In a recent interview with Jim Braude and Margery Eagan on WGBH radio, author Gish Jen commented on efforts by the show’s previous guest, Police Commissioner Bill Evans, to attract more Asians to the Boston police force . Jen, whose humorous view of life’s perplexing questions shines through much of her work, half-jokingly confessed on the show that she briefly considered becoming a police officer (“It’s a great day job”) but quickly added that not just her editor’s apoplexy would stand in the way but also the Police Department’s physical exam, which requires applicants to scale a five-foot wall. It would be a barrier, she said, “for those of us who are only five feet tall.” These human differences between East and West, of size, perception and approach to the communities we live in, have been the literary domain of Jen since she first dropped out of the Stanford Business School and entered the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop in the 1980s.
Now an acclaimed novelist, Jen will talk about her latest work of non-fiction, The Girl at the Baggage Claim: Explaining the East West Culture Gap at the South End library on Tuesday, March 28 at 6:30 PM. The book, published last month, looks at the different ideas Easterners and Westerners have about self and society and how this “shapes everything from our ideas about copying and talking in class to the difference between Apple and Alibaba.” Jen’s 2013 non-fiction book, Tiger Writing: Art, Culture, and the Interdependent Self, based on the Massey Lectures she delivered at Harvard in 2012, also delves into East-West differences, and in particular how they affect art and literature. The novels Typical American, Who Is Irish?, The Love Wife, Mona in the Promised Land and World and Town (winner of the 2011 Massachusetts Book Prize) were widely praised for their often hilarious but also profound and warm descriptions of Chinese-American families adjusting to suburban life and the racial and religious divides they navigate.
A contributor to The New Yorker and The Atlantic Monthly, Jen’s work has been included in The Best American Short Stories of 1988, 1995 and 2013, as well as The Best American Short Stories of the Century, edited by John Updike. Nominated for a National Book Critics’ Circle Award and an International IMPAC Dublin Book Award, Jen was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2009. She has been awarded a Lannan Literary Award for Fiction, a Guggenheim fellowship, a Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study fellowship, and numerous other awards. In 2003, an American Academy of Arts and Letters jury comprised of John Updike, Cynthia Ozick, Don DeLillo, and Joyce Carol Oates granted her a five-year Mildred and Harold Strauss Living award.
The South End Writes is sponsored by the Friends of the South End Library. All the events are free. Books by the speakers will be available for borrowing, sale and signing by the author. The branch is fully handicapped accessible. We serve refreshments. Seating is limited.