Amy Tan on why she writes

After recently reading The Hundred Secret Senses and The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan, I’ve come to the realization that she is without question one of my favorite authors. And given that I’ve only read one or maybe two books by the other people I’d put in that category, she’s probably got the most legit claim. Her and Jhumpa Lahiri.

Anyway, I really liked and identified with what she had to say (in an interview in the Sonoma Independent) about why she writes.

“I think that the other reason that I’ve become a storyteller is that I was raised with so many different conflicting ideas that it posed many questions for me in life, and those questions became a filter for looking at all my experiences and seeing them from different angles. That’s what I think that a storyteller does, and underneath the surface of the story is a question or a perspective or a nagging little emotion, and then it grows.”

My whole life I’ve been able to sympathize with both the black and white of life. If I were a politician, I’d probably be accused of “flip-flopping,” but I prefer to think of it as exercising my prerogative as a woman to change my mind, or attributing it to my halved nature (Chinese and American, Scorpio and Sagittarius). Only in the past five years or so have I come to the conclusion that the truth usually lies in the gray. But wherever something sits on the spectrum, I think that my compulsion to empathize is part of what fuels my interest in so many different characters and stories, and that my inability to let something go until I’ve resolved it is what keeps me working and writing.

More from Tan:

“Conflicts. Tragedies in life,” she concludes, beginning to list her own biography. “Difficulties. A mother who was depressed. A father and a brother who died. Being the only Chinese girl in a school. Moving every year. Graduating from a private school in Switzerland among rich people and not being rich.

“You know, those are the things that make you either psychotic or a fiction writer.”

Exactly! Well, not exactly. But in other words, just be glad I’m not crazy.

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1 Comment

  1. You’ve selected some very thoughtful quotes to start my day. I agree that most things are ambiguous and rarely is there black or white.

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