen was a nice girl jerk gish jen was propping up windows open
at night and up all hours and generally carrying on with the kind of freedom i was a kind of an american freedom that lillian jen did not have. i will say over the d years like gish even has a different handwriting than lillian jen. lillian jen is still using the method from my catholic school upbringing. gish jen is different and so to me the question in the middle of the night now like an emergency and i had to write one note before dashing out the door which handwriting would be and the answer is gish jen. i can really only write one thing in my old handwriting now, and that is my name on my checks with that name, but except for signing my checks i don't use it at all. it's completely gone like if i look at things from grade school i can see it, but i literallyan
can't do it anymore. it's interesting, so i've really become this other person and i will say very first story that i was talking about that i wrote in iowa was published by gish jen. of my friends said who is she in as soon as i said it is like the person who writes these stories is not lillian jen. the person who writes those stories is gish jen. of their it is. the only question is why don't i justt change all my papers. i guess it would be a pain. host: let's hear from dorothy in buffalo, new york. caller: this question follows really well with what she just said. i'm interested in the technical aspects of her writing. does she need a certain environment? how does she get her ideas? where does she write? does she write every day etc. i will take the
because of the way o that as i describe it. it's kind of dream alike. dreamlike. the one thing you do not like his interruptions. a dream is so easy when you're in it. as soon as yound a leave it. you do not want to be interrupted. if i didn't have to sleep i wouldn't sleep. it's very hard on your back. that you sit there for so long. one thing i do is yoga videos and do some yoga. i'm actually a very unsocial person -- i'm actually very social person but when i'm writing i don't want to talk to anyone. unlike many writers i've never
been able to read my own handwriting. and i can't write as i think. i've always been a typist in the early days i had access too some of the early computers what would happen is the people would be frustrated they would give this machine that was really useless to my husband. i would write on these early machines which i actually found wonderful. i wrote a little piece about this when steve jobs have died. the writers don't give the titles. it was something nice about the computer that have a
little green light. talk to me. i'm waiting for the next word.oror i actually liked using the computer but back in those days it was kind of a stigma against it. they would do something to the many scraps. i find it very liberating. huge diversity in our writing. people do not didn't mind the noise as they were typing.
all of these head somebody to come help clear the manuscripts. not only were you not assistant the computer has just been a an unbelievable gift. >> what about the loss of early drafts. i think i probably saved some of the early drafts. they have this view that s there is something in the first draft as it's coming out.
we used to say that they thought about how to write. there is another school you just cannot write anything. and then you look at what you have. and then you try to find the book in it. it's not a book. why do you want us early stuff. like i said i think scott will get it differently. it's been a real interest in things like this. as they draft in the native prague german. and that he would clean them up.
and kind of high that. and that's how he wanted them.m. but because there was so much interest in this original self. kind of the more interesting part. he would've an horrified. there is a way in which they are getting there. isaac is very mistaken. we like the final drafts. another quote in the new york times. there is never enough time for writing.
every moment spent in months real life is a momentri missed in one's writing life. these things are in such competition. when you quits though. you just realize it so much richer in some ways. i have to say i do not like the feeling that they are in conflict. i've never been able to work in my house. my youngest one has left the house now. i've often recommended this to
them that they should get an office outside of a house. the separation if you little children can be critical.an i think it's also related to the things they're talking about.t i think there is a way in tends ton at home kind of reinforce the other obligations. it's importantel of it's not a responsible activity. and you cannot be doing it everywhere. into this arena where i can
display. some of the structure around her life. we will spend the next two hours delving into her books a little bit more deeply. i would like to askts if you have any interest in poetry i'm a poet laureate of my town in massachusetts. did you ever do poetry yourself i don't know if japan or china those countries had designated specific poets
that's why we love of music. i believe it is the first art we ever heard and started to try to copy. thank you so much for your call. i think it's wonderful that you're the poet laureate. they're very lucky to have you. the fact of the matter is we read for the music of the words. there is something about it which of course we are interested in the meaning of the words i that absolutely matters. but really interested in all of that. you're right,'r and goes back to our times in utero.
in the as easily as important if not more important than the meanings of the world -- word. the way that fiction works. the uncanny way that fiction and poetry work. i echoes back to something deeper than our rational's thinking selves. often when people are doing this. and it looks like there's something about that. it doesn't sing. if it doesn't sing there is a problem. it's interesting she tried to write a novel and said the trouble with her novel it was pedestrian.
there is just something about the lyrics of that. whether they're happy to worry about getting the reader through the pages. maybe i will go back to poetry when i've finally obtained that state in enlightenment. and every child can recite certain homes. it's really much better established tradition than the novel tradition in china. i don't think they have poet laureates.s. i will deftly posted on facebook. i don't think that they do.
and confucius on the other side. she's kind of a hybrid kind of like me. you can kind of see why i would have an interest in some of that. all of her complexity and humility. there's just a way that that is the fact that she 68. i did have a little bit in my mind while i was writing that book. and a little bit.
there she is. she also redefines what an immigrant can bring it to america. she is more than a person. and they have things to get back to america. she is forming america. she's forming this town. she complicates her ideas about what she means.e she has accommodated woman. she's a woman you know who lived with the family. and very marked by that experience.
stylistically is that book different than some of your other novels. i think each novel is different than another. you can see the influence of shakespeare and that. i i've thrown that out. you can see on the march. and unfurling. as it's a very different thing. if the book i started. there is a lot that we needed. a different kind of novel to deal with their new reality.
