Friday, March 31, 2006

Amy Tan

One good thing about moving to Greensboro has been the high quality speakers who come through this town for various lecture series. I was very fortunate last night to drive 10 minutes to Guilford College. They are completing a 3 year focus on Asian Studies, as well as the current 1 year focus on Spirituality. (Guilford is a Quaker school - and a very good one at that.)

The Opposite of Fate: An Evening with Amy Tan was the billing. I have been a big Amy Tan fan since The Joy Luck Club first came out. I have become even more enamored with her after Hubby and I decided to adopt a baby from China. I enjoy her writing immensely, and especially appreciate the understanding she provides as a Chinese American.

Ms. Tan was far better than I imagined. She was quite entertaining, engaging, personable, funny, and poignant. (And I must say she was wearing an incredibly beautiful asymetrical purple wrap skirt with a rich purple sweater and throw - I spent too much time wondering where she bought such an incredible outfit.) The Opposite of Fate is essentially the story of her life and how it influenced her writing. Her father was a Baptist minister who earned his living as an electrical engineer. He died while she was a young teen, in the same year her older brother also died (both of brain tumors). Her mother, quite an interesting character, continued to be a major influence in her life, as witnessed in her writing. In both her own life and in her writing, she has mixed the realities of life (and sometimes the very difficult ones) with humor and compassion.

One of my favorite stories came from an explanation she offered about the line "strength of the wind" in The Joy Luck Club. She ran across Cliff Notes of her book (much to her surprise) and was interested how much symbolism they placed into this phrase. She explained that it came from a Chinese phrase which literally means, "Loud farts don't smell, but the silent ones are deadly." It certainly provides some insight into the term, "breaking wind." (Sure hope my family of origin appreciates this story.)

I was also interested in the writers' band with which she has been involved for a number of years. They perform only for charity - literacy programs to be exact. Fellow band members include Stephen King (are you reading, Edgy Mama?), Dave Barry, Barbara Kingsolver and others.

The evening ended by a question about her "muse." I had noticed when she first came to the podium that she had a large purse with her. I thought - "Couldn't someone have taken that for her?" She placed the purse behind the podium. Upon being questioned about her "muse," Ms. Tan said she brought her muse in case she needed inspiration. She then opened the large purse, and a tiny and very cute little terrier trotted around the stage, to applause from the full theater. She sure seems like a fun person.

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