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AAWW Radio is the podcast of the Asian American Writers' Workshop, an NYC literary arts space at the intersection of migration, race, and social justice. Listen to AAWW Radio and you’ll hear selected audio from our current and past events, as well as occasional original episodes. We’ve hosted established writers like Claudia Rankine, Maxine Hong Kingston, Roxane Gay, Amitav Ghosh, Ocean Vuong, Solmaz Sharif, and Jenny Zhang. Our events are intimate and intellectual, quirky yet curated, and dedicated to social justice. We curate our events to juxtapose novelists and activists, poets and intellectuals, and bring together people who usually wouldn’t be in the same room. We’ve got it all: from avant-garde poetry to post-colonial politics, feminist comics to lyric verse, literary fiction to dispatches from the left. A sanctuary for the immigrant imagination, we believe Asian American stories deserve to be told. Learn more by visiting

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Jan 20, 2021

Join the Asian American Writers’ Workshop for our first event of the new year: a joint paperback launch of Gish Jen’s The Resisters and Meng Jin’s Little Gods. These two novels, released in early 2020, sketch out a dystopian near future that takes aim at several current catastrophes, and examine history, absence, and the passage of time as filtered through the individual immigrant experience. Together, these works break new ground for the dystopian and immigrant novels, and we hope you will join us as Gish and Meng discuss their work and craft.


Live Transcript:

Hi, everyone. Happy new year
and thank you for joining us online for this conversation
with Meng Jin and Gish Jen. My name is Lily Philpott. It is my pleasure
to welcome you to our virtual space. For those that are new
we are a nonprofit organization dedicated to
uplifting Asian literature and story telling. You can visit and follow us on twitter, I object Saturday
gram and YouTube. The recording of this event will
be posted. During the event we ask that all audience
members practice nonviolence in the chat. Comments will
be flagged and the person will be removed from this event.
We will have time for audience Q&A at the end of the night.
You can ask questions by the Q &A function at the bottom of
your screen. Books are for sale. You can find a link to
purchase in the chat. You can support our authorize and
independent book stores in doing so. I am going briefly introduce Meng and Gish.
Gish Jen is the author of 4 previous novels. Her honors
cloud the literary award for fiction and the American
academy of arts and sciences. She delivered the William E
Macy lecture at Harvard universitity. She teaches
from time to time in China and lives in Cambridge,
Massachusetts. She is a graduate of Harvard
and hunter college. "Little Gods" is her first novel. We
are delighted to celebrate " Little Gods" and "The
Resisters" back in paper back. Pick up those books, support
our authorize and enjoy the evening. Welcome Meng Jin to read.