people just kind of talking on the page. there is a lot of voices.s. this is not a play where they were in guest in a single action. they are all narrating. you can start of see this kind of interest in the new kind of novel. can america really be the hospitable place that has been. can we really live up to this idea that we head of our nation as that is a matter of
content. it's all a matter of voluntary adherence to certain ideals. is that enough for our nation. the question mark over that family a lot of the questions that i raised there. they are questions that we have today. again a departure. many people are narrating. there is a suggestion that because we had one thing going on y it's almost like a series in my mind of a sense that
you're getting these storiesri with there's an infinite number ofr other stories. there is a way that's here. a little bit the way i was talking about it. we have this book but we must acknowledge that there other realities. did you know how this book was going to end when you started it. this goes back to the caller who asked about the process. i never know where i'm going. a
with all of that. are they going to be surprise either. not only do you know where your book is can be. you don't know what it's gonna do to you as a person and whether you are going to be the same person p i think actually ideally part of my writing this way. i came out of the short story. i just knew that you'd start out with the feeling or something or a nerve.
in the longer form. it's also true what i know. i did it theid same way. one of the reasons is that i'm writing a book so often for three or four or five years. it has to be an adventure for me as well. so i guess i will say that i like it i don't know where i'm going. it's making me the author as i go along. i like that surprise.
when they were chosen to that last stage. with the missionary american parents. as a registry is that just straight up east-west. it's more complicated than that. there is a way in which when people write about america in the novel with asian americans in it. it's so important. she also is very much worn by her religions.
they're not at odds. is it under ethnic studies or is it under american history,. >> i think it's part in both. that's my aim. in the sense that hard to say where to place it. they always have the feeling and whenever of whenever you have that there was a box oh my gosh i'm so offended. you need to boil that backs up. that's our job right. i feel like okay.
as we had constructed at this time. that's part of our job. but the other part of our job is six suggests the huge mistry below that. to complicate, complicate, complicate. it will be in the busy brains. we make all of these categories. and they service up to a point. but they are always a little bit out of date. it so out-of-date.
we kind of made those years out of reality. those are just art representations of them that we use for our purposes. way deeper and way more comp located. the stories gonna take place in maine and theirs can be an american protagonist. there is can be a cell phone towers how do you plot all of that out.
where have all of the people gone. into these churches. what is going on. it's right there in front of me. did a lot of research for that book. and i would visit these churches. it was so interesting. what is different about this. why are people going here. come to be conspicuous because of the way i look. the first church they said are you korean. they're all gonna think i'm korean.
they're not as just angry they feel dispossessed. this book is in which many people are displaced. but one of my own revelations. but also displace. the things she knows. they have lost their farms. in jenny's case the whole legacy that goes with that farm the farm is the family. it's been there for generations. they have to compete with these from argentina. the globalization has have them really hard. all of a sudden there are these developments all the edges. they have to had to sell off the land. for them to do that.
they don't lump themselves together at all. that's exactly what happens.. i see what happens. they lose their farm and they're really angry. and then all the sudden the things that they're hearing and the other kind of church. the other kind of narrative. into the world.o even if you were a spy in your research. this is the humility part.
your name on the essays on the list for five years. you're not on the active wording list anymore. where would mice father's name though. and then where are the rituals that they would come of course.em even i would seem like my mother was here for 50 years already. and if they need further reminding. with every single stage of life.
that's not the end of it. it goes on for a long time. i've left these colors on hold for way too long. greg, from missouri. please go ahead. i have a question in reading a few academic articles it looks like the same issues raised to there. and when if i could read it one sentence. and here she says quote, since the 1970s the famous or state infamous debates between the frank chen and maxine hong kingston toured the representation of chinese culture. i wasn't clear what the issue
was. the very early days. the iconic figure. in frankton it was a minor figure. in his name we probably wouldn't know today except t attacked them so viciously. he also attacked them. i think they actually attacked them. to the point that she started crying on stage. it's really a terrible thing. what was white christian i walk that was meant to pander. i think to be fair we do live in america where most people are caucasian. if we do things like explain these phrases who is going to
you may differ from his opinions. he is within his rights. intimate i think the real issue is that because they were so few asian americans at the time rather than seen her version of the story as her version of the story. l we have other sources i think because there were so few sources. i think they were probably afraid that this was the onlyha the only thing that they were afraid of. what was very interesting to
me. many years later the movie milan came out. are we can have big protests. there are no protests over the movie. that moment is passed. that they would kind of represent the whole truth about that. where i think this whole difficulty that he have with maxine was kind of a byproduct of the time that they were in.. in certainly very few representations of any kind. i think he have attacked with
less viciousness. and the whole idea that he made her lose sleep for even a nanosecond had to say makes me pretty mad. >> you know that in one google search that i did of you you may also enjoy maxine king send. that was a search i did. and that's what came up in the artificial intelligence. some of the writers you can group them together. it just highlights the differences in other words to me as soon as you put them together it's like oh my god. how else would you put that.
it feels like a historical accidentri because their sensibilities are so different. we are nothing if or not our facilities.ib she is filtering the world. that is why we have her as an author. we read them because of the way they are filtering. anyway. i think to me. a generation ago. to another part of the world where there are a a billion people. they're not so alike.
and when we look at their work. we see very different things. you're on with author and novelist. i am just reminded from the first hour of the isolating authors a short humorous event. they are just starting out at young professors. they heard a knock at the door. they saw nothing. there were two little children. and they looked up and said that has been told to my
family for years. that is really funny. if you think about the nature of what we do. the whole idea. that they are starved.'s the reason there is truth. we are trying to get people to look past the realities of course is uncomfortable. as a moment really what you think a woman as. because you're kind of on the cutting edge of society. and your can focus on the things that a little bit not right. your ideas about african-americans. capitalism and religion.
because we are doing that. it's not a path to popularity. even though you've done this subversive thinghi sometimes people it will be a different kind of subversion that they're ready for. it's kind of a surprise. i don't know if he realized it was going to be this huge seller that it was. the idea t that it didn't cross his mind as well. as is a little bit harsh. it's not true that they don't all make money. that they cannot expect to make money. we are doing the opposite of creating a product.
