On Oct. 6, Chatham Hall students and faculty gathered by Advisories to hear the keynote address of this year’s Writer in Residence, Gish Jen. For the first time the address was delivered virtually via Zoom and preceded by a Writer in Residence Chapel in which the Chatham Hall community reflected on words and voice and engaged in a “Let Your Life Speak” reflective exercise.
Jen, author of the recently released novel The Resisters, spent the first part of her presentation in conversation with Chatham Hall Rector Rachel Connell on topics including the challenges of the publication process, Jen’s journey and writing talent, advice for young women, and more.
“What’s complicated about being a woman writer is that most readers are women, but the way the literary world is constructed is that anything written by a woman or for women is of a lower order… It’s harder to be taken seriously as a woman,” shared Jen.
She discussed authors Grace Paley and Maxine Hong Kingston as having impacted her career – Paley as an influence on her early writing and Hong Kingston as an Asian American voice in the literary world. She also described her editors’ amazement when she mentioned having warm relationships with other writers.
“I feel like the world is plenty big enough for Grace Paley, Maxine Hong Kingston, and me,” she said. “It’s not either/or.”
When faculty and students had a chance to ask questions, Jen discussed a variety of topics including where she looks for hope (young people), what she thinks young Americans can do to avoid the dystopian future of The Resisters (vote), writing as a profession, and tips for aspiring writers.
“A day without writing is not a good day,” she said. “I’m much happier when I’m writing… It’s not a joy or a chore, it’s my sanity. It’s when I feel most myself and when I feel happiest.”
Jen also joined the International Students Association and the School’s creative writers on Oct. 7 for an afternoon session on writing and the writing life moderated by English Department Chair Mary Edmonds.
In addition to The Resisters, Jen has penned four other novels as well as shorter works in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, and a number of other periodicals, anthologies, and textbooks; appeared in The Best American Short Stories multiple times; and been featured in a PBS American Masters’ special on the American novel. Jen was also previously nominated for a National Book Critics’ Circle Award.
The Chatham Hall Writer in Residence program is supported by the Writer in Residence Fund which recently achieved endowment thanks to a generous gift from an alumna donor. Past residents have included Nikki Giovanni, Gloria Bond Clunie ‘71, Elizabeth Acevedo, Danzy Senna, and the late Claudia Emerson ’75 who twice served as Writer in Residence, was named Poet Laureate of Virginia, and was a recipient of the Pulitzer Prize.
The School now seeks to name the Writer in Residence program in Emerson’s honor and invites gifts to the Writer in Residence Fund. To make a donation, please visit our giving page
and designate your gift to Writer in Residence. You may also mail a check Attn: Claudia Emerson Writer in Residence Fund to 800 Chatham Hall Circle, Chatham, VA 24531 or contact our Advancement Office at 434.432.5600.