» Hi, everyone. Thank you so much for joining us tonight.
Thank you Lily for that lovely introduction. Thank to AAWW
for inviting Meng Jin to do this event. I
couldn't think of a more wonderful way to celebrate the
paper back launch of those books. I am so honored to be
here with Gish Jen who many of you might know was
one of the first Chinese American authorize that I read
when I started thinking about becoming a writer. Yeah, it's just kind of
mind blowing that we get to be here tonight together. I am
actually going to read from a photo essay that is published in the end
section of the paper back. I thought about reading this
because I took these photographs in 2016 in the
summer of 2016 when actually I saw Gish in person for the
first time. I don't know if we actually met. But Gish was
doing an event with some local writers and a friend of mine
invited me. So yeah, here are the -- here is the photo essay
. I am going to share my screen. Images of Shanghai I spent
6 weeks in my birth city Shanghai. I was there to
finish my novel "Little Gods". I left when I was a child. My
memories of the city are the memories of a child fleeting,
flashes of sensory knowledge, closer to the knowledge of a
dream than that of a photograph. Inside these
memories were images so intense and vivid I felt I
could reach out and touch them. But when I did reach for
them they disintegrated immediately. I hope to
stabilize my memory with images of the real city
outside my window the Shanghai of post cards was laid before
me sharp and glittering. This was a Shanghai that had
been built after my departure when the sky line was farmland
. Time changed me too. We faced each other as strangers.
Some days the city felt dense. It awed me with its layers of
complexity. Each time you peeled one another, you found
another just as teaming. The inner most layer was the one I
sought between the cracks of the buildings crowding the
feet of the sky line. We'ved weaved through the sit. I
knew I would never find the exact Shanghai I was looking
for. My childhood had been demolished. On previous
visits I had searched for its remnants in vein. The closest
I had gotten was confirmation of its non-existence. In a
translated directory I found the name of my neighborhood
with a single asterisk beside it. According to the note
note it meant has been obliterated. Still I walk the
streets where it should have been searching for glimmers glimmers that might bring my
childhood home back to me in one unbroken piece. Some
remain. In thosalies you can these allies you can see the
disruption of empire, technology and nature. The
architecture was pleasantly modeled colonel history the narrow allies are
made narrower by frequent stacks of junk. Not a
centimeter of space goes unused. Everywhere life is
spilling out of the doors. Most of the time, however
, the impossibility of my search was reflected back at
me. Since 2005 the Shanghai municipal government has been
modernizing the city through the demolition of the
neighborhoods. Select areas have been preserved for
historic value or rebuilt as tourist destinations. But
most are marked with. Sometimes instead of
Ti, I found buildings meaning they were empty. A paradox in
a city that is continually over filling. I found myself
photographing tis. I did not actively search. It is not
photo again I can or beautiful. I continued to photograph
with a vague imperative of duty to whom or what I didn't
know. I still don't understand what good these
images are for. They can't preserve anything. Not really
. And besides most of the residents would prefer to
collect their relocation checks and go. They certainly
can't bring back anybody's lost home. But there is
something about looking at a site you know will soon
disappear that compels to you keep looking. One day I unearthed a lost
photograph of my town taken in 2008 during the last visit to
the neighborhood before its demolition. I noticed an
unusual looking building in the background. Using street
view I was able to locate the exact spot where my town would
have been if it still stood. I went there. I saw that the
unusual building still stood. What's being built here I
asked some construction workers. A shopping mall they
replied cheerfully. Now when I imagine Shanghai I long for
no fixed image. Instead I see a city racing to an unknown
future at near light speed in whose wake I can only blink.
Thank you.