everything you do to create a successful party --dash products. you think it's what they want. then you try to get it to be exactly what they want. if it is you hope that you would always let face it. the process of product making is about making it what people want and if it turns out that it's really bad for their help. we find ourselves in this position. but is it's not their first concern. we still want to make it there. and we will find it engaging and you cannot imagine the gazillion people will all want that way. you write itu as accessibly as you can.
and hopefully you are writing and about an america that people recognize.ha the place of fundamentalists. you can kind of see globalization and those things going on. there is so much to talk about. but it is not fundamentally designed to be exactly the book that you wanted me to write. it's a different book. b it's really a must and anti- product. and if we cannot expect to be awarded handsomely. i do sell enough books. i'm very lucky to have have
the kind of grant support that i had head. i feel like i'm in a patroness system. i'm too embarrassed to give any particular examples. if i wanted to go to a conference and it's very expensive. i may want to might want to go to this conference. there is someone who says you can go to this conference. there is a lot of support for what i'm doing.d and i do receive this kind of in a weird kind of way there is kind of a modern version of the system.
that augments the actual dollars and cents. they named the successor. and has praised you. your are will rewarded. which one of your novels is most often used as a textbook in high school and college. i don't know. but i think it may still be typical american. to give you an idea. like i say. i've never been on theev bestseller list. on the other hand usually when you sell a book you sell it for 15 year time you basically sell the rights to publish it
for 15 years. and then it's worth zero. in the case of typical american actually i got to sell the book again. it was not anywhere near dead at 15 years. not a bestseller but clearly has been selling straight through since 1991 until today. i'm still seen s royalties on that book. i see royalties every year. on typical american. the fact that i actually really said something it's what a typical american is. as soon as we ask that question what does it mean to be jewish american or
chinese-american. it suggests at that point maybe you are an american. they are defined by a pre- application. their opportunity. now if you can't get through on the phone lines. you can contact us. jonathan in milwaukee you are on the air. i don't know what's wrong with me today.na thank you very much for taking my call. i wanted to say i recently read a story of yours that was published in the new yorker. and i wanted to ask what the process was like for having a
short story published y versus writing a novel separately. do you have different thoughts in mind for how to craft the short story was published in the magazine versus having it be a novel that will be sold in bookstores. the answer is you just write your story or you write your book. you just write it. i have to say that that takes all of your brain cycles. i must lay thinking doesn't live, does it work what is it really about. can i sharpen the character in some way.te i am very lucky in that the
editorial and the new yorker is unbelievable wonderful. i'm very lucky in and having a very wonderful editor. since my second book. she has done both my fiction and my non- fiction. she is an editor editor i will say that it's true the new yorker with my experience. maybe they don't think it's their job to help you write that. i think they think that it takes things out. i don't get that at all. i tend to be very hard on myself.
i've taken all the stuff out. and we will say something like memorize the first draft. i never liked such and such a image. i will put it back in. and i think that you cut such and such a line. i will put it back in. this goes on for six hours. she things i can cut too hard. in my relationship with new york. i haven't head that many stories. i can't imagine that you would say anything like that to me. ic it is very different i will
say the editing at the new yorker is fantastic every word every. the one question i did get on the last story. she wondered why it have to be in english. it's only the second time since 1999 or something. the idea that people are actually writing another language. and that's that simply been represented as english. is better established than it was in 1999. of course they are just speaking english. i held firm with english in this case. i wrote a little thing about
. but then in a journal kind of way, you know, they are just massively careful in every way, shape or form. and as a writer, you can only be grateful to be that careful, i will say. i just feel like it's an honor really to work with either her or close. it is different, i guess. like i say, i mean, maybe they just raised different things because they're different people and something like the use of petition in english. i don't think at this point it would even occur to my book editor to question that. and that's what the second editor to sort of things that you think are given. it's not just somebody asks you about them so you have to think about them again. >> five novels. your last two books have been non-fiction. >> hum. >> ooh.
why is that. >> i would never have written them at all if i hadn't been asked by harvard. a big annual lectureship. everybody comes. big to do. when they first asked me about it, i said no. >> why did you say no? >> well, honestly this was a lot of pressure. [ laughing ] >> i know these harvard academics and they are very tough. but no sooner did i finish my book. i had hit send and almost five minutes later we have a novel. [ laughing ] >> i had to finish. it was just public information. i can't hide. so i did have to say yes. and then you know part about it is because, of course, to give lurkts -- lurkectures like that
you have to think of what somebody has said. so much of the saying of it. so you just feel like -- you know, i once heard after a lecture when i was behind a professor and somebody said -- the professor said i know about 20 people who could have given that lecture. [ laughing ] >> i wish i had -- i wish i didn't know these things. so the one thing that's clear to me is i had to say something where they didn't come out and say i know 20 people who could give that lecture. the bar is pretty high. as it turns out, i did have something to say. and in retrospect i was very glad that i had some little publication to get me to say what i had to say. and that was that i -- it was very clear to me now that i was a writer who kind of spanned the kind of an older world where everything about writing and the self came out of, you know, what
we call like a mind shaft society. right. so a society that is facing agriculture and communities. and they're kind of these intimate village-like life. it became clear to me that that whole culture influences not only how you see yourself and the kind of self you see. it certainly influences your self expression. it influences your manner. it influences every single thing about you and certainly fiction. and 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. like it includes very intimate things to this new self, which is what the soul shaft self. so being a self that is being based on a mobile, modern,
industrialized society where the values are very different. so just things like how important is your family. of course, we still think our family is important. but it's also the extended family. you know, it's really a nuclear family. just, you know, you, yourself, your kids. a much smaller family. and, of course, there's a much cleaner boundary around the self along the individual. because it's the capitalist world. it's the ideal world -- the ideal worker in this world somebody with no ties. the ideal worker can work 24/7 and you tell them to relocate and they go. that's the ideal capitalist worker. somebody with a lot of ties. you're not going to be able to put that up yourself. somebody who knows that the whole village will come and help and themselves have gone and put it up themselves. it's a completely different light of being in the world.
