Place of Birth
BA Amherst College 1988, MA Johns Hopkins University 1994, MFA Columbia University 2003
Why did you choose to come to Amherst?
It had pretty much everything I had been raised to revere in an institute of higher learning - although granted, this was probably because my dad and older brother went there (classes of '57 and '83 respectively). But I was also really drawn to the intimate academic atmosphere there and the freedom I knew it would give me intellectually. And I loved the fact that there were four other schools in the area to sample and learn from.
Favorite (most memorable or most influential) class at Amherst:
Tough!! There were so many...Econ 101 was probably the most memorable, if only because I came so very close to failing it. Introduction to Poetry was where I realized that I probably wasn't meant to be a poet, so that was influential. Introduction to Asian Religions (with Bob Thurman) opened me up to some pretty mind-blowing ideas philosophically that have continued to stay with me in one way or another since. And of course all of my English classes, and all of the collective papers I wrote for them - I think each one played an incremental role in shaping me as a future writer.
Favorite (most memorable or most influential) professor:
Sorry, I have to go with three. Andy Parker was my primary influence in writing and literature; Sam Morse gave me insight and guidance on Asian art and culture. And William Pritchard - though I never actually had him as a professor - once sent me a note complimenting me on a piece I'd written for The Student and advising me to "write more." It was a suggestion I truly took to heart - I still have the note framed somewhere.
It tends to shift according to my mood. At the moment, it's anything to do with Asia, art and art history, women's rights and World War II.
Awards and Prizes
Doshisha Prize and Doshisha Fellowship in 1988. Various fellowships and scholarships in graduate school.
Unfair question!! I can't possibly limit it to one.
Ditto! But here are a few I love: Toni Morrison, Vladimir Nabakov, David Mitchell, Jennifer Egan, Haruki Murakami, Sarah Waters, Ian McEwan, Ye Zhaoyan.
Tips for aspiring writers?
Just write. As much as possible. Every day, if you can. And when you aren't writing, think about writing. Staying connected to the craft, I find, is the only path to producing anything worthwhile.
Tell us a bit about your path to becoming an author.
I've been a book lover pretty much from the moment I learned to read, and so grew up fascinated by the power of the written word and of storytelling - in fiction in particular. Consequently I always saw myself as someone who would write novels, though growing up I didn't really know any adults who wrote for a living, so I didn't have much of a sense of what that looked like. I don't think my parents did either, which is probably why they suggested that becoming a journalist was a better and safer way to marry my love of words and stories then, say, holing up in a garret somewhere trying to do the Next Great American Opus. In many ways they were right - I did work as a print and television journalist for about ten years in Japan, Hong Kong, China and eventually back in the States. But the itch to write fiction never left me, and finally in 1999 I went back to graduate school to get my MFA. I haven't looked back since.