» Hi. Am I on screen now? First let me say Meng that was
beautiful. Just hearing your voice and images I can't even
tell you how much they meant to me. My family is also from
Shanghai an I also spent a lot of time looking for remnants
of the past. It's so interesting that even throw my
new book is very much concerned with the future,
just listen to go you and that Shanghai, I am aware how much
even this book is a loss. We'll be
talking about that. Let me just read a few minutes from
my book. My book as you know is called "The Resisters". It
is a post automation state baseball testimony enist dystopia. I am going to read to you
2 sections. One is longer than the other. And then we'
ll talk. So this is from the beginning of the bosk. The
book is narrated by the father in this family named grant.
He is talking about his daughter a gifted picture for
a daughter daughter. As her parents
should have known earlier, but Gwen was a preemie. That
meant oxygen at first and special checkups and her early
months were bumpy. She had jaun cidie. A heart murmur things
that distracted us. We were focused on her health to the
exclusion of all else. For us surplus the limit was one
pregnancy per couple and Eleanor was just out of jail.
Outside of the house she had a drone tracking her every move.
The message was clear she was not getting away with anything
. And we loved Gwen would never have wanted to replace
her. She was delicate that she might not consume the way
she needed to the way we all needed to. Charges of under
consumption couldn't be fought in the courts. This was auto
America after all for all the changes brought by AI and
automation now rolled up with the internet into the eye
burrito we called aunt Netty we still did have a
constitution. If anyone could defend what was left of our
rights it was Eleanor even the goose patrolled the
neighborhood. The pit bulls one might say were afraid.
But as Eleanor's incarceration brought home these battles had
a price. In the meanwhile worrying an weighing the
options distracted us from realizing other things things
we might have noticed earlier had Gwen had a sibling. It is
so hard for a new parent to imagine a child any different
from the one he or she has. Children do have their own
gravity. They are their own normal. And so it is only now
we can see that there are signs. All children take what
's in their crib and throw it for example. It is universal.
But Gwen through her stuffed animal straight through her
bedroom doorway. They shot out never grazing the door
frame and they always hit the wall or staircase at a certain
spot with a force they need today bounce forward and drop
clean down to the bottom of the stairwell. Was she 2 when
she did this? Not even. She was already a southpaw and she
seemed to have unusually long arms and long fingers or so I
remember remarking one day not that he will nor and I had so
many babies on which to base our comparison. Ours was just
an impression. But it was a strong impression. Her
fingers were long. I remember too having to round up own the
landing before starting up the stairs. The stuffed hippo
and tiger the stuffed turtle. I gathered them all into my
arm like the story book zoo Cooper of some kingdom. It
was as if I too by all rights be made plush. Of course our
house was automated as all surplus houses were required
to be by law. The animals could easily have been clear
floated. All I had to do is say the wall they would
immerse from the closet. Clear float now, aren't those
animals in your way and we can roll an clear if you prefer.
You have a choice. You always have a choice. The choice the
new feature of the program. To balance its more cyber
intimidation. If you shift it will be your own fault. Do
note that your choice is on the record. Nothing is being
hidden from you. Your choice is on the record. Meaning
that I was losing living points every time. Living
points being something like what we used to call brownie
points growing up. They are more critical than money from goating a
loan to getting Gwen into net u should we dream of doing
that a goal that involved tens of thousands or hundreds of
thousands of points. But I picked the animals up myself
any way as did Eleanor when it was she who came upon them her
silver hair and black eyes shining all because we wanted
to dump the animals into the crib and hear her laughter as
she set about hurling them. Everything was a game to her a
most wonderful loving endless game. Her spy eyes let up
with mischief. Her cheeks the pink on the under clouds. She
laughed so hard she fell grabbing the crib rails as
she scam peopled back up that the whole crib shook. Was
this delicate newborn we delicately tended. She wore
a soft yellow blanket sleeper with hand knit extra version
of a suit Eleanor remembered from her own childhood. None
of the baby over Gwen's Crib. She learned to blow on her
hands if she was cold and cuddle for us if she needed
warmth. We all wore sweaters to avoid turning on the zone
heat for which we were house scowled. Don't you find it
chilly? Why not turn on the zone heat you will be more
comfortable Eleanor especially. Don't you find it a bit
chilly? We ignored it. This is how the auto house started
with thermostats that sent to aunt Netty and videos then
drone deliverers and fruit stockers and global sitters.
Elder helpers and yard bots all of which report today
ought netty as any spy network recording our steps,
our pictures, you are relationships and when surplus
had them. She in turn took what she knew and applied it
prover ago long the way so will is and advice. Indeed in
the earlyize day automation I myself brought up ask aunt
Netty and can still remember her voice as she volunteered I
'm here and insisted I want to hear everything and reassured
me of course you feel that way , how could you not. You are
only human. I did laugh at you are only human. Now I am
going to read a short section from later on the book. Gwen
has gone on and now she and her teammates are getting
ready to play in the olympics against the Russia team. The Russia team
is terrifying partly because they have all been bio
engineered. That mean we are all switch hitters. Perhaps all of this was
fear pure and simple on the part of Gwen's teammate
feeding their obsession was the sense that baseball was
more than a sport. That it was a crown jewel. There were
people that said it wasn't even invented in America.
There were people who pointed out it was mentioned by Jane
Austin long before it was ever mentioned here. But if
baseball took on a hallowed meaning, it took on that
meaning in our American dreams. For was this not the level
playing field we envisioned, the field on which people
could show what they were made of? And didn't we Americans
believe above all that everyone should have a real
chance at bat? Didn't we believe with the good of the
team at heart something in us might just hit a ball off our
shoe tops? If Gwen's teammates were playing Russia
for something it was for this, for a chance to show my mother
would have said that even if we all returned to the dirt
and the wind and the rain like the plants and the animals, we
had a bigness in us, something beyond algorithm and beyond
upgrades. Something we were proud to call human or so it
seemed to me. Thank you. Did I say thank you loud
enough? Meng, great. So Meng, it is really a great,
great pleasure to share the event of you. I was a big fan
as you could tell by my review. It was a stunning debut. I
am hoping that a year later the joy is still with
you. How does it feel now that you have done it in hard
cover but the paper back? It is quite a moment for you.
Are you still aglow?
» Well, it's been quite a year
in between. Yeah, I think I have got a little bit of
distance and perspective this year because of how nuts the
world has been. I was reflecting on when the hard
cover came out in January of last year and the president
was getting impeached and it was very -- it was apparent
because one of my interviews was -- one of my radio
interviews was canceled because they were covering
impeachment all day. Oh, gray great. It is almost like no
time and all of the time in the year.

