Writer Amy Tan first achieved recognition with her bestseller The Joy Luck Club in 1989. Since then she’s written other highly acclaimed books—fiction, nonfiction and children’s works—as well as occasionally playing in the band The Rock Bottom Remainders with writer friends like Casey Key resident Stephen King. Tan has other friends and family who live in the area, so she’s visited before; she returns for the Ringling College Library Association’s Town Hall Series Platinum Dinner Jan. 6 (by invitation only to Town Hall platinum members). We spoke with her about what she’s working on these days.
First of all, what will you be talking about here—literacy?
I’ll touch on that, along with issues like immigration, English as a second language, and even suicide—all have affected my life. I’ve learned from doing talks that people usually want to hear something personal from me.
Tell us what you’re writing now.
[A book of] essays called The Mind of a Writer. People sometimes ask, “Why are you so creative?,” and I realized I had no idea how my mind works. But I have figured out some things about that here. There are chapters about things like my
notions of China, before I’d ever visited there, and finding out when I did go that there are some stereotypes that turn out to be true. Like picturing people bent over in the rice fields, wearing conical hats—my sister actually did do that in the countryside, for 19 years.
There’s also a piece on “hidden genius”—the expectations my parents had of us children that we would be prodigies. There’s a lot about failure and how I became who I am.
When will this book come out?
Ask my editor! I hope to finish it this spring and have it come out in the fall.
And after that?
I have a novel up next. One of the most difficult things about writing a novel is the structure; that usually takes a long time. This time I had a dream that gave me the entire structure. I love to tell other writers that.
What’s the greatest frustration of being a writer? The greatest reward?
The frustration is when I feel the writing is ordinary or something meaningless. I guess the reward is when I discover new things that are very personal, see something that I never expected to see. It’s not an epiphany, but a recognition of what’s always been there.
Any misconceptions people may have about you?
Sometimes I think they respect me a little bit too much, think I’m this wise, good person who’s always a certain way. I hope I’m a good person, but I’m a lot wilder than people would assume. And I have a lot of interests, from science to photography to gardening to music, that have nothing to do with writing.
Speaking of music, are you still playing in the band?
Officially, we retired three years ago, but now we’re playing reunion concerts. I lost my singing cohort [band founder Kathi Kamen Goldmark, who passed away], so I recruited Mary Karr [The Liars’ Club]. I needed a woman who was strong and wouldn’t be intimidated by the men!
What are you reading yourself right now?
A. A book of poems [Romey’s Order] that are amazing, by Atsuro Riley. The language is incredible, every single word.