like i said, 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 the interdependent self to really describe my own journey that they wanted to write an autobiography. and this is a huge 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 not -- so what did that article say which not only how much i made by my own books. how much writing had made me and how it developed its other self. but it's great to have the work for myself. and it just so happens it's coming out because all of the research about the self and narrative was just coming out as i was doing my lecture.
and so those -- the papers are being published almost as if i was writing. so it's very, very exciting. and i'm so grateful to have it because it explains so many things that are either weird or unconventional about my work and the way that i saw things. i can see them a little bit different than most of my colleagues. and it explains so much. and then when i was done with that, it's kind of what do i do now. and i simply realize i went to china. oh, i see. there's all these people who live in china for 25 years. and the chinese were still a complete mystery to them. and they could see it was just everything. and they couldn't -- they didn't know why. and then, of course, in this country, i saw all these people with, you know, colleagues in other places. the students in american classrooms. the teacher that don't know what to do. you know, the teacher who thinks that they're trying to get people to relax with their
class. and they would say write an essay about yourself only to have all of the tiny students freeze and possibly put out the ease. a creative class where the student was asked to write an essay about herself and she left. she's like what is going on. and i felt like, oh, i see, actually i just wrote this book really about me and literary culture. but i actually understand something now that will be helpful to all of these people. and people who are not going to pick up a psychology book and study, study, study, study. you know, and i knew how to say it in a way and i explained it to them. so i wrote this book. that was the goal of the baggage claim. and now you can ask -- we'll talk about that first before you ask. so what now. my god. she's taking this detour. but go ahead. >> well, we'll come back to this. but we want to show a little video of you talking about both tiger writer and the girl at the baggage claim.
>> okay. >> so, you know, i am a novelist. but there was something that i knew my bounds that i had just somehow never quite managed to get out on to the page just by 30 years of writing. this feeling that the writing world has certain solutions about real -- you know, where the truth was. the writing world valued certain things that were very different than the things that i had valued growing up. and that it narrated in a way that was very different than the way it was narrated in my childhood home. we didn't do this in my family. you know, i was not asked what do you want. is it what i want. was it very important. what do i like. you know, i was not encouraged to think of myself as a unique individual. it's uniqueness that was 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 the baby. liefk i don't have any pictures of myself one minute after i was born. and, in fact, i had very few pic pictures of myself and very few stories about me as a child. so i was interested in this whole question of narrative difference. you know, if it's tied to a difference in self and a difference in perception. i happened to start to work on my father's autobiography. it's something he had written when he was 85. and i had to -- when i first looked at it, it made no sense at all to me. i mean, 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, you know.
so this autobiography did not start when i was born. i was born in such and such a year. no, no, no. it started way, way, way before that. that was before that generation. and i think that also by the time my father gets to his book, i mean, he mentions it in conjunction with another event. and i remember reading that and thinking, well, how very interesting. i think that i can both see that it was "weird" from a western narrative point of view. and yet if we say something about it which was incredibly familiar to me and i understood this. i understood this diminishment of the self. i mean, it was -- it was -- do you know what i mean. and one thing is something i knew with my left hand and one thing is something i knew with my right. it was the interdependent self and both were in me.
i did have an artistic preoccupation and something which i had to say -- i would have to say was definitely mine. and so it's a way in which even as i inhabit all of these other people and all my fiction, regardless of who i'm talking about, i am always still there. so there's a way in which the problem, if you will, that i have, the difference between interdependence is the difference for me. >> what's the difference for your book and what do avocado pits have to do with it? >> well, you know, very interested in education. and, you know, i heard a story a couple of years ago. this story involved an academy which is a very prestigious prep school. and what happened is a girl had applied. she had great essays. they did a skype interview with
her. she had a great interview. and thouey admitted her. they were very excited. and then, you know, they went to pick her up at the airport. something was a little bit off. and, you know, 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 the story by a head of another independent school that was collaborated by nelson. and, you know, all of the high schools were talking about it. just it's so strange. but when i heard that story, i thought this is not so strange actually. this is substituting one person for another. it's a very kind of coached team work. it's actually very common. and so i recognized the pattern. and as i talked more to the educators, i could see that there were many things about this new cohort of chinese
students which was completely baffling to the educators here. and also, you know, i spent a lot of time -- i can see in china teaching where the mission is to bring u.s. education to china. and i could see there was just a way in which there was things about the chinese students that they didn't get unless chinese students -- china didn't get about the school. and i just thought, do you know what, i actually understand both sides of this. and there is a book where i can explain it because there's a lot of research. >> in avocado. >> in avocado. and i realized that the piece of information that they were missing was that the self dominates in the east and the self dominates in the west is very different. in the west we have a self that is like an avocado. we have a big pit in the center of them. this is the thing we call ourselves. we feel this is our identity. you know, the whole purpose of
u.s. education is to understand the nature of the identity. to develop the voice. much committed to making sure that it's the expression that it can move freely. and this is the model that we have. but actually research has established that, you know, the rest of the world, and i do mean the rest of the world like asia, europe, central eastern europe, a lot of places 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 a self that's much more like a gumby. it's a plexi self. it's a self that's just as full of agents as the avocado pit self. it is very capable of traveling abroad. do you know what i mean. opening restaurants. doing all of these things that we think of. you know, it's not that it's --
i think when we use the collective reasoning, it's something how just a sense that can't take any initiative. and that's completely wrong. i mean, anybody goes to asia -- there's plenty of initiative. there's plenty of entrepreneurship. the difference is the meaning. where is it coming from? oh, my god. they don't care about ranting. or whether n it comes to law fi. it should be us. in china, you have a law firm. there's no thompson. [ laughing ] >> you know, because the whole idea -- the idea is all of the firms there's an idea that's kind of an integrity involved. there's actual people there. and so the law firms, you know, are em nations of these people and their avocado. where they don't have this idea at all. what do you think is a good name?