» I have had friends come out and publish books on 9/11.

» Yeah.

» You will soon discover
something is almost always happening in a funny kind of way it matters so much to you
but the rest of the world barely notices. Since this is
the writers workshop and people are so interested in
process we should talk about our books. I think we should
maybe -- maybe you could talk about your journey. I think a
lot of people in the audience would like to be you. They
are working on their first book and they are working on
their first book and they have roots maybe in Asia as you and
I do. Not everybody is from Shanghai, of course. But they
have all made -- as you know, they are making 2 journeys.
Often they are making one journey which is just from wow
, I have a blank page to like wow, how do these books get
written that is really long. In the beginning people go on
to write like 7 books? It seems to I am probable. That
is one journey which is just -- I bearly know
what point of view is to a finished book. For people
like you and me we have another journey. We have
roots in another culture where the whole narrative thing, the whole novel
tradition is not native. And we frequently -- there are
probably 3 journeys. The journey often we have parents
who often do not get this thing at all. Who really see
this whole enterprise as May more individualistic than
anything they would happen to them and their family. So
this kind of has 3 things going on. Your journey was my
journey at one point. I think interestingly I don't know how
many years out my first book came out in '91. I have been
at this for quite a while. I sat down to write in 1986 when
Asian American novel did not exist. I can still remember my
agent saying it is about people coming to America. It'
s about -- the term immigrant novelist did not hope to mind.
I wrote that book at a time when people believed Asian
Americans could not write novels. Max even had meant
the warrior to be a novel and forced to force it as a memoir
. Asian Americans did not write novels. I wrote it at
the bunting institute at Radcliff. I was asked every
day aren't you writing immigrant auto biography.
This was by educated people. Every day I had to say no,
actually I am writing a novel. Actually I'm producing not
artifact. It was another -- all of
these things today happily people presumably don't say
those things to you anymore. Today presumably people can
accept that you are writing a novel. If you can talk about
what it is like to enter this tradition or getting up the
nerve to tell your parents that you were going to be a
novelist, where you got this idea. We both went to Harvard, am I right?

» I guess so, yes. I was
actually her fighted of the English department at Harvard.
It was in the most intimidating building with all
of these deer heads on the wall.
I don't know if you remember that. And I took like 2 English
classes that were in the requirements. I studied
basically everything else. I studied social studies and I
did pre--med because I told my parents I have my plan B don't
worry. I can always go back on my pre-med requirements

