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tv   In Depth In Depth with Gish Jen  CSPAN  August 25, 2018 1:03am-2:04am EDT

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gish jen, you wrote in 2009 that quote john updike chose me as his successor. i i never got to ask him why. >> guest: i know. >> host: successor to what? >> guest: what happened was it was a magazine in london and they were doing this millennials special. it was the turn of the century and so they asked all these people who they felt were preeminent in their fields.
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to name their successor for the 21st century. kate twiggy chose take moss, and john updike for reasons i never understood chose me. so here's this incredibly auguste man i've never met. i did not even knew my name. we had our picture taken together but i never got to ask him why. >> host: are you a fan of john updike? >> guest: of course i am a fan. but i would not of said he was a major influence on the accept for somewhat indirectly. indirectly he was an influence on us all and that's because here i am, i've immigrant roots compare interested in america. i see america, everything. i think updike gives the idea that's what the novel was for.
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the novel was for capturing america and writing america, one of the adventure of america. i have no idea. it was to capture merit in these books. >> tee3 im against him.
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but even maybe a little bit against them carrying on a deeper project. this is like rebelling against your writinginst the similarity of writing like updike. >>host: look at your novels typical american with the promised land are you writingng
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the great americanameric novel?t >> i i do note there is a great american novel but to the american narrative.ild so what in my wildest dreams? i would say that you cannot tell that without updike. cent you cannot talk about the 20th century.s but that we all say a few but w,
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are also here but i don't think it's about the great american ghvel and in a permanent way.h >> with that ghetto experience with the asian american genre xi >> i i do think there is a wayhw that if i think about there isas an example of what was involved and they all had the same
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problem. so they took the high road.h in it's hard it's hard to tell that you aref his jewish. that is the exact opposite.neitr and here it is but now it is much more soulful as that type of approach. and part of the social activism. ayd then to be homogeneous butad to appreciate today for this jewish american girl that everym
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time we read anything but harry james.n and with that great american novel. all and all of the above. t do. there is no one way doing but i need to do. going at and then all to seek going at it. jewish whether the jewish humor and whether we take that mandarin road or to identify. abo and the answer is all of the above.llenge. >> nearly all of your
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protagonist are asian american. >> of course. to the typical american is male. tually my they are not all asian american women but the very firster story published was called bellying up. i went to the iowa riders workshop i was in the class thaa he had a contest in his classers that was like a contest and the idea that the women proceeding.i
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and i did write the story. but who wrote this piece and i thought oh great. compan but there was but there was nothing asian or asian-american in it.t.and hiding from and waiting for his girlfriend to come out of the bathroom she was hiding. and s so i can write that it is clear that i can do that.t waysad t and then i talk about all the different ways we go about remaking america.can of course. t
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it's all about women's mom --rig mothers and daughters. and the nature of arch. agonis and with that female protagonists. answers of but the answer is of course. oncern and people everywhere are concerned. doesn't need what it is to be asian american t7 often we hear about the iowa riders workshop.t how has that how has that sustained itself? >>: itoes it do??? >> it is glorious. applied by the time i flew to iowa there
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were only three big programs. there are more now but there was iowa and stanford and hopkins but iowa was five times bigger than the other programs but i if dropped out of stanford. there my husband was there but i felt, much bigger program where people are coming out so i had it had that early advantage. also hopkins had a little bit of a shtick. and iowa did not. i will was a place they lets without encroached
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for me it was a fantastic choict because my first teacher was james mcpherson who wrote elbowl room and other wonderful books and was conveniently for someone like me who didn't know what america was with my nose up against the glass and was interested in writing about america. many years later one of my clas. and with that vision. and the american project and the
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idea that is part of what webodi should be doing as riders.nkny s and many people would say youial are too close to the project. it w this isn't about art for art's sake. teac and it was not interested for rete art for art sake but for a a novel that was very much involved in america.quickour so i will i will was a great choice. the t but that's another thing. not just one big writer who is dominating the program but the
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different people coming in and iowa is a very interesting plae to be after being bicoastal. in this tiny little airport. they bring the luggage out my father immediately said that's her suitcase. instead i'm just helping. it was a revelation to us.
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it is once is once where we wery hitchhiking.i doha i don't i don't want to paint it as a paradise but there wasut something else there seven wasn't it recently or hometown of cambridge massachusetts? f >> yes. that was yesterday. of that was the idyllic place inenl general so i was there to walk with a friend.
