Doyenne of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and Chinese-American author of Hunger, Inheritance and her newest, All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost. She appears 1 pm Saturday with Aimee Bender on the Powell's stage and at 4:30 pm Saturday for the "State of the Story" panel with Trevor Houser, Mary Rechner and Maile Meloy on the McMenamins stage.
What are your favorite themes to write about?
Time and memory, art vs. life, displacement and longing.
Name three books on your nightstand or shelf right now.
The Lives of the Artists by Giorgio Vasari; Elizabeth Bowen: A Biography by Victoria Glendinning; The Reader by Bernhard Schlink.
What's your personal writing ritual?
I have a secret place in Iowa City. It does not have phone or Internet service. On an ideal weekday, I drive to this place in the morning and write before going in to the office. On a more typical weekday, I don't have much time and end up working in my car. It is a '96 Honda Civic that I bought used with money from selling my first book.
My favorite word in the English language:
I'm interested in the American names of Chinese dishes. For a while I was interested in the term "pupu platter." Currently I'm very fond of the phrase "mock duck."
Name an inspiring, amazing piece of work:
The Beast in the Jungle by Henry James.
Name a book you think is highly overrated. Be honest.
Angelina at the Fair by Katharine Holabird. Little girls and their parents all over the world love the Angelina books, but they read as if they were written by a computer.
The dumbest thing I ever did is…
Refuse to speak Mandarin, at home, as a kid.
The best piece of advice I ever got was…
What's your literary guilty pleasure?
Glossy books of knitting patterns, any glossy books about knitting. Glossy catalogs for children with tiny, stylish, ludicrously overpriced outfits.
The closest I've ever come to quitting is…
Right now. Watching this current book, which I love, struggle into the world against bizarre misinterpretations.
Most recent nightmare:
This morning at 4 am. I'm in an airport trying to board the plane for the next city on my book tour, and I can't find the gate.
Your cure for writer's block:
Read. Immerse myself in my outer life (job, family) and my inner life begins to scream to get on the page again.
A dead person you'd like to meet (they'd be alive during the meeting):
What was your favorite book as a kid?
Third grade: Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes. Fourth grade: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Fifth grade: The Kid From Tomkinsville by John R. Tunis. Sixth grade: The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. And the whole time I was reading Laura Ingalls Wilder, more John R. Tunis, more Louisa May Alcott, Elizabeth George Speare, J.R.R. Tolkien, and lots of stuff like The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew.
Please paste a short paragraph from a story, poem, article, blog post, etc., you're currently working on below:
From a short story in progress, about a non-credentialed painting school in France:
High summer and they were living in a blaze of light. The barley fields, the grazing fields, the mown hayfields with bales joined like yellow beads. The sun was unbearable. She only had to stand in it for a few seconds to know it was dangerous. The sun was imperial, it was godly; yet, Marin sensed the landscape and everything on it was like a slice of bread in a French toaster: scorched only on one side. The backside, the shadow side, of everything was moss and lichen, mold, deeply black. The painters worked the parched surface of the blue and gold world; beneath, where the frogs and snails toiled, was the slithery underside of things.