Saturday, June 15, 2024

[Link] Amy Tan Isn’t Perfect

This year’s Carl Sandburg Literary Award winner on getting over perfectionism in writing and the myth that Asians are a “model minority”

By Monica Eng

The Joy Luck Club has become the great Chinese American novel. What were the pros and cons of authoring the first big commercial Chinese American literary hit?

I was cast in the limelight as being some sort of expert about Chinese Americans or immigrants or mothers and daughters. With that limelight comes a responsibility put on me to speak for the community of Asian Americans, or all people in Asia, which is impossible. I had to constantly talk about the fact that Asian Americans are not a homogenous group. We are united by commonalities and needs within communities, but we can be very different in how we conduct our lives.

You’ve dressed up in S&M-style leather to perform with the literacy fundraising supergroup the Rock Bottom Remainders. How did that happen?

I used to sing “Bye Bye Love,” but I don’t have a good voice. After our first concert, our musical director, Al Kooper, said, “I picture Amy wearing leather boots and fishnet stockings, wielding a whip and singing ‘These Boots Are Made for Walkin’.’ ” And I said, “That is such a sexist thing to say,” but I realized this wasn’t about me trying to prove I had a good voice. This was about being funny, because this plays against who most people think I am. I had to go to these leather shops and ask for whips and collars. So part of this song does require me to tell the boys to bend over, and then I get to whip them.

In your latest books and your Netflix documentary [Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir], you talk about your mom’s struggle with mental health and your own struggles. Why is it important to get these topics out in the open — especially in the Asian American community?

My mother was always very open about anything. Anything I said about her was fine. So that kind of openness has been my template in life. I am part of the Pacific Asian Network. It’s like a United Way for different Asian groups that also helps combat stereotypes about Asians as model minorities: the idea that they have no problems, no mental health issues, no children who are overweight, no poverty, no elder abuse. Those are all myths.

Read the full interview:

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