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and there there is a woman trolling up and down to make sure that everybody there had a parking sticker.and where's your sticker. but you can tell they've they been there 15 years. but they didn't believe me. what color is it? i said why do you want to know? she said i'm protecting people.e
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i said you think you're harassing people what you mean harassing people go home.e from. just like that. i think this is true of allfaceo placesn it just depends on who you are talking to and then there is an undertone. inew y >> you have said the word immigrant a couple of times. i >> i was born i was born on long island.econd- i am seventh generation but i'm a daughter of immigrants. walks throk a circuitous route >> host: why don't we start
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>> do i go i go back to the very beginning? you were going to be a doctor? . >> i was an english major i went to harvard, undergrad, as an english major i did take this or,rse with a wonderful the wonderful translator robert fitzgerald and i didn't really w understand poetry. so i took i took this course ane but what i didn't realize i is g
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thought it would be the paper. m but then i sent down i sent down to write my column. did and then i sent my roommate andt i i was mad at the time.ex t so why are you premed? but there e are other signals tt this isn't the right path. was h if you are not going to be a
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poet then at least be in bn publishing or something. and to call of his editor. but i i had been pre-law, premed and taking my first writing class and that teacher said thaw little piece you should really be a writer so a writer so the people who told me that seem to get that idea so i can't decide maybe i will go the more practical route.e.
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prog and i went to stanford over harvard because they had a good writing program. i god, then i said oh my god. s but that's what i'm here for. and i'm thinking he knows what he's here for. wro so when the first five minutes r was intending to finish i wasn't
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goinheg to start and then drop t but but then i overslept i overslept the next day overslept the third day overslept. it was clear i would never be an will to give myself to go to class. so i took a leave of absence and spent a year in china.dropou frm to know there are two well-known dropouts one is steve ballmer the ceo of microsoft and the other is gish jen.nt outcos. [laughter] any c ect i did drop out my parents b could not forgive me. you --, >> literally? >> literally.
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but i have been i have been reading all the superfluousooksd books but this was and i just cross that line when i couldn'to mo back to my youth. any i couldn't go back anymore. >>host: if you were tuning into booktv surprised to see o novelt long w with a special edition first sunday of the month we are featuring a novelist. "who's
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>>host:, gish jen your husband f last name is o'connor did that influence the title? >> i know what it means to be american and to know a little bit about that world wha? about the essay and the dialect? >> i did not do. it was surprising. >> but what is true it means so many things to be a writer to see that identity it is clear tv
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meoi that we are happy to hear from you. d'ul that they would have thought atn that story depends that you havs just established yourself so this commission but each gave me permission and with thisromisedn promised land with this jewish ite i voice at that point you had to
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write in another kind of voice, a chinese voice w that had to establish myself and there is a way that my parents grew up but in truth we spoke a mix ofof chinese and english. my daughter and i went to visit my mother in the hospital. my daughter doesn't have thatuti much contact with chinese culture but she was simplifying her speech to get across to my mother because she knows she isi sick and outtt of it. and so. ie so i hear her simplifying the speech and i think my daughter speaks that it is interesting. i
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are you fluent in mandarin? >> and that you do speak chinese. because then i send sound good t enough. m >> but then first english was overlaid with chinese everything including chinese grammar. m'
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but the grammar was no problem.s and then the order of things ani thangt my english was getting screwed up.naturao so with that sentence structure. that was very natural. - do you know where the term comes from? >> i don't.ewish >> that talking about writing any jewishna was a voice from st spill. with a biographical element? obviously a relative ofested in scarsdale because america isfasc
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fascinating to me that minority was the majority so in the civil rights movement. and i was supposed to say i'mre. asian and i'm proud and i'm jewish.factf the that most people in the new yort area that everybody knows you dish. in ts so i was interested in the hybrid cell that jewish changedy voice i also knew that voice amazingly well.
