Amy Tan was met with both laughter and applause Tuesday evening when she told her audience how she became an author, though she wasn’t sure why”I have no complete answers when someone asks me why I became a writer,” Tan said. “I give them a different answer each time.”
Dr. Peggy Watson, Dean of the John V. Roach Honors College, welcomed the audience and said that Tan was brought to campus as part of the Fogelson Honors Forum.
Dr. Victor Boschini, Chancellor of the university, introduced Tan by giving a brief overview of her life and works.
Tan became a writer after rejecting her mothers expectations to become a doctor or concert pianist, he said. Many of her books have been New York Times best sellers, and she has cemented herself as a fixture of american pop culture by appearing as herself in The Simpsons, Boschini said.
Tan then spoke for almost an hour about her life, beginning with admitting that she was once a cheater.
“I actually used CliffsNotes,” she said.
Tan then described the experience of finding one of her own novels, The Joy Luck Club, in CliffsNotes, and said that the biography page listed facts that, though true, were not exactly as she would have described them herself.
She then went on to tell about growing up as a child of chinese immigrant parents, her father a baptist minister and her mother who spoke only broken english.
Tan said that her father and brother died of a brain tumor while she was still a teenager, and for a period of time she hated her mother and her mother’s eccentric advice.
After a brush with Swedish law when Tan’s mother moved her family overseas, Tan said she graduated from high school early, attended college and then dropped out of graduate school. Subsequently, she said she eventually became a well-paid, freelance business writer working 90 hours per week, but realized it was not fulfilling work.
“What I decided to do was to find something that would be meaningful in my life, that would have nothing to do with making money, and would have nothing to do with proving anything to people… And I chose to write fiction in my spare time,” Tan said.
Her journey as a writer led her to start asking questions about her mother’s secret past, she said. Through getting to know her mother and her family history, Tan said she began to understand what it meant that “a story must be felt.”
“Being a writer is about discovering all these things and about questioning my life always,” she said.
Her discussion was followed by a brief question and answer facilitated by junior political science major Kimberly Dena.
Though the audience consisted mostly of community members, several students waited in the long line to meet Tan and have their books signed after the forum.
Katie Walker, a junior writing major, said she considers herself a fan and has read many of Tan’s books on her own.
“I was excited to hear what she had to say, about her writing process especially,” said Walker.
“We’re reading “The Joy Luck Club’ for one of our classes,” said junior neuroscience major Jessica Polasek. “It was amazing, she is just an awesome person and I feel like if I could have half the life she has I would be really happy.”
Jason Lam, a junior math major, said that her books reminded him of his family because of how the grandmother talks, because he is also a descendant of Chinese immigrants.
“It felt just like home,” he said. “Her books are really personal, but she was really humorous and i liked that.”