Amy Tan on "Where the Past Begins: A Writer’s Memoir" at the 2018 National Book Festival



welcome back to PBS books here at the National Book Festival in Washington DC I'm jeffrey Brown of the PBS Newshour and I am joined now by my friend and the wonderful Amy Tan nice to see you good to be here and we're talking about your new book which is where the past begins but we're talking about other things as well I want to start actually because you just told me the 25th anniversary of the film of joyluck I know can you believe how did that feel it feels strange yeah I was like illustrates but it also feels like it was yesterday we had a reunion of all the cast and the people had been involved and they hadn't changed you know they looked the same but the film still holds up we did a screening the film holds up the film the whole it held up for me I was very happy to see it again and I didn't have a lot of wincing that you know oh this is terrible the actors were wonderful and they all agreed they were very proud to see it again yeah yeah they're all a little older the author's a little old 25 years older I'm still here I'm holding up yeah it was also it's also been in the news lately of course because of this new phase right yeah we got a lot of plug you know yeah because everybody mentioned they'd been 25 years since there had been a movie made in the United States with basically an all-asian cast yeah and it was successful it was so successful it was you know number one at the box office opening I I think it's still doing great and of course I went to see it and I thought it was true I just loved it I had such a good time there you know and I might be a little prejudiced because I'm Chinese but but were you surprised you know it that you're right everybody every story about it said the first one since Joy Luck Club yeah have an all-asian cast yeah did that surprise you too or that it did it made me pause and think haven't there been others but I realize there hadn't been any feature films yeah that had had been there not that would be in the consciousness of the general American mainstay so that surprised me because when you see it and you see how good it is and that not just the movies the story could appeal to many but that also the actors the actors to be any film so I think that's gonna happen I'm really hoping you know they're gonna see Hollywood's gonna see these movies yeah and be can't be box-office hits but why do you think it's taken so long I mean televisions done a bad job actually but because they think that the way Hollywood works and I'm not a film expert but I think the way Hollywood works is they look at categories oh we got the you know the young teen action movies we have the romance we have the dogs genre and then we have other diversity and that includes Asians lbgtq you know and and they check this box and they want certain things and we're in the box of other so yeah we'd like to be in the the romantic comedy the drama whatever without the label yeah so where the past begins we talked about this when it first came out yeah and I I remember you you think of this as and you sort of write about it as a accidental man yeah yeah it's not what you set out to do I actually wanted to write about writing which is what I think that I did in here I'm writing about writing what I mean by imagination creativity memory and how that does feed him to the writing but of course I had to give examples and so I gave examples from my life and suddenly my editor our dear friend Dan Howard mutual friend Yan Halpern he sort of tricked you into this he kind of kept saying well this is memoir no it's not yes this is a member so pretty soon we can't he you know we angled it toward memoir and I still think it's a book about writing you know the way that we use our memory and our imagination to create the stories but but that did mean going sort of deeply into some hidden places you say yeah you were going to places your own subconscious that sort of hidden away a lot of memories that I didn't know was there you know because one of the ideas I had is that if you follow say of visceral motion maybe you could get to what you felt in the past yeah that's kind of a technique but all sudden that really happened and I was reliving traumas or realizations that took me aback very unsettling and so it was very hard for me to have this book come out so quickly after I had just so recently had a trauma or a crazy realization you know that a test that I took that had so much to do with my self-esteem I discovered what it was really about that my parents had lied to me and I had suffered this idea that the tests that I was going to be a doctor which is so ridiculous you know it wasn't that at all you know and I discovered that and writing the book by doing research about what that test actually was how surprising was all of that – okay you know um I constantly kept having these moments right I gasps sometimes I would I'd be shaking and I come to the dinner table and Lou would be there my husband and and I just couldn't talk I was just shaking us that I'll be okay but it also altered some ways that I was thinking about my fiction my life my writing and you know what I was going to do with the future and what I hated you know this resistance I have to expectations this rebellious part of me and and that I think that if I didn't have a contract for example yes for a book I would write a lot more it's my rebellious nature and these expectations that hold me back really I think so kind of made sense to you from there too yeah the other thing I discovered is that I put it aside this dream of being an artist as a kid I had been told Mumbai art teacher had no imagination and set that aside and I thought you know why should I defer my dreams I can still draw so I started drawing as a result of writing this book Wow there are no expectations I don't have to give my work to anybody but I draw almost every day yeah so I mean going back to the subtitle a writer's memoir what what are you laughing no this is gonna be changed on the paperback you know say memory and imagination you're still struggling why is that such a struggle because you you you haven't you're still having a hard time with part of it huh because of the my intention had been to write about writing yeah that definitely is there good I just you know I I'm rebelling you know I wrote about myself writers are gonna love this you know everywhere that even you still are struggling with well yeah what's the right title for my book and what is it that I'm doing yeah I didn't even choose the title it is my they're my words Dan my editor he read he said I think entire city where the past begins and they said oh how cheeky you know for somebody to come up with the title I said where'd you get that he said you wrote it the last thing you gave me that was the last cent yeah I said oh well that's pretty good well okay whatever it's called they're subtitled to the extent that it is as you said about writing yeah what did you did you learn something new about your own writing or about the process of writing that you can tell you what tell others I I did and that was that the more spontaneous I am the more the memorial act self-consciousness over what I'm doing and just right without the idea somebody's reading or what the grammar is what the prose is looking at if I can just get it out like I write an email yeah I have a better chance of it becoming something that is genuine something real and felt and an original yeah and I discovered that you know and it seems so easy just right as your it comes to mind as opposed to struggling over every sentence and revising but it's still hard for me to do that I mean I can I've learned it while writing this yeah but it's it's still hard not to want to go back and fix the sentences is that hard for you to convey to other people you don't teach no I don't but you know it's in the book and I give an example where I just do it on the spot yeah and I write out here's what happens or I listen to music and I and I just write whatever comes out I said here's what happens yeah or the other is to take a memory of something and just it may be disturbing I think it must be like what people do in the therapy and you just follow it you keep saying oh my god I feel really uncomfortable here and you keep writing and oh my god it's getting scary and then and it what happens is the memory with its emotion comes out so you know right across from us PBS is doing the great American read and picking America's favorite book Americans favorite book I guess and you know a Joy Luck Club is one of the final 100 I heard yeah so was that I assume that's nice to hear it is it's a real honor you know I just was surprised to hear that it was on that and so it's a real honor you know and I've heard from people you know that they were voting for it one of the actors for The Joy Luck Club the main character she was the one who introduced it on the PBS show yeah so that was wonderful you just say Oh for me is like having a party for yourself it's like a surprise party yeah so I mean at this point there you've got several generations of people yeah people remarkable to you that well it is because people come up and I think that they look older than I am and I say I read your book when I was 10 no no no I have that old yeah but that it I'm really surprised actually how much it's held up for one generation to another that the same feelings about self-esteem or parent expectations how is the same you think that's what it is that makes people I mean when we ask sort of what's your favorite book what is it that I mean for you what is it that lasts I'm told by people it'll be on my facebook page and they'll say this is this is why this book speaks to me that this is my story and I think that's it when people read a book and say this is my story I identify even though they're not Chinese or their parents you know are not from another country they feel that and and that's what you I what I'm astonished by that people have that identity I'm grateful alright joyluck Club on America's favorite and where the past begins Amy Tan thank you so much thank you

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