Academy of Achievement Logo
Home
Achiever Gallery
   + [ The Arts ]
  Business
  Public Service
  Science & Exploration
  Sports
  My Role Model
  Recommended Books
  Academy Careers
Keys to Success
Achievement Podcasts
About the Academy
For Teachers

Search the site

Academy Careers

 

If you like Amy Tan's story, you might also like:
Rita Dove,
Louise Glück,
Nadine Gordimer,
Dorothy Hamill,
Khaled Hosseini,
Maya Lin,
Frank McCourt,
Joyce Carol Oates,
Carol Shields
and John Updike

Amy Tan's recommended reading: The Catcher in the Rye

Amy Tan also appears in the videos:
Changing Lanes,
The Power of Words

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Amy Tan in the Achievement Curriculum section:
The Power of Words

Related Links:
AmyTan.net
Bookreporter.com
Rock Bottom Remainders

Share This Page
  (Maximum 150 characters, 150 left)

Amy Tan
 
Amy Tan
Profile of Amy Tan Biography of Amy Tan Interview with Amy Tan Amy Tan Photo Gallery

Amy Tan Interview (page: 7 / 7)

Best-Selling Novelist

Print Amy Tan Interview Print Interview

  Amy Tan

What do you think you know now about achievement that you didn't know when you were younger?

Amy Tan: When I was younger, I thought achievement had to do with gaining approval from other people -- my parents, my teachers, then higher-ups. It was a plateau at one level and then a continual climbing, always seeking higher and higher levels of approval. That was what achievement was: the plateaus you always had to maintain, the highest standards, the "A's." People would give you the feedback and tell you if you had done the achievement.


I've learned that achievement is a sense, what -- more importantly -- is a sense of oneself and that it's never a feeling of self-satisfaction. That the people who have achieved more probably are those who always say, "I don't deserve this." Because they were doing exactly what they loved to do, and what ended up being quite helpful, maybe, to other people. But not seeking approval, not trying to follow the ordinary way of doing things, the expected way of doing things, the accepted way of doing things. They are not aversive in their actions and, yet they know how to ruffle the system and make better things happen, not for self-importance but for larger reasons.

[ Key to Success ] Passion


When I look at external success and internal success, I always have to keep those things in mind. For example, external success has to do with people who may see me as a model, or an example, or a representative. As much as I may dislike or want to reject that responsibility, this is something that comes with public success. It's important to give others a sense of hope that it is possible and you can come from really different places in the world and find your own place in the world that's unique for yourself.

A lot of what you say rings true but it's so hard to come to grips with.

Amy Tan: It's a luxury being a writer, because all you ever think about is life.

Is there some idea or problem that most concerns you these days, that holds most of your attention? As we look to the years ahead, what do you think the biggest challenges are? What do you think the most important problems to solve are?

Amy Tan Interview Photo
Amy Tan: I think of population and the demands on the earth. There are all these people out there, so many people looking for the same kind of happiness, the same kind of success, the same kinds of comforts. Some people are going to lose out, but there also might be some compromises made in the world.

It's not simply material ones or environmental ones. I worry about ethical ones, moral ones, the kinds of compromises that are constantly being made for pragmatic reasons. I see this all the time in myself. Should I do this? It's just easier to ahead and do that. It's those little things, they seem very small but I think eventually they also erode the world. Our willingness to compromise, it all leads to the big picture.

I worry about that within myself. I worry about the contradictions. I know it's part of human nature to have contradictions, to believe one thing logically and to believe another emotionally. and to do quite another for other, pragmatic reasons. For example, that all people should have freedom of expression and when you carry that to a religious point of view you realize different people have beliefs about life after death, and karma and reincarnation, and damnation and salvation, or nothing. These beliefs affect how we act in the here and now.

