You’ve probably heard that Lan Samantha Chang, a Harvard professor and Chinese-American writer, has been selected as the new director of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. The first female director in the history of the program, and the fifth director overall, Chang herself studied at Iowa.
In a 2004 interview with Robert Birnbaum, Chang talks about the circuitous route she took to writing:
I thought I would assuage everybody’s concern by saying, “I’ll go to law school.” But when it came down to it, I took the LSAT and realized when I was studying for the LSAT that it was particularly interested in the kind of thinking that I find most boring. Which is logical thinking. I did OK. I got into a law school. And then deferred. And then borrowed money from my parents and said, “Oh, parents, I just want to take a year off.” My parents were terrified. They had come to this country so that I could get an education and be well established and they had sacrificed an enormous amount. It’s the old story. They wanted me to be a professional. So they were worried about my taking a year off. I went to work in New York. I was an editorial assistant at Vintage Books for two years and at the end of the first year realized I had to think of something to do next, because my parents were so worried and because I knew I was rudderless. Even though I wanted to be a writer, I didn’t know exactly how a person went about doing this. When I was at Vintage, I discovered in the library a copy of John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction and I read it over and over and over. So I began to educate myself. It’s a very technical book. I think it’s a wonderful book. He’s kind of an opinionated coot. But I liked that. I like the authority….
I think it was sort of like coming out of the closet as person who was not going to be a professional. Kind of like that. They knew I was interested in literature. My mother told me never to read any more Wizard of Oz books when I was a kid because she thought they were like marijuana. She thought that too much reading was bad.