Amy Tan on Writing as a Gift

Writing is an extreme privilege but it’s also a gift. It’s a gift to yourself and it’s a gift of giving a story to someone“–Amy Tan.

I finally got around to watching the documentary on Amy Tan, Unintended Memoir. It is a riveting look at the groundbreaking writer, and the connection between her life and her work. After watching the film, it is easy to understand how Tan came to see writing as a gift. Her multiple talents (she’s also a pianist and artist) and her trajectory as a best-selling author fascinated me. Her commitment to truth, craft and aesthetics impressed me. But my main takeaway from the James Redford documentary was Tan’s struggle to make sense of her parents’ past, especially her mother’s, as she navigated her life as a Chinese-American. Her journey is similar to that of other multi-ethnic American writers who struggle to come to grips with their lives and past within this country. A country that sometimes is not hospitable to us or the stories we tell.

In this context, writing for us is not only a privilege. It’s a privilege that we have reclaimed and proclaimed as a right. Writing is also truly a gift to ourselves, because it is a form of cathartic empowerment. It is a gift to sustain our sanity, well-being and, more importantly, our survival. And what a gift it is for others! If, as Mikhail Bakhtin elegantly wrote, “language is a bridge built between me an another,” then stories are the vehicles that traverse that bridge. As BIPOC writers, we take readers to places never before explored and by doing so transform their lives. Our stories help us all to understand the holistic history of this country we inhabit. They help unite us as human beings through understanding, compassion and empathy.

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