oh, you think like thompson. okay. let's use that. it's a completely different view. so you can see it's much more virtual look. that will work. we'll do that. >> host: my first day teaching in shanghai, a few of my students are from china. but most are lucky undergraduates. an arab royal interested in bringing world class education to the em rit is funding them. they have come from all over the world. some are freshman. 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. we were talking just right there about the difference. >> yes. >> what chinese students -- what american teachers of chinese
students are facing. >> yes. well, as i said in the tape, it isn't only actually the chinese students. i think that they're most aware of them because they look different. right. a whole group of people look different and are uncomfortable speaking in class. but actually it's many, many, many more people. and the number of people who have come up to me from romania and lithuania and say, oh, my god, that's me. but i don't have to -- you know, i don't have the difference -- the physical difference. but that's me too. and, you know, that is the way that we are in our culture. and it is so uncomfortable to talk in class. and now we have decided that when they say they're uncomfortable, they're not just shy. their cortical levels are spiking the roof. i mean, they're having a physiological response to having to do this thing, which is so against everything that they have been taught. and, you know, of course the
educators always want to know so are we kind of -- you know, is this western hogimany to make them speak this way. i do it because it's very much like speaking english. in one way, of course, it's a way of western dominance in the world. rather than speak english. on the other, that is the state of affairs. and it will open all kinds of doors. if you do not regret having learned english, you will not regret having to speak up in class. and the same way that 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 it because i did it. you know, i did it. >> was it hard for you? >> extremely hard. it's so funny today -- >> what were your parents
telling you that made it so hard? >> well, i think, you know, 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 the kind of -- and the kind of way that your mother talks to you, you know. so that the things that -- you know, like i myself i'm growing up, as you can see, speaks english, blah, blah, blah. i, myself, did not even realize that i had kind of other self until i had a child myself. and we were going around the new group of mother's kids were like six weeks old. they were really little. and we were going around the circle. everybody said what do you want your baby to be. everyone said they want their child to be independent. dependent. oh, my gosh. be happy.
and also strikingly everybody else had taken their baby and put the baby on the floor. now, there were blankets. it was a hardwood floor. they put their baby down. i could not put my child down. i physically could not put him down. i could not put him down. and, you know, it just strike me. how did i eaven learn that? i grew up in new york. and how did i know that that in chinese culture you don't put those kids down. you know, in many cultures the kids just go 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 the way that i learned that is an interesting thing about culture. i'm growing up in queens and down there. i guess, you know, i did have little brothers when i was quite old. my youngest brother is probably 8 years younger than me. so i did see them when their infants. but these are very deeply
embedded things. a lot of this is embedded before -- way, way, way before you can talk. and then, of course, how do they talk to you? and this is what she wanted in cornell not just in new york. this is many, many people who worked on this. and so are they -- is the child's attention directed to objects or who is that? oh, that is your uncle. that is your uncle on your father's side, you know. now, how you talk to them. and when you talk to them, you ask them, so, what did you think about this? what is your opinion? what happened to you? what is the story? or why did you do that? is that what you were supposed to do. right? is that what you -- you know, weren't you supposed to get your homework in. why didn't you get your homework in. you know, so not what you -- everything that you desire. what do you want to be when you grow up. kind of like why didn't you do that. so it's very difference. so the emphasis on something that you were supposed to do,
meaning you had a role. and kind of did you fulfill that role or not is really the emphasis. as opposed to kind of, you know, do you have the self and what is the nature of self and very importantly what is unique about that self. nobody cares. the chinese culture kind of how unique you are, you know. and it's kind of a thing -- you know, you make it unique. and if you look over to the chinese history, you know, you're not that, you know. it's a very different perspective. but, anyway, and then it's kind of -- and then when do you speak up. and certainly speaking up with like i had something to say is extremely uncomfortable. and so they'll speak up. i had to say that, you know, even people who are -- there are people that have this in them who can be kind of very, very, very well integrated into the western world. so for example, you think certainly he is not going to have expression -- trouble
talking about himself. but, you know, when he sat down to write his memoir about his years after the mania and the death sentence on him because of his writings, when it came time to write his memoir, he found that he could not write it in first person. he could not say i, i, i, i, i. and he wrote that whole memoir as he in the third person, you know. and when you look at that when you sort of see like, oh, even somebody with many, many, many years into, you know, life in the western world, there's a visual feeling of it's not okay to i. to focus on yourself like that. it stays with you. it stays with you. and to this day, an interview just about myself. i can go a little -- you know, i'm very happy to talk about the classroom and america and
fundamentali fundamentalism. in talking about myself, i can get there. but i have to kind of live like a little speed bump. i have to get over the speed bump. and so i understand these students. it's kind of like i too. it's easy to ask me when i was in 11th grade say -- to write about myself. i also would have frozen. and then teachers will say things like tell me what's unique about yourself, which is exactly the wrong question. and the teacher said to me i asked my students what was unique about them. and they would say things like, well, i have a little brother. well, that's not so unique, you know. but that's -- you know, in other words the students were clearly jamming on that question. don't ask them that, you know. and 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. and, look, i was born in the united states. culture is very persistent. and, you know, like i said,
because it's laid down so early. and i would say even really not in the third generation i can see in my children. >> well, i want to ask that. can you see a difference between your parents and your kids? >> oh, of course. it's not that culture doesn't change. do you know what i mean. it's not that it doesn't -- it's not that culture doesn't change. it's not that there isn't change between the generations. obviously i developed this big other self with my reading and living in america. but it's a hybrid self. and what i see -- of course, my children, you know, different than me. very different than my parents. but the surprise is how much continuity there is there too. i mean, it is -- obviously very happy to talk about themselves. and, you know, but you would also have to say there's a way in which -- everybody wants to know what did you do. i don't want to boast on air.
