Amidst rainy weather and cool temperatures, Amy Tan spoke to local residents and University of Arkansas - Fort Smith students, faculty and staff about her life and its relation to “The Joy Luck Club” March 18 in the Stubblefield Center as part of the university’s ReadThis! program.
Tan spoke about the intersection between her life and the lives of the characters portrayed in her bestselling novel, but she also pointed out that the truths in the book ran deeper than simply surface similarities.
“What’s true about what I write in my stories, which may draw a great deal from my life, is that they’re the truth about human nature and the human condition,” Tan said. “It’s to try to get to a place where you think deeply and feel deeply.”
Tan discussed her upbringing from a Chinese-American mother, whose past Tan learned of only after she grew closer to her after she was hospitalized. While living in China and married to a popular playboy, Tan’s mother had an affair, and her husband had her thrown in jail when he discovered the affair.
When she was released, she fled from China to the United States with her lover -- and Tan’s father -- by putting her name on someone else’s college diploma and saying she was going to the U.S. to pursue a graduate degree. She left behind three daughters in Shanghai, after her husband would not let her take the daughters with her.
Tan was born in Oakland, and when she was young, her brother and father were both diagnosed with brain tumors and died shortly after. Her mother spontaneously moved the family to Holland, where she attended high school, moving back to the States following graduation.
Her career found her working nearly 90 hours a week doing business writing for corporations, but she found the work unfulfilling and wrestled with issues of identity and what she wanted to do with her life. As a result, she turned to writing fiction.
“So I wrote about those truths that I told you about, and those became the 16 stories of ‘The Joy Luck Club,’” Tan told the audience. “And I’m so grateful that you read the book.”
The speech marked the beginning of the bestselling author’s campus visit. The following day, Tan -- along with her editor Molly Giles -- visited students from classes including textual research methods and fiction where she fielded questions about writing. Following that, she toured Underground Ink, the university’s letterpress studio, where she viewed student-created letterpress art inspired by “The Joy Luck Club.”
The day was also the culmination of several months of activities centered around “The Joy Luck Club,” which was chosen as this year’s book for the university’s ReadThis! program. The book launch occurred Jan. 29, and a read aloud of the novel and film screening occurred earlier this month.
Dr. Erik Carlson, assistant professor of English and chair of the ReadThis! committee, said it was the end to another successful year of programming.
"It was a real pleasure to welcome Ms. Tan to UAFS. Her candid witty style charmed us all, and her insights into writing, identity and reading are fascinating,” Carlson said. “Audience members asked Ms. Tan some thoughtful questions, and the talk made for a great evening. We are especially excited that a large part of the audience was new to campus, and I hope we can welcome these guests back at future events."