» You will not be surprised to
hear that I was also pre-med and pre-law. I dropped out of
Stanford business school. This is very familiar too.
This is part of the story. 3 of us from Harvard we were all
about '77, '78. The 3 of us stood there and it was like a
trifecta. I had dropped out of business school. the other
one dropped out of law school and the other one dropped out
of med school. And there we were. But anyway, this is a
very familiar part of the story. Please say about what
did it mean at the time that you were doing it. We're like
the old school.
» No, I think honestly everything I have said sounds
familiar to me. I remember because I didn't really have a big humanities education or
background I wasn't really encouraged to read when I was
a kid, I remember when I decided after college I am
really going to try to do this and went abou
methodically making reading lists for myself Asian
American reading lists. I remember discovering your work
and the best short stories of the century and reading it and
being like oh, my God this is not just like we are Chinese
people drinking tea or we have so much tender
immigrant feelings. It's funny. It's ambitious. It looks
outside of just the Chinese American experience or the
experience of immigration. You were really one of the
writers that made me feel like okay, I don't necessarily have
to, you know, produce the kind of work that people are
expecting me to produce. I think I teach a little bit now
. It feels like my students are not going through as much
just as I am not going through as much of the you might be
writing your own story. Surely you can only be
expressing yourself not creating art. Surely you
must be like creating testimony and not a work of
art. I feel, yeah, when I
started writing I felt like I did get a lot of feedback.
It took me a long time in my writing workshops to get over
the fact that all of my professors and most of my
peers were white and that they were -- the parts of my
writing that they liked were the more exotic Chinese parts.
I literally had a teacher, I literally had a teacher who
gave me feedback that was like do more of the Chinese stuff. It took me a while to
understand how to sort of push back against that and to
ignore it and to come to my own sense of what I wanted my
writing to be. Because I think especially someone that
doesn't come from a literary background, please, tell me
what is good. A lot of writing, this book was
learning to ignore what other people thought and learning to
really listen to what it was inside me that wanted to
create and wanted to write.
» It is so interesting, I of
course have the letter from the Paris review that
literally the rejection letter says we prefer more exotic
» Oh, wow.

» It is right out there. Today they might hesitate to
say that. But I think what you are describing and many
people in the audience can also relate. I think they can
see that there is a kind of salable commodity that
everybody sees in you and you have to really resist. For
me a lot of that meant I defined myself early as an
American writer. Everybody wanted to be right about China China. I didn't want to -- I
didn't want to become abdomen ambassador. There were a
couple of roles for you. One is exotic. Being an
ambassador of some sort. Another as things got more
political and being a professional victim. I don't want to be a
professional victim. I actually want to be a writer.
And it is kind of this mine field when you are negotiating
, negotiating. The very happy situation with you is that you
made it through. I think that maybe one of the things that
people might be interested to hear sounds like look you
could hear I also heard myself in the end. I ignored all of
those things just like you. I literally had a little ritual
that I would enact before I started working
where I would make a little icon of various people and
various opinions in my mind a little icon. I would
literally pick it up and put it in the trash. Or out in
the hall. But I would basically -- there were a lot
of these. They weren't all -- in other words some
people who wrote opinions were not bad people. I removed the
people with good opinions. John Updyke had a good opinion
of me. No sooner did I realize what a good opinion he
had of me did I have to put him in the hall. It was a
happy thing but I am not here to write for John Updyke. I
write for myself. If you are from an Asian background the
business of writing for yourself this is a radical act
. It doesn't come naturally to us for many, many reasons
that we can discuss. As you know I have written a lot
about that. It doesn't come naturally to us. So it is a
fight the whole way. I have had this little ritual. I am
wondering whether you had anything like that that you would be able to
share with the audience? How did you find your way? This
book is very striking. Very unlike any other Asian
American novel. It doesn't feel like oh, she has been
reading a lot Maxine Hunt Kingston. You kill the writers ahead of
you. She said I heard that you wanted to kill me. Maxine
is so sweet. But at some level what I really -- what
really was I had to put her out in the hall. I am sure
you had to put me out in the hall. You have to put
everybody out in the hall.. I wonder how you did that
whether you had rituals that you used, how you cleared the
space for yourself so you could hear yourself so you
could write this very singular book that is on one level very
identifiablely Asian American around another way unlike any
other Asian American or American novel. Where did you
find that? How did you do that? >> I love what you said
earlier. I loved hearing about you talking about you identified yourself
as an American writer. I think I had a similar sorts of
things that I would insist upon. One thing was
always that if anyone ever said that I was writing about
identity I would correct them and say I am writing about "
the self". Because I felt that identity was something
superficial that society imposed upon you and it is the
self's way of responding to others view of us. I wanted -
- I think I wanted from the start when I started writing I
knew that I wanted to be able to write with the sort of
freedom that I saw white guys writing with where I wasn't
sort of bound to write about anything basically except for
the things I wanted to write about. And I didn't -- I love
your ritual. I wish I had something as cute to share.
But I think mostly I just -- at a certain point my
work I think started really growing and becoming itself
when I realized that I hadn't read a book like
the one I wanted to write and that was a good thing. And that I should be writing
the book I wanted to read. So in my head I sort of -- I
think there was a point in which I shifted my imaginary
audience from whatever you imagine
American readers or the general readership to be. I
shifted that and I started writing for myself when I was
younger basically. I started writing for the person who was
reading and reading and trying to find the book that I craved
to read and then realizing that that book didn't exist
yet and I had to write it. So I think that was one of the
sort of Montras that I had that you are writing the book
that you want to read. That a version of yourself who basically has had the same
experiences and has the same - - is interested in the same
things, is delighted by the same things. Is moved by the
same things, hasn't had the exact same ideas you have had.
That really changed -- I think that really helped me and
changed my work because I was no longer explaining myself as
much as I was in my earlier work.