but this came out great. you know, the sense that they -- they have a sense of belonging to a family. kind of obligation to the family. there's an intimacy there. a closeness there that those are the good parts in the old warld. there's -- you know, there are a lot of very special qualities there also. and they have retained those. so, you know, to a remarkable degree different than their classmates. so an example would be my daughter was living in a dorm room -- her dorm room and they had bought a couch and the other girl left and they just moved their couch out. you know, you can't leave this couch here. the custodian do they care? i mean, like you put the couch in very small storage. and she, of course, she and her friend took it out. but in little ways you can perceive actually she saw
herself as part of a whole. you know, to which you have responsibility. and this is the way that you behave. no one is -- no one is going to come and yell at you because you left this couch here. you just don't do that. period. you just don't do that. and kind of this is just 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, you know, you're not like a marble. and a much larger world to which you have obligations. >> michael fayette, alabama. you're on the air with gish jen on book tv. please go ahead with your question. >> 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 inspiring writer. i'm trying to get as much
practice in as my full-time commercial art and studio art business will allow. but that does have something to do with it with my question. i don't know whether to ask you both questions and then hang up. >> michael, if you would just go ahead and state your question and then we'll get an answer. okay. >> 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 career of being a cartoonist, an animator or a picture illustrator because i draw in the mgm, warner brothers disney style. >> okay. michael. that's the first question. i apologize. we have other callers on hold. what's your second question? >> oh, i hate these. 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 startup capital. but if the day comes, i hate the way that these sites that were started for visual artists and people in the non-performing arts and the performing arts, i guess, are now being abused for an animation magazine one said five years ago. >> michael, i apologize. i'm going to have to leave it. we've got the question. aspiring writers, children, genres and the go fund me. how to get started? >> yes. >> when it comes to -- >> i have no expertise, whatsoever, i'm so sorry. i wish i could help you. i love children's literature and i'm happy to see more children write for it. and i will say that it seems to me that someone who has a background in graphic anything
is at a tremendous advantage. because i do think we see more and more of this wonderful cartooning going on and i'm sure it's really, really, really a great thing to have. i'm sorry i know nothing about it. and on the go fund me 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 ties. you need to be able to take time off from your paid work in order to write. it's just not a lucrative activity in and of itself. but actually i don't think that you do need to have a campaign or anything like that to write your book. all you need is time, an idea, and a story line. and i wish you all of the luck in the world. >> half-hour left with our guest here on our special fiction addiction of in depth. gish jen. area code 748-8400.
202-748-8201 for those of you in the mountain and pacific time zone. george in fort myers, florida. good afternoon. >> 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 think that too? >> well, you know, i think that -- i think huckleberry fin is a wonderful care. it's funny, i don't think they're a success or failure as people. 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 he's somebody who doesn't accept the art fis of his world. and of course neither does huck finn. so it's not generally a recipe for success. i think it's a recipe for personal performance. so it's a path towards maybe a more authentic life. but it isn't necessarily a path towards a more successful life. i mean, those things can go hand in hand. i mean, do they go hand in hand for writers. but for many other people, they can be quite. so i don't know if that answers your question. but what it's worth, i think as characters i think both huk fin -- huck finn are unbelievably
successful characters and i'm glad their authors invented them. from a writing point of view, it's a myth. there's no rhyme that he ever wrote it. it's a myth. but clearly, you know, he's on to something. partly with the times. this is the 50s youth quake going on. i think easily from our perspective how to remember, just how impressive the 50s was and overly scripted. and all of a sudden, you know, you get holden who says you're a bunch of phone anies. right. and -- phoneys.
and he'll say you guys are so authentic. how can you live with yourself. and that hit a very big cord. and they were just in the middle of trying to figure out who they are and trying to figure out how society should live their lives and to fix these and it was a huge explosion. his explosion, again, it was not by the publisher. i think it was like by 13 houses or something. can you imagine? turned on by 13 houses. in any case, so i think this idea to be true but kind of in the 60s in carnation was embodied. i'm not surprised it sold so
many copies. i think it's so surprising today that many young people do not believe in holden anymore. you're kidding. where is the rebelliousness. but i was talking about this. i was talking about this to my class. and most of the students just felt that he was like really immature. i'm like what was his problem. to us he was -- you know, he was the anti-hero. the end all anti-hero. and we respected his bravery and his hoents -- honesty. it was very interesting to see him that way. but i think what we're seeing with the younger generation and so on, i think it's interesting. they are also rebellious. but it's much more they're rebellious in a social responsible way. right?
