Students are often instructed to “write what you know.” I prefer the suggestion, “Write what you deeply and truly want to know.” I write in order to understand. This process began with the diaries I kept as a child. At age twenty-five, I sought through my memoir Solitaire (Harper & Row, 1979) to understand anorexia nervosa – years before “eating disorders” became a household term. In my first novel, Face (Warner, 1994), I explored the identity collisions that so often occur within mixed-race families. My second novel, Cloud Mountain (Warner, 1997), was my attempt to comprehend two grandparents I had never known and, through their story, a father who always seemed an enigma to me growing up. In my third novel, Flash House (Warner, 2003), I struggled to make sense of the unintended consequences that so often occur when well-intentioned people – and cultures – attempt to “rescue” those who don’t necessarily wish to be rescued. And most recently, in Gaining: The Truth About Life After Eating Disorders (Warner, 2007), I’ve tried to make sense of all that I could not understand about eating disorders when I was recovering from one back in the 1970s.
I believe writing is a journey as varied and unpredictable as each writer’s curiosity. In my opinion, the role of a teacher is to offer students support, encouragement, and constructive criticism to facilitate that journey. What a writer needs to hear is not so much what a teacher likes as what works, and what doesn't. Does the piece hold together with a consistent and authentic narrative voice? Is the world as created on the page believable and vital? Are the characters and their problems compelling? Is there passion in the prose? Of course, when the answer to these questions is no, the job of the teacher is to offer suggestions for fixing the problems – but not to explicitly spell out how the fix “should” be done. I believe that good writing can be nurtured. It can be assisted. It cannot be imposed. My goal as a teacher, then, is to equip students with the necessary skills to make the writer’s journey. They must dig deep within themselves to discover where that journey will take them. My own writing career has led me in many unexpected directions both on and off the page. My fiction and nonfiction have been published in periodicals ranging from Self and Cosmo to the literary magazine Other Voices, as well as in several recent anthologies. I’ve served as president of the national writers’ organization PEN USA, and mentored young novelists through PEN’s Emerging Voices program. At UCLA Extension’s Writers’ Program I’ve taught a variety of classes and workshops. And at age 50 I decided to earn my MFA through the Bennington Writing Seminars. Returning to school for this degree was a gift to myself and to my career. The journey is ongoing. For more information, please visit my web site at: Aimee Liu.