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so i know this dialect extremely well is very easy to write in it.t i thought that itself wrote to the complexity of life in america. -- you that i i need to go to college ref and that reflects me. and for me that comes from one background and then that becomes a little jewish. so it's too simple to say somebody that looks like me butt that's not the case. n >> when you are in china do they know you are american? >> that's interesting. teaching at beijing university d my students would say they knewd
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by the way that i walked. i walked in american way.alking if i was not walking they would not know. let's hear from can in atlanta? are you with us? can you hear me? >> caller: i apologize.pleaseo >> that's my fault go ahead. >> caller: gish jen all 50 out legislatures are about to rolll out rollout a project of citizenship this year that we
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want to encourage every school to get together to do the stories about their own elementary and high school we discovered not only in georgia but other places that most americans are associated with le organizations with literacy in schools and government and almost nothing about the organization that they spend most of their lives associated with. lett of their lives assocd with. and i just bo want you to know about it we want to reach the professional riders so they can be available to the schools where they went to school ornd where you went to elementary school and high school. exampler
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and that would be a great example for young people and i just wanted i just wanted to share the idea with you. >> that is a fantastic idea. i d i have written a lot about growing up in scarsdale new yoro and from other areas as well.lde but they bring riders from all over the world i would encourage you to get in touch with him. writer great delight to the riders and that is a fantastic thing as
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well. were ty o >>host: gish jen you have mentioned your parents a couple of times.r is who are they? >> my? >> my father has passed away.nt they were immigrants of china. f 1943 at the end of the war. but what happened in my father's case after the second world war against the japanese in the shanghai harbor they needed hydraulics engineers so thee transportation department had an exam and my father scored very highly and was one of the people supposed to help coordinate this so he was sent to the united o states of course he could not t cross the pacific all the way tp overland into india all over
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europe and the atlantic by the time he got to the united states the war was over. but he did stay to get his phdt, in minnesota then with the intention of going back but then in 1849 it wasn't a veryer of well-known chapter of american th history u.s. government had a in deal with the national china tot keep the chinese students here because at the time they had thn teeam of the crop with theirthen bd's but they all wanted to go, back people were trying to got a back but they were not allowed because the fear was they would ucl go back to help the wer l communistkier so they were stuck
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here. my father was offered citizenship under a refugee act and he said i'm not a refugeeso i'm a political prisoner. -- i le i grew up with an a state undocumented father he was a a stateless citizen it wasn't clear what country. but he was very good in engineering but my mother came t they long -- her parents try to marry her off when she didn't want to be and with that awkwardness they sent her off to get a graduate degree in america as well.caught so she also got caught here. she was a citizen because she through her local catholic
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enurch in high school so they cz helped her to become a citizen. but the and immigrant then was a rough thing.ell the stories my father had a tremendous a tremendous sense of humor so he would tell the stories and laugi but like how when he first gotot here people did not think the chinese could do engineering.utt he was in the field with army people so they gave him an algebra book to study and hetudy gave it back the next day. they said you finished it in one night?
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the next day they gave him geometry. finish the and one day? meanwhile they are trying to fix the bridge it was a trusts bridge and they are in a lot oft trouble my father said put af t truck under the edge but they ignore him because what does he know? say why the second day he says put a truck on the end of the bridge y to fix the truck the third day he says what you put a truck t n under the end of the bridge it takes the weight off but mightli father always tells a story like it is the funniest thing ever and a lot of people today would be offended my father think thep
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can't figure it out they cannot fix the bridge but oferson coure this was just like his life and he laughed about it it but a lof it was very difficult but he did work on the beltway here in d.c. as an engineer. the chinese then they didn't want this work but they didn't like as an adjunct professoriret they were just hired for the job and at the end they were all fired never promoted into management ever.and t was and to my father there was a lesson in a they told him this is a toughgh place and i guess that instilled that realism of what he would do to make it here.
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he had a very flexible view of that also i would say to do whatever it took i think that's related to my idea of the jewish writer isn't all the ways but all the different ways.1949 o >> 1949 occurs a lot in your book. why is that? >> that is the year china is liberated or fell depending on your perspective and that this i huge historical moment andss pretty much everyomething chinese-american so if you are t nationalist you are suddenly part of this government and this
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world that was in control of this little island.ov the syd all of a sudden you are inng exilest and now it is no longer the dominant method. and all the changes that thehave communist have one.just but this was just a few decide d to use some graduate work in china and then the whole country is gone. it is upside down.hock.