they wanted to get gun laws changed. so it's not like this romantic goal. it's not i want to be free to be me. that's not what they're saying. me i mean, that was kind of the tune of an earlier generation. i want to be me. that's not what they're saying. i don't want to be shocked. that's literally what they're saying. but it's interesting to see the movement towards something which is a little less self focused and a little more socially focused. >> 2013. you got yourself in a bit of trouble with boston globe. >> god, that's true. what happened was on the fields of the boston red sox winning a world series, the boston globe asked a number of people -- >> are you a fan of the red sox? >> of course. that goes without saying. but anyway, they asked us to
write a piece about what the victory meant in light of the marathon bombings the year before. and to me it was -- and it was very striking some of the big stars were immigrants. happy. a story with a japanese translater. so it was a very big moment to see these two immigrants so prominent in this victory and the boston -- i just had to say this is a very big problem for boston. it's a phone yaxt you seemed to have reached a different place. and since the assignment was about, you know, about the
boston marathon but more contrast to jahara and his brother. and it just -- i just asked the question. did we do right. that's all i had to ask. if i had more words, i probably would have filled that out a little more. it was a natural question to ask for me especially because he's the younger brother had actually gone to high school with my daughter. so they had gone to the same high school. so, you know, i knew -- i didn't know him personally. but i knew his math teacher. he tutored people in math. he was on the wrestling team. it was something we could have done. he really let them down in some
way. and i still stand by that question. how could this can have been right there. how could nobody have seen that this could -- anyway before that i got completely -- i will say a certain part of the boston population. this is very much fanned by the right wing sportscaster. and what i've seen now is these older guys are going to go on to vote for trump. so it's that same section. so it's the same sort of population that is so opposed. they were still there -- there is a -- did we do right.
was there something else we could have done which is really to me not an inflammatory question. they launched this campaign. i came to short stories reading which i was supposed to read and there were three police cruisers out front. what's going on. oh, my god. they're here to protect me. that's the library to be brought into the back. it was crazy. they had this whole online campaign. this is a portrait of a white hater. what? it was crazy. but, like i say, i think it was my -- you know, so later on when we saw the certain districts, i was not all together surprised. i really did not know these guys were there.
and i didn't understand how much they hated these children still. they were still upset about bussing. and even think -- and also in massachusetts. how much they hated the whole crowd even at trader joe's. because they all stopped at market basket. and they just thought -- they slammed me like she probably stopped at trader joe's and guilty as charged. but honestly even though i keep a close eye of what is going on in america, i really had no idea that this was such a boundary between people who shop at trader joe's and people who shop at market basket and i did not know they could say that and that could be instantly obviously one of them. and, like i said, i didn't know that boundary was so fluent. >> gish jen, your last two books
have been non-fiction. are you returning to fiction? >> yes, i am. i will say there was a moment in which i was thinking, well, maybe i could run another -- it was kind of fun. just as i was hanging in the balance, i had agreed to contribute to something to an anthology that was being put together to benefit the aclu. and so all of a sudden i'm like, oh, my god, i haven't written any fiction since world and town. and i agreed to write this story. i dragged my feet. it was something i could do in a week. two weeks. oh, my god. and then out came the story. and then right after that, my mother wants two of them really within days. and i said, oh, i guess i still could. >> so you used index cards? >> no. i was so kind of -- i was in so
much trouble with this -- i just saw as i was talking 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 was like, oh, i see. actually i still love fiction. i mean, i like doing the books and i'm very glad i wrote them. and i could see a lot of people have said to me, do you know what i mean, they changed their lives and they play a lot of -- you know, this is a book explaining to myself. in other words, it really helped a lot of people that book. and i'm so happy to have done it. and, you know, it's interesting for me and an adventure as well. with that said, i can also see that the fiction writing part of me is not over by any means. >> in world and town, is there a character who is simply a character and not maybe
representing something or symbolic of something else? >> yeah. >> i'm thinking jenny. i'm thinking hattie. i'm thinking carter. the representative of the lost. >> well, i don't like that word representative. >> okay. >> because i don't think about it -- >> symbolic. >> definitely not siymbolic of. they're just people you find in the community. in other words -- it's not just jenny. there's a lot of other people who were also from that world. it's not -- you know, it's not like -- yeah, i don't think of them as representative and not representative. it's anymore like i'm talking to you and you're not representing the white race. these are two people. but it's true if you look in a different lens, you can say, oh, i see, here is this -- i don't know. maybe it's sort of true and not true at the same time. so i don't think about it that way. and when i was thinking about it
-- because it's a way in which, like i say, hattie is half lost, right? so she's not really lost. i mean, she has -- >> the con fushus part. >> yes. she is a daughter of remissionary. >> without giving the book away, what's the meaning of the parents grave? [ laughing ] >> as a reader, help me. >> help me. >> hattie's parents -- if i did this right not giving the book away. so hattie's parents because her mother was missionary from iowa, they had -- because of her father, she had the right -- the father had the right to be married -- to be marriburied in
family graveyard. >> which is a big deal. >> a very big deal. buried in confushus. 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 it's that at all. they want the parents relocated to china. and a science teacher is opposed to this because she feels that it's a bad decision and she's just against it. and i will say that there's a little bit -- you know, the story has a -- has some roots 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 political thing. so she was not buried with my grandfather. so my grandfather was buried in their home town near shanghai. and but the family who -- the family responsible for my grandmother in taiwan wanted to move her to another place that they had -- they thought it was better. a better place in taiwan. and my father was very against this. first of all, they dug my grandmother up without telling my father. and then once she was dug up, he thought that if she was reburied, she should be reburied with our grandfather. >> on the mainland.
>> on the mainland. in the special place that he had been buried. now, he had been buried -- this is kind of a long -- anyway, he had been buried in a special place that was now actually a farm. so it was like a new family graveyard nearby but not the original graveyard. and they wanted to put him there -- actually both grandparents there. and my father didn't want my grandfather already happily in the ground dug up. they already dug up my grandmother. he wanted my grandmother and grandfather to be in this special place which was understood and also a special site. it's a fantastic place in china. and so this aunt was on her way to go bury the ashes in this new place that my father opposed and i was sent to china to go stop her. [ laughing ] >> you can't make this stuff up. you know. 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. and so i don't know. always well that ends well. and i don't know whether anybody's luck has settled down or not. but i do know that that was probably maybe even the most important thing i've ever done for my father. i just know it's one of the single things that he wanted more than anything else in the world was to see his parents there together in this special spot where he felt was their spot. so i'm bringing to this other story in my book. i can understand how upset the relatives are about something that, you know, hattie who is sort of -- she just doesn't get. the iowa place is getting is near a shopping center.
