Academic journal article MELUS

A MELUS Interview: Diana Chang

Academic journal article MELUS

A MELUS Interview: Diana Chang

Article excerpt

Diana Chang is a native New Yorker, but she spent her early childhood in China, raised by her Eurasian mother and Chinese father. She returned to New York, where she attended high school and then Barnard College. After graduation, she worked full-time as an editor in book publishing. She lives presently in Manhattan and Water Mill, Long Island, New York.

Of herself Diana Chang says:

"I feel I'm an American writer whose background is Chinese. The

source of my first and fourth novels was Chinese but exoticism

can stand in the way of the universal that I strive for in my

themes. Therefore, since I write fiction in English and am living

my life in the United States of America, I've often subsumed

aspects of my background in the interest of other truths and

recognitions. I believe an abiding interest in character and

emotion informs all my work, not only because the relationships,

situations, and problems I write about arise out of the character

of my protagonists, out of their personalities, but also because I

seem preoccupied a lot with identity, with selfness."

In a poem called "Allegories," Diana Chang expresses one of the dominant themes in Asian American writing as well as in her own: the urge to relocate, to reshape the self. As a child, she says in the poem, she was translated from one culture to another, misplaced and found again. That re-discovery of the self is very important for Chinese-American writers, she believes. Reading through her work, one can see in Diana Chang an Americanization modified by memories of a distant but potent Chinese past. The tensions between these memories and her daily reality in a drastically different culture and language have created complex and rich fields of reference in Diana Chang, and perhaps have permitted her to transcend the limitations often associated with ethnic literature.

She is the author of six novels: The Frontiers of Love, (1956, 1994), A Woman of Thirty (1959), A Passion for Life (1961), The Only Game in Town (1963), Eye to Eye (1974), and A Perfect Love (1978). Her three volumes of poetry are The Horizon is Definitely Speaking (1982), What Matisse is After (1984), and Earth Water Light (1991).

The Frontiers of Love, originally published by Random House, was reissued in the spring of 1994 by the University of Washington Press in a softcover trade edition, with a new introduction by Shirley Geok-lin Lim.

Most of this interview was conducted before an audience at the Hatch-Billops Archive in the Soho district of New York City.

Interviewer: Let's begin, Diana, with a general question to establish some necessary distinctions. How is being Chinese-American any different from being African American or Spanish-American?

Diana Chang: From time to time I ponder that question. It's a little hard for me to answer because, obviously, I have never been Chicano or Latino. I don't know their culture, nor have I read much about it. However, I feel very close to African Americans, and I've read everybody from Toni Morrison to Ralph Ellison to John Williams to Wesley Brown John and Wesley are friends of mine). African Americans are Americans who seem to me have contributed so much to this culture, politically and artistically, in every sphere. They've exercised the Constitution for all of us. In fighting for their own rights, they have fought for everyone else's, including mine.

Being a Chinese-American woman is an elusive identity and a confusing one, even to myself. I feel that I am a minority person, but as a writer I know that sometimes I don't write "ethnic" work, that often my imagination takes me to other situations, themes and voices. My imagination frequently doesn't seem to belong to me. Rather, I belong to it and wherever it takes me, I go.

People tend to see "Chinese-American" as a single category, but of course, like everyone else, we are different from one another. …

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