The Centipede

Literature Outside the Classroom: Students meet Gish Jen

Yoon Kim '18

Gish Jen, the acclaimed author of six published books and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, visited the Concord Public Library on Thursday, October 26, to speak at the Concord Festival of Authors.

Standing in front of the statue of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Jen introduced her latest book, The Girl at the Baggage Claim: Explaining the East-West Culture Gap. This book explores how individuals understand their identities in Eastern and Western cultures.

Jen’s appearance was even more relevant and timely as one of her novels, Mona in the Promised Land, had been studied in Concord Academy’s upper level English elective The Literature of Immigration.

Sewina Yu ’18 and Katherine Barahona ’18, both eager students in the English class, headed over to the Concord Public Library, just across the street from main campus on Thursday night. Following the event, Yu excitedly commented, “I could tell that I was in the presence of a very smart person.” Barahona chimed, “She was so well-spoken!”

In response to an audience member’s question on how her latest book related to Mona in the Promised Land, Jen expressed that she recently noticed, when reading the book again for the first time in 20 years, that she had subconsciously included her own life philosophy in writing the book. This theme in her work was something that CA students have noticed and grabbed onto.

Talking about Mona in the Promised Land, Yu exclaimed, “She literally wrote the story of my life–I don’t think anyone has understood me more. I don’t know if I would have been able to describe these experiences in the way that she did, and that was just amazing for me.”

By exploring the boundaries between the East and the West in a continually globalizing world, Jen offers thought-provoking insights into geographical psychology and proposes her own reading of the world. While the physical boundaries between nations and cultures blur with rapid globalization, the philosophical boundaries between the East and West still perplex us; Jen deciphers such differences, masterfully piecing together personal anecdotes, stories, and research in social and cultural psychology. For those traveling between national and cultural boundaries during the upcoming break, The Girl at the Baggage Claim is a must-read–perfect for a long plane ride or road trip.

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Literature Outside the Classroom: Students meet Gish Jen