it's very unpleasant. it's really becoming terrible. and she can see how upset the relatives are. and i don't mean to give her -- and she does finally, finally just say okay. and i think she's surprised at how much peace this gives her. and i getiuess -- i don't mean say and this means that. she doesn't believe in the things she believes. it's not her belief system. but she can see in some kind of very profound way the tremendous -- yes, the tremendous peace and wholeness that it gives to relatives. and she is happy to give that back to them.
knens -- does that make sense? >> let's hear from rachel in tucson. >> 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 cast gaited her -- castigated her for the newspaper column, how did she know they were trump voters? >> thank you, ma'am. >> that's a good question. i actually don't know they voted for trump. but let me just say i would not be surprised. because i could see that they were very, very, very, very, very anti-immigrant. and i can see that they were very, very, very, very, very anti-elite. you know, so i think that, you know, i -- you know, and i'm sure that this was like the obliviousness of the coast. but i like to think that if i had met them at a coffee shop, i would see them as human beings.
just the way that hattie 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 doesn't get at all. but that she just accepts them for what they are. i would like to feel that if i met these guys in a coffee shop that i would be the same way. that i would say like, okay, you know, you have a whole way of different being and i accept that. and i would like to think that if they met me, they would accept that too, you know. but i have to say that, you know, this incident tells me that, you know, where they didn't ever get to meet me and they only got to meet this very distorted picture of me but had been presented by these sportscaste sportscasters, that i could see that there was a veer lance --
virulence of reaction. the willingness that they were willing to paint me in color slides that i did not recognize at all. you know, i associate that with the trump voters. but, of course, i don't really know how they voted. i mean, i do know that there were sections of massachusetts. we think of massachusetts as liberal. but the fact of the matter is that it's not all that liberal. if you look at the electric map, actually there are places that are very bright red. and i see over shadowed by the urban areas. and so, you're right, i don't actually know that. but there does seem to me to be some kind of correlation between the real massachusetts, which i like to siay is much more complicated than we think and the behavior of these -- of these fans that seem to me to be correlated. >> any one teaching college students in their freshman year, what do you want them to know?
what do you make them do? [ laughing ] >> well, you know, more than anything, you know, you just wasn't them to be comfortable in the classroom. 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 to be -- you want them to be open to it. so it is true that, for instance, with this nyu class, i did put it -- the very first assignment was to look at the study. i knew a lot of them would be uncomfortable talking in class. as soon as we looked at the study and i asked them to look at the study about people's cortisol level spiking when they're asked to do something in class, i told them they're going to be asked to do this in class. but i wanted to see what they thought about that. so they should write a little kind of like do you think i'm right as a teacher to ask them to do this thing that's going to cause this uncomfortable reaction or not. so i hear a voice.
you know, that was not to say that i wasn't giving them a choice because my point was that by tieing up to class nyu shanghai that they knew that this was a western program at this university. and if they had not wanted that, then they should have gone to, you know, any one of the other chinese universities, in which case they would not have been challenged that way. and so by putting themselves in this class, they had, in effect, agreed to be challenged this way. but it wasn't just like you'll do it. they could process themselves what they thought of that and what they -- what i wanted to have an opinion about it. and where i did the second class was i asked them to tell me what they had written in their pieces about whether they should -- yes, they were going to have to say it aloud in class.
it was a subject which they had strong opinions that i did find that everybody kind of opened up right there. like even to say, no, i should not have to be stuck in class. they said it. [ laughing ] >> passionately and articula articulately in class. so it worked like a charm. >> jamie in beaumont, texas. jamie, you're on with author gish jen. >> i'm thinking what you might think about this using the same feelings and standards that you have against authors and books that you love and thinking of their words and the flow of them that you mentioned earlier in certain authors, which musicians, singer, song writers and certain albums do you love? >> 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. so i love jazz. i love classical. i love pop. but one thing that's really kind of noticeable about what i always love, i love local music,
you know. so, you know, i will take coral music over orchestra music any day. to me. and i'm not sure how this -- i don't know how this relates to my writing. but maybe because i'm interested in voice. but, you know, i love to hear the human voice, you know. and, like i say, whatever the human voice is doing, i want to hear it. >> we didn't get to this yet and i want to make sure that our viewers see this when we get it on record. some of your favorite books and what you're reading now. king lair, jane austin's pride and prejudice. and then we already talked about robert fitzgerald's translations of the iliad and the odyssey. currently reading ellis. >> i'm not even sure. i don't know. i've never heard of it.
>> wache. >> i don't actually know how to pronounce it. >> okay. the possessed. chemistry by rachel kuchner. >> rachel kuchner wrote the mars room. >> the mars room. is there a connection with these books we're looking at right now? >> yes. actually i would say there's a connection. yes. and they're all books where they have a really clear sensibility. right. all of these books it's like not just the material. they say, yes, there's a lot of difference. especially the mars room is very concerned with the women in person. and you can say it's very sociological. but their sensibility that she brings to the subject is really quite extraordinary. and it does take something that
has a predictable quality and kind of -- it really takes that material. 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 that you will 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 is very much about voice and sniblt -- sensibility and reality. you're reading a voice unlike anything. and that's even for those that have hundreds of thousands of books. >> gish jen has been our guest for the past three hours. typical american was her first book. mo mona in the promise land. world and town was her most
recent novel. and her last two books tiger writing and the girl at the baggage claim. gish jen, thank you for being on in depth. >> it's been such a pleasure. . >> c-span, where history unfolds daily. in 1979, c-span was created as a public service by america's cable television companies. and today we continue to bring you unfiltered coverage of congress, the white house, the supreme court and public policy events in washington dc and around the country. c-span is brought to you by your cable or satellite provider.