» It's interesting. Another thing I don't know that will
resonate with you. There are also books that talk about the
freedom of the white male writer. There are books that
are still in territory that is not out. That is not only
because we are Asian America but also because we are women.
So this business first of all my first book is called "
typical American". How can those people be typical
American. How can you be claiming to be the great
American novel. How can you be doing that. Even now so
many books in there is still territory that is not okay.
In in case the baseball novel. Coincidentally I am not the
only women. Emily did it at the same time. It is
interesting. What you can sort of see is a journey I
have been on, whatever, a generation and a half later
you will go on the same journey. People will fill
the same box. Why can't women write about baseball? With
baseball being extremely important because it is the
American sport. When women can't write about baseball you
are there is a whole portion of America that is fenced off
in some ways that is not yours. So it was kind of
interesting that Emily Neamans felt this kind of restriction
and also chose to write against it. Also did it as I
did with the sense that boy territory and we
knew -- we both had the sense you cannot get one detail
wrong. It is dangerous. You understand that the audience
is looking -- they are looking to find fault. They are looking to
question your authority. This is a question for you. I don'
t know if there is a point at which you realize that you
have kind of -- there was something in the -- there was
something out there that we need to get you. You realize
they didn't get me. I know for me it was when I passed
muster of any number of baseball biographers. When I
passed muster with Jane Nolan and James Levy. They wrote
and also with baseball fans. I put my book through the
biggest baseball fans I could find. I know the moment --
and I passed. It almost didn' t matter what the reviews said
. I knew that I had gotten in there and I actually don't
know that much about baseball. I knew -- I learned a lot
obviously. I did a lot of studying. I did a lot of
research. Nobody said to me that's not how pictures feel
or that is not how pitchers -- that's not how they act or
that's not how the game goes, any of those things, nobody
said any of that. Everybody said you must be a pitcher. I can't throw a ball from
here across the room.
» Neither can I. But I found
all of the baseball so delightful. I learned so
much about it. I was curious. I thought that surely you must
have a deep love for baseball and that's why you wanted to
write a baseball novel. But was there another reason?

» I do have a -- funny, I don' t play baseball myself. I don
't know it. Neither of my children. Is Gwen your
daughter? Neither of my children can catch or hit or
any of those things. They don't throw. They read
philosophy. They don't do any of those things. But it is
true that my mother was an avid, avid Yankee fan as many
immigrants are. When she first came to America this was
one of the first ways she performed to be an American
and learned what America was. This whole idea of the level
playing field being from Shan ghai that is not an idea you
grow up on. She became such an avid fan. She did die of
COVID this spring. I know.
» I'm so sorry. we did bury
her with a Yankee's cap. She was really a fan. My brother
could really pitch. Most of my siblings don't. But my
brother could really throw. It was something he would not have discovered
he could do. My father found a boy's club for him and
turned out he had quite a little childhood formed by
baseball. So I had some familiarity with it. Really
it was more it was something I wanted to write about, about
what I thought was happening to America as I was trying to
think about how to drama ties dramatise what we could be
losing and the danger to democracy and conveying that
dramatically. I said of course baseball. So I have an emotional feeling about it
but truly I hadn't thought about baseball in many, many
years. My family are still Yankee fans. From Boston we
are definitely not Yankee fans. I don't have the patience
to watch all of those games and they are watching that
every pitch. You know what I mean. I don't have the
patience for any of that. So it really was --

» I am more interested in baseball now than when I
started my book. Now that I know a little bit it it is
really interesting.