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you can imagine the shock. >>host: good afternoon. you were on with author gish jen go ahe i have to push the button. i have done this before. i. i apologize. go ahead. >> caller:le that's no problem. thank you very much before asked the question that what he was ak saying about being black and proud. when racial and ethnic groups. scrimi to have a history of historic no discrimination we would all be better off. to
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>> but i was listening to her t talk and to say that the worst thing you could do is yourself h but how much is that in autobiographical rating? >> that is such an excellent question. rht? people really do think that is tou. i that it must be that it is youre job to make it seem that way the worst possible thing you could ever do where you are the author
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it's not very interesting. and are not structured like a novel that not as interesting grew u but i would say because in this, underrepresented world that myrw father grew up in it is a very natural thing but then to inform my fiction but i am not mona. and none of that happened.
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and for that intentions. we all wish but the fact of the matter is that we have all developed nerves and sensitivities. those if you can find one of those was nerves it will be very personal. so that's is a girl turned is jewish.f but with that index cards. jewh.
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or a car that says mona turns jewish.olistwhy is irish but that isn't funny. gir whyl is it with china??is with chinese-american and jewish-american? but sure enough there was a big nerve it is autobiographical in the sense that was my nerve and allf the facts but it is a dream a dream you're able to have.the
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but with the fact. t truth i but with the fact. but that that truth inn mass tht is a wise thing. but we can get that is truer oran the mere truth.our w >> that is a concept a concept throughout your work., yes, >> people say where you get this from? would and those to be what my father always laughed about. and the nature of my materialrer
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and what you really see to see what a chinese-american is. t and that is so far off that gapo with that and reality so almost everything that she does is wrong and it is funny. because every single time we laugh at what mona does we laugh because we realize that it is ai good kind of humor.retion to set with that reaction from 1991 in
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the new york times the family and i identified with white america with looking back was m thinking whatever he face i hope we do not have to contend. >> did i say that? true. >> that would be true. >> that would be true. and then to identify with asian americans.e that we may have identified that we are not white but we had a
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minority a minority that is not african-american. and with that nigerian americane and this is a huge wall wall ths to deal with. >> thank you for sharing this subject. my youngestt nephew from the philippines came as an infant.0t
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handling discrimination and i had i had a private conversation with him he said is just you have to do it.than so god bless you. ee peopl >> there is no right or wrong some people are offended and angry and those that can't shrug and laugh i am very happy ii j happen to think that is a happier way a happier way to be but it is no right or wrong so that i'm grateful to people who are angry and in that phillip ross philip ross angry mode there is a way they enabled me
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to laugh if you know what i mean by an interesting thing about our writing and said she cried so that i could laugh and that is also true and all i i can say is those of us that can't laughn we must laugh and say thank yous james baldwin and all of you.ecm we are alle part of an ecosyste? >> where did your name come from ?? >> i was born lillian jen whichy was an elegant name my chinese
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also t name sounds like lillian that these books all have lilly as the root it is a a very elegant name. so i was i was named for the lotus flower. thee lily i had in and that i member thinking this is not the woman i had in mind. so i i will go along with this beautiful name but i was a junior in high school.i w part it is part of the creating righe if group -- creative writing group. city to and then i have a friend so the,
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called me gish jen off of i lillian -- i would have been horrified that i didn't know soc it was a nickname that only limited circumstances so then to that archaeological dig and awaa from home electricity was out sd we are going by candlelight and introducing ourselves and with no premeditation whatsoever ii w
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just said gish jen. i don't know why.e. today i know self naming is something a lot of riders, at the time i did not know but u that idea was very much on my mind that lillian was a nice girl but gish jen leaving the windows open at night. but that was an american freedom nillia that lillian jen did not have. d
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she is still using the palmer she is still using the palmer method but gish jen is completelyent different than ish which one would it be? i can really only write one thing it is completely in i can see it literally cannot df it anymore. but when i was publishing in iowa it was lillian jen and who is she?
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but it's not lillian jen who writes the stories it is gish jen. there it is. i don't change you papers because papers because it is a pain. cinema" and
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most recently "walkaway." >> host: welcome to c-span. >> guest: thank you very much. a pleasure traveler how do you describe your work to other people? >> guest: if people so what do you do i say i write nonfiction. they say what kind of science-fiction? some of it is very huge but most contemporary and mostly it deals with contemporary information,, politics, surveillance, censorship and the question of whether or not technology is going to enable us to be more free or take away those freedo


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