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  • NYS Writers Institute

Imagining possible futures with novelist Gish Jen

We renewed our conversation with the brilliant and charming Gish Jen, major American fiction writer and author of the new bestseller, The Resisters (February 2020), a novel about a family struggling to maintain normalcy and find value in their lives in a near-future American dystopia.

Gish last visited UAlbany in January 2018 to speak about her nonfiction book, The Girl at the Baggage Claim, a how-to manual for building cross-cultural understanding between Eastern and Western cultures. Her events were cosponsored by the Writers Institute and UAlbany's Center for International Education and Global Strategy in January 2