Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Anchee Min's long journey.

I went to Anchee Min's reading at Asian American Writer's Workshop today. She was reading along with Tinling Choong, author of Firewife (which I have not read).

She didn't actually "read" all that much, maybe a page or two from her novel, The Last Empress. Instead, she spent a long long time, telling us about her journey - how she was working in the labor camps of China during the Cultural Revolution, how they ordered (not "recruited" as her bio says, she emphasized) her to be a movie actress for Madame Mao, how after the fall of Madame Mao, she was denounced and pushed towards the brink of suicide. Then how Joan Chen (an actress who is beautiful and I love) told her to come to America, how she came here, was working multiple jobs, how she learned English while trying to write her book, how her agent wouldn't take her until she was published so she submitted to some Minnesota Review contest and finally got an agent and finally got her book sold, and not just that, but the international rights too. She went off on sooo many tangents, but it was incredibly intriguing, this woman had been through so much and now she was here, a writer with multiple books under her belt, living in America.

I thought her portrayal of Cixi Taihou was unreasonably forgiving, but she said that 95% of it was accurate, that she had done all the research for it and found the evidence and letters and stuff, and how she is certain that the British/Western world had demonized her in order to justify their infiltration and attacks into China. I just thought this was such an amazing piece of writing, because it was so important. Bringing a new perspective on things.

At the end, I got to chat with her a little bit, and I confess I rambled off because I was so excited (I always wonder how writers feel about meeting groupies), and I told her I wanted to be a writer. And she said that was so important, that I put my voice out there as a Chinese-American. I neglected to mention that I am trying to avoid the whole "Asian" niche market, but I still think it's important. I think it's important that America sees that we can write non-Asian identity stories too. She said, you have to do better than everyone else to prove your worth, like Michelle Kwan. Hahaha.

Oh, and something else I thought was so interesting - how she said that she didn't like writing in Chinese and then translating, partly because the language is so different (the poetry) but also because she had Chinese censorship drilled into her, that when she wrote in Chinese she felt she couldn't be free, but in English she could.

I had so many other notes and thoughts I wanted to mention from the reading today, but can't really remember anymore. I just thought it was great, and so inspiring to meet a woman who had been through so much, and then finally made it here, as a writer, of all things!

By the way though, both her and Tinling's stories about how they got their foot in the door - Tinling took fifteen years to write her little book and her book was originally in the discard pile except some intern picked it up and handed it to her agent - that made me realize even more how hard it is to break into this world.

But I don't care. I'm going to do it. If anything, listening to them today made me want it even more. I'll do what it takes. Just watch.

2 drops:

moonrat said...

She sounds absolutely fascinating...I love authors. (Most of them.)

Yes, it's impossible to break into "this world." On the other hand, you have friends on the inside, and some of them have spare keys.

moonrat said...

dude!!! i was talking about me!!!

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