A couple of things resonate with Amy Tan's readers.
One is the difficult relationship she had with her mother, out of which she found humor and pain.
Another is a demographic, the disconnect between being Chinese and American.
Tan spoke Wednesday night at Purdue University Fort Wayne's Auer Performance Hall in the Rhinehart Music Center and earlier with writing students of Mary Ann Cain, professor of English and linguistics. The New York Times best-selling author was the second lecturer featured in the 2018-19 Omnibus Lecture Series.
“I'm very friendly,” Tan told about 20 students sitting in a circle in a windowless classroom, eager to hear what she had to said. “You can laugh at me. You can say anything to me.”
Tan, 66, told them she wrote her first book, “The Joy Luck Club,” at 33 and finished it in four months. But each succeeding book took a bit longer.
While the writing world suggests that writers should produce up to 1,000 words a day, Tan's production varies from a paragraph to 20 pages, she said. Soundtracks with full orchestration and without words or lyrics are her best inspiration to write, she added.
Contemporary authors she likes to read include Louise Erdrich, Richard Ford and Jamaica Kincaid, noting that Kincaid especially presents a surface emotion and undercurrent.
“Hers is angry, powerful and bare bones, what she thinks of the situation,” Tan noted.
But when asked who was her inspiration, she answered “my mother.” Her mother, a headstrong woman who had a “borderline personality,” wanted control over her daughter. Tan, who was born in Oakland, California, and attended primary school there, was supposed to be a medical doctor, a profession that would be prestigious and offer financial security.
But her mother struggled with secrets that her daughter eventually discovered, including her mother's violent episodes.
Tan told a media group that her mother met her at the door with a meat cleaver in her hand when she was 16.
“She backed me up against the wall,” Tan said, because she didn't approve of Tan's boyfriend. Tan dared her mother to kill her, which apparently disarmed her mother.
Tan was a business writer until an acquaintance read two fictional pieces she'd written and said she wanted to be her agent. At that point, she had never taken a formal creative writing class, she said.
She gave students hope that they, too, might publish later on in life.
“The Joy Luck Club,” which became a favorite of book clubs, won several awards and was made into a movie in 1993.