How do we feel about abortion rights, or the right to die, or the death penalty? Those beliefs influence what we do, not simply in those larger issues but what we think we're contributing to the world, for what period of time and for whom. So I just about this very large morass of beliefs and how muddled they are getting, especially as the world gets more crowded, but also much more international, where a mix of things must co-exist. I think about the ideas, the emotions, the desires that go behind that.

Is there anything you've thought about that you would like to do that you haven't done yet?

Amy Tan Interview Photo
Amy Tan: There are so many things I would like to do. I would like to go trekking into Nepal. I would like to write a song. I would like to breed Yorkies. Sometimes I think I would like to be an interior decorator. There are so many things but the nice thing about being a writer is if I can't do all of those things, all I have to do is imagine them and put them in a story. That's second place but it's pretty good.

You make it sound so simple. Looking back from this point in your life, what is your advice to young people who are starting out?

Amy Tan: I go back to this idea that I only discovered when I was older. I wish I had known it when I was younger, because I think I missed a lot of observations in life. That is to develop your own philosophy. I always thought philosophy was one of the most useless subjects in the world. It's extremely important in how you perceive the world and your place in the world and what happens in the world. Is it luck? Is it fate? Is it coincidence? Is there a pattern to history? Do things repeat themselves? What in human nature is inherited versus self-determined? All of those things are so important in how you deal with the changes that happen in life -- how you deal with your successes, your failures, with love, with loss.

So apart from all those very tangible, discrete goals, I think it's nice to start off with the framework of what that philosophy might encompass. Nobody can tell you what it is. It's uniquely your own and you put the things in the basket that you want: the questions you want, the things that are important, the values, the ideas, the emotions. You look at it from time to time and see if it's staying the same or if it's changing. It's a wonderful way to observe life, because so much of life is not simply getting from step to step, but it's the things you discover about yourself and others around you and your relationships.

It's fascinating and that makes every life worth living. It makes you see in everybody you meet, no matter how much you respect or disrespect them, that their life is uniquely theirs and deserves some consideration too. It makes life fascinating and a wonder.

If you had to choose one or two books to read to your grandchildren, what might they be? You can choose as many as you wish.

Amy Tan: How old are these grandkids? This sounds like a very selfish thing, a very egocentric thing. I would probably read them a book that I've written. If they were young, I would read them The Moon Lady or The Chinese Siamese Cat. If they were older, I would read them The Joy Luck Club or The Kitchen God's Wife or The Hundred Secret Senses, because the things I would want to say to my grandchildren, if I had them, are the things that I wanted to say to myself when I was younger, exactly those things. It's not out of pride that these are better stories or words. These are the things that are important to me and my family. My books and my stories are about families, so why wouldn't I tell them the things that I thought were important to our family, that are in my books?

Finally, what does the American Dream mean to you?

Amy Tan: It took me a long time to understand what the American Dream was. I always thought it was that things get better and better. You have every right to have things get better and better, and equal opportunity and all of that. My parents took it literally. We moved from 41st to 51st to 61st Street and Highland Avenue in Oakland. I mean, we were going higher and higher up in the world.


I realize now that the most important thing that is an American Dream -- in looking at people living in other countries, in looking at the life my sisters had not growing up in this country -- is the American freedom to create your own identity. I think that's uniquely American. In no other country do you have that opportunity. It's not to say that everything will happen fairly and the way that you want. But I think that this is a country where that opportunity -- to be as wild as you want, as generous as you want, as crazy as you want, as artistic as you want, that all of that, the whole range -- exists. And we have a Constitution, a tradition, a culture that supports that. I hope it continues to support that. I hope it especially continues to support the arts in that direction. It is that self-determination of your identity, to define what it means to be an American, and that nobody defines that for you.

[ Key to Success ] The American Dream


Amy, please count me among your admirers. That was wonderful.

Thank you.

Amy Tan Interview, Page: 1   2   3   4   5   6   7   


This page last revised on Jan 16, 2008 16:17 EST
How To Cite This Page