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Amy Tan at the 2017 SILF: Joy & Luck in Your Writing

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By Ms. Lucy Fang

“Amy Tan is coming!” I screamed at the top of my lung after the list of guest speakers who will be presenting at the 2017 SILF (Shanghai International Literary Festival) was released.

Just last year in December, I talked about Amy Tan and her books in one of the morning assemblies. Two months later, the news came that she is coming to Shanghai. It’s just too perfect to be a coincidence!

The first time I heard about Amy Tan was back in 2009 when I watched the film version of The Joy Luck Club. The book itself has brought many people to China. I wondered at the time what is it about this book that makes a person have the courage to hop on a plane, leave everything behind and live in a foreign land. After a while, I realized it’s self-explanatory—for Joy and Luck. The book does have magic power. Just turning the first page, I already fell in love of the rhythm and the flow.  I can’t say for others, but the words that came out from the author’s hands match the ebb and flow of my personal rhythmic instinct.

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For the past 8 years, I have read most of her books and written essays about them. Not for one second had I thought I would meet her in person, but there she was, right in front of me! Like a starstruck fan, I was feverishly and nervously waiting for the conversation to start and unfold, my body tense, my mind racing. Being 100% present, I listened wholeheartedly for an hour and did not let myself miss any of it, not even one syllable. The sometimes criticized but often loved author wasn’t here to internationally talk about Chinese American women but more about her personal experiences and what has played a role in the making of a writer. Readers and critics usually tend to pigeonhole her and put labels on her and her works. In my earlier essays, I was guilty of that as well—associating her with terms like mother and daughter relationship, identity and the Chinese diaspora. Readers impose on her what readers think what her books are about to make sense of it. The truth is, a story needs to be read on its own terms. Being there in person and sharing the legacy she carries in an intimate space with no more than 80 people, Amy Tan struck me as an individual who is as honest and authentic as one can be. Before the end of the first conversation, we were given 30 minutes to ask questions and I took advantage of it. I would have never forgiven myself if I had missed out on that opportunity.

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Thinking back now, I should have addressed her as “Ms. Tan” when I asked my question. Instead, I started by saying “Hi Amy!” like I have known her for many years. As a matter of fact, I do know her literary works but not necessarily her as a person. I was curious about how drawing and music helped her in her creative process, how she managed to weave the visual imagery into one masterpiece after another, and most importantly her advice on how I can write stories of my own. Her response to a slower writer like myself was encouraging, especially when she mentioned she is a slower writer and writing is always a work in process. Besides just writing more, I also need to draw no matter how bad my drawing is; after all, once you have the images in your head, the skills can be learned.

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I have been rambling a lot about Amy Tan, but if you are bored to tears, then turn off your phone and flip through her books. I promise a plethora of feelings and emotions may come up but boredom won’t be one.

By 11F Ibi Zhao

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When I think of Amy Tan, I’d think of many sophisticated literary devices and intergenerational relationships applied in her novels, which makes it hard for me when I study her novel for my Extended Essay. Everything I knew about her was locked inside the pages: An Asian-American writer who writes about cultural and intergenerational stories. However, I’ve never thought I’d attend her talk and meet her in person here in Shanghai.

The talk was at M on the bund, which surprised me quite a lot. It appears to me this talk was not a solemn presentation, but a cordial conversation. It truly was.

Starting by introducing her grandmother, Amy Tan talked about the story of her families and her own intercultural experiences accompanied with her growth. What flabbergasted me was not the stories themselves, but the power of language: the way Amy Tan described and narrated those stories which made them come to life. The natural flow of the words coherently constructed the time and the place where the stories took place, as if we were experiencing the stories ourselves.

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Then came the question part. Being the youngest one (probably) sitting among the audience, I felt very nervous. Though I felt quite confident with my oral English at school, I couldn’t help my heart racing when holding the microphone, making eye-contact with Amy Tan and using my not-very-natural accent to communicate. I asked about her experiences relating to her understanding of Chinese and American culture. Though the question was very broad and not very well-constructed, I’ve never regretted I asked it. Amy Tan responded to my question by referring to her intention of writing her books. I still remembered what she said in her response: “Write the story that is your story.” And that deeply pulled on my heartstring.

Besides the wonderful talk, I also got a chance getting to know people who share the same interest with me. I’ve talked to several people sitting around me. They shared some interesting opinions and stories with me and I felt great talking and making friends with them.

This was truly an unforgettable experience I’ve had in my life. Meeting with Amy Tan and talking to her was once in a lifetime chance and I will cherish it forever.

Shanghai Qibao Dwight High School
March 22nd. 2017