On April 15, the illustrious, best-selling author Amy Tan informed the audience at UCSB’s Campbell Hall that she was in love. She was not talking about her long-time marriage to her husband, Lou DeMattei – no, Tan was discussing her current romance with her new book. Pico Iyer, an acclaimed novelist and prolific magazine writer who led the conversation of the Arts & Lectures sponsored event with Tan. Iyer questioned, “Is there any book that is close to your heart?” Tan responded, “My book that I’m writing now. I’m in love with it – trouble is it’s not in love with me. I’ve slept with it. But it still doesn’t love me.”
Tan sat before hundreds of literary admirers with a serene expression, attired in a long flowing skirt, and giving the air of a learned bohemian. She was equipped not only with wit, but also with great poise and an expansive, articulate vocabulary that made the artist appear even more extraordinary than the best-seller that I had pictured. The Chinese-American writer has authored such critically acclaimed works as The Joy Luck Club, The Kitchen God’s Wife, and The Bonesetters Daughter, among many others.
Iyer had as much presence as Tan herself. Iyer’s British charm was infectious and the questions he asked Tan, such as who she considered her “literary siblings,” seemed not pretentious but absolutely appropriate. Iyer was also well read on Tan’s life, informing the audience that the author also dabbles in music, and is a member of the garage band “Rock Bottom Remainders” with other literary champions Stephen King, Dave Barry and Matt Groening.
Iyer also brought up the topic of mothers and daughters, a central theme in several of Tan’s works. Tan’s reaction was to talk about her mother with great affection, and the subject became one of the main topics of the conversation. She explained that, while she wrote, her mother served, at times, as a muse for her writing, and that she could often feel her mother’s voice whispering in her ear, a voice that has helped Tan create many of the characters that readers have grown attached to. Tan explained that she has been surprised that individuals have often approached her and asked, “How did you write our family?” The personable feeling of Tan’s writing extended to her presence on stage.
At the closure of the conversation with Tan, audience members were invited to ask the writer questions, making the large lecture hall seem more intimate. Tan was just as attentive with the audience’s questions as she was with Iyer’s, and the event left attendees in amorous anticipation of her next novel.