Gish Jen has published in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and The New Republic, as well as in numerous textbooks and anthologies, including The Best American Short Stories of the Century, edited by John Updike. She is the author of two novels. Typical American (Houghton Mifflin) was short-listed for the National Book Critics' Circle Award and will be featured in an upcoming PBS American Masters program on the American Novel. Mona in the Promised Land (Knopf) was named one of the 10 best books of 1996 by the Los Angeles Times. Her most recent work is a collection of stories entitled Who's Irish? (Knopf). All three books are widely taught.
Jen has received multiple fellowships from entities including Fullbright, the Lannan Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.
COG: As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a ballet dancer.
COG: How did you become you instead?
I discovered I could not dance.
COG: Fave lesser-known hero (personal or fictional)?
Anna Netrebko (After wanting to be a ballet dancer, I wanted to be an opera singer.)
COG: What’s the most enjoyable aspect of your work; the least?
Most enjoyable: Writing the next sentence – always such a surprise. Least enjoyable: Sitting sitting sitting.
COG: If you were a hybrid, what would your two halves be?
I would be half eagle, half sand piper
COG: Describe a teacher, student or colleague you hated (or hate, you big meanie); why?
I once had a colleague who lied and smiled, lied and smiled, but I could not tell you which I hated more: the lies or the smiles.
COG: In desktop publishing, a character tag is embedded code defining the style of a word or phrase. But in the literary lexicon, “character tags” refer to fictional characters’ habits, catch phrases or other distinguishing marks: Yoda’s syntax. Hello Kitty’s bow. Clint Eastwood’s rugged squint. What’s your character tag?
COG: What’s the last thing that made you laugh, cry or cuss?
My daughter (all three, in succession, several times).
COG: Describe your ideal road trip.
I would like to do the London-Mongol car rally, only in a reasonable vehicle and with a car mechanic in the back seat.
COG: What problem, large or small, are you hell-bent on solving?
What to write next, and what after that.