» You could really feel the tenderness in the way that you
wrote about it. I was especially drawn to how you
described the relationship between the catcher and the
pitcher which I had no idea because I have not watched
baseball. I am not really a baseball fan and how you use
that in this brilliant character dynamic between 2
best friends. It was one of those things that made me
think that you must know the sport deeply. It also made me
realize that Andey was as exciting a character as Gwen

» It is a little bit like the
relationship between Ju wun. She is like
the person that -- they are kind of related because each
one is the person that wun hoped she could be. The other
is the person she fears she could be. We could probably
go on. I warned you, Lily, that we had a lot to talk
about. We can go on very easily. We haven't scratched the surface.
I can see you are here and it is time to take questions from
the audience. I think the fact that -- I think honestly
for somebody out there that is looking for a little paper to
write there is a paper there.

» Another thing that I noticed was reading your book that
felt like a symbolotic relationship it is narrated
from the perspective of a par parent about the child. I can
't think of another book that' s told from that point of
view. That point of vow is just
unbearable for me to read. Unbearably heartbreaking. I
think a lot of times like my book obviously has a child
looking at a parent. That's a more typical sort of gaze especially when we are
talking about immigrants and the child looking backwards
looking at the past and I guess it makes sense that your
November Dystopian novel is looking into the future. The
way a parent must feel growing up in a horrible world and
want ing that child to have a bright future and wanting them
to have freedom and wanting to protect them.

» Well you got it. Lily is here and she is here to tell
us to take questions. I will say that here you are. Your
first book obviously many things -- many things to
pioneer and very exciting and many new things to write. I
will say that of course just the same way you write against things I write
against the older writer. There is a sense you must be
done because you wrote about the story being young growing
up. Actually there are many, many other stories to be
written. I feel so privileged to be an older writer who
still has a few things to say and a few of view that is
different. A point of view on the same experience. It is
so familiar but oddly enough from where I sit it looks
different. Anyway, Lily, I warned you we would have a lot
to say.
» I know. I feel like we
could go on forever. I am so grateful. There is lot in the
chat. I am grateful for the conversation. It is so
vibrant and I am so glad to hear you speak. I think we
have time for a few audience questions which I will read.
If you have any questions you can put them in the Q&A box in
Zoom and we will do our best. The first is from Rachel who
writes Shanghai is an ever changing city. In what ways
does it still feel like home?

» It's funny, I think one point in your book it is all
so Chinese. University like Meng I was
born in America. I evenly knew about Shanghai from my
mother. It really did feel like home. The things that
people are pre-occupied with. I could really sense the
difference between Shanghai and Beijing. Meng you have much more to
say. There is a whole Shanghai way of thinking.

» There definitely is.
» Including what they think of
other Chinese.
» My family isn't old school
Shanghai where my parents are migrated to Shanghai from the
provinces. So Shanghai is not in our blood but maybe
that means I can see it a little more. I have
definitely been on the hardened of that Shanghai
before on the receiving end. I haven't been back -- I haven
't been back in a really long time. I do think that there is just -- whenever
I go back to Shanghai or any part of China that my family
lives in, it just opens up a part of me that, you know,
perhaps lives in my memory and doesn't really exhibit itself in American context. It makes
me remember the language the smiles, everything that's
coming in from the environment of a place that's just
irreplaceable. It reminds me of a part of something that
has made me. I think that's so much why I write, too, is
just to capture those intangible and sort of
inexpressible feelings that I always feel like I am on the
verge of losing because a place is changing so quickly
or because I am changing or because I am running away from
it or going to a new place. Sny but Shanghai I will say
that one small antidote. Back in the days in the very early
days of development, many places in China if they took
your credit card or they had just gotten credit card.
They lanted your credit card always handed your credit card
back with 2 hand. Shanghai, they were like here is your
card. The shanghai attitude is back.

» We're Shanghai. That's true.

» They are not going to bow to you because you are an
American. Excuse me.
» In an apologetic way they
look and appraise. Don't look I am looking at your entire
outfit and I see you and I have judged you.

» What is the matter with Americans ? Why do you dress
like that? I mean they can't believe how we dress. If you
have ever showed up in Birkenstocks in a Shanghai
hotel you will know how broken we have from a fashion point
of view.
» Thank you both. I have a
couple more questions. The next one it is which books do
you consider the grandparents of your books? In other words
what are the two or 3 books without which your books would
not exist?

» Do you want to go first?

» That is such a hard question. For me it is not 2 or 3
books. I want to say it does not
have a narrative tradition that I'm sure that I would not
be able to master the novel without Shakespeare. King
Lear, 5 acts was foundational. I think Meng was talking about
this freedom to say whatever it is you want to say. I have
to say that I think I was very , very influenced by the
Jewish writers and I will say that would include all of them
. But especially maybe grace Paley. I think in terms of
work that was both actually art but actually engaged. For me she was the mold.
You could actually write stuff that was about society, very
engaged and yet it ain't journalism. That is leaving
out 100,000 books.
» I love that. Yeah, if we
had more time I would ask you about your humor and that sort
of answers it a little bit. I love that and I love grace
Paley too. For "Little Gods" in particular I would say there are I think 3ish
books that really come to mind that very directly helped me. One of them was the neopolitan novel. I was
very thrilled when you mentioned her in your review.
Thank you, Gish. The way that she writes about social
mobility and I think really there is not
another writer who can see the nuisances of people who leave with more
-- with more aquity. There is a book called "in the
height of what we know" which is modeled. It is about a
mathematician. Road ing that book gave me permission to 1,
write in long paragraphs. And 2, write about science in a
way that felt -- it gave me a model how to write about
science in a way that felt beautiful not just sort of sort Bill Nye the science guy
, science. The last book that influenced me was "a gesture
life". The narrator in that book has such a circular way
of thinking and such a sort of deflective way of thinking
that I really used when I was writing the section in this book.

» Thank you. I love those book recommendations. We have
time for only one more unfortunately. There are so
many good questions. We do need to wrap up in a moment.
One last question from M who writes I would love to hear
about what you are both working on next. Meng does "
write the book you want to read" hold for your second
book and does what you want to read change as you grow as a
writer and reader?
» Sure. Since there is a
direct question for me I will go first. I think so. Yes,
definitely what I want to read changes as I grow as a writer
and a reader. I feel like I got out a lot out of my system
with "Little Gods". I also feel that I put a lot into "
Little Gods". Sort of what we were talking about earlier,
Gish. There wasn't the expectation that I would be
able to do it again. I sort of felt like it was my one
shot and now I feel like it has -- because I have gotten
this out of my system, I feel like I can play, I can have
more fun. I am really interested in playing now more
with style and with humor and with provication, with writing that is a little
more out there stylisically and yeah. The next -- I'm working on a
novel called "mothers and girls" which I am calling a
fake memoir sort of as a tongue in cheek nod to our dear
Maxine and her fake memoir and it's a book that is about
building methodologies and tearing them down.

» Sounds wonderful. I can't wait. So I just placed a new
book so it will be out next year just about this time next
February. I haven't talked about it very much. Now that is in
editorial I can talk about it. It is a collection of linked
stories. I am out having a great time. It is a little
bit of a return. So this is a story -- it is linked as a
collection of linked stories through which you can see the
50 years since the opening of China refacted through the
various stories and various characters. It is called "
thank you Mr. Nixon". Next February.

» That's so exciting will. I hope we can celebrate both of
these books. Gish, I hope we can celebrate that book in
person next year. I want to thank you both for taking the
time for joining us this evening.