Thursday, September 4, 2014

Lisa See, Most Patient Writer Ever or National Book Festival, Part 3

I've been involved in hundreds of reading festivals, author talks, and conferences over my years as a librarian and there's one thing I always dread, the Q and A. Is there even one original question left to ask of a writer after he or she has finished his presentation? I cringe when I hear someone get up to the microphone and ask, "what does your writing day look like?" or "how do you come up with the ideas for your characters?" OY!

Worse yet is when a questioner rambles on about himself, the book he's in the middle of, how to retain a publisher, etc. So, kudos to Lisa See for the amazing self-restraint she showed last Saturday after her very funny, a good bit bawdy, and extremely informative talk at the National Book Festival.

Lisa See

Touting her recently released novel, "China Dolls," Ms. See began her presentation with an anecdote from the evening prior to the festival when a woman who was seated at her dinner table asked her why she always wrote about China. She proceeded to explain her family's genealogy, tracing back over several generations, and then spoke about how mixed-race children tend to identify with one side of the family over the other. It has to do with those around you, she explained, and she has 400 relatives on her father's Chinese side.

When she was finished, moderator Ron Charles from the Washington Post called anxious audience members to the microphone to ask their questions. The first one? You got it. Prefacing his question with words like, "this might seem like an inappropriate question...." I'd have stopped him in his tracks right there. You know, if it looks like a duck.....However, Ms. See, a better person than I, let him go on and sure enough, he had the gall to say, "you don't look Chinese."

To her credit, after chastising him lightly for missing the beginning of her presentation, she took the opportunity to provide a lesson in cultural awareness, identity and prejudice. The audience was mighty pleased.

By the way, if you were not able to attend the National Book Festival but would like to know more about the authors and their presentations, the Library of Congress does a great job of taping and webcasting for your enjoyment. It may take a week or two for this year's authors to be up on their website but you can always entertain yourself with videos of previous years while you wait. Enjoy!

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