‘Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir’ – How writer maintained sanity amid sudden fame

Overnight success brought fear, depression

Amy Tan of ‘Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir’ on ‘American Masters’ Monday on PBS

Q: When “Crazy Rich Asians” came out, many reviews said there’s never been anything like this culturally since “The Joy Luck Club.” What was your reaction to that at the time?

A:  I thought, “Yes, at least, finally.” I was so glad to see that movie. In fact, I saw it about five times. … And I think that it had to achieve commercial success before we could see more films like this happen in the future. I think that “Crazy Rich Asians” did that. I think “Joy Luck Club,” the film, made it apparent that that could be possible. You could take all Chinese characters, a story that involved places different from the U.S., and have a broad audience, a mainstream audience, find resonance in that.

Q: What was it like to have worked a long time on something and then all the sudden have it be an instant hit the way “Joy Luck Club” was?

A: I thought it was actually frightening because this is not anything I’d ever dreamt of. I was a very practical person, and I think because of the way that I was raised, you know, I could never be an artist or an author, because who would make money doing that? I know I had to do something practical. So I thought it was impossible I even had a short story published. And when this book came out and suddenly it started gaining momentum thanks to independent book sellers, by the way — I thought somebody else was in control of my life. … I was scared. This was out of control. And I actually became depressed, because I had a life in childhood that was so out of control. …

One thing that I did, I wrote down things that were important and I said, “Do not lose yourself. You can get sucked into this kind of success, and you might believe you’re better than you are … because that’s what you’ll hear from people. And you just have to stay solid and … know the reasons why you write and what’s important.” And that has served me really, really well.

George Dickie

George Dickie

George Dickie has been a features writer for Gracenote/Tribune Media Services since 1989, when “Hee-Haw” was still on the air and George “Goober” Lindsay was his first interview. His early interviews ranged from Jim Henson and Dick Van Dyke to Phil Collins and the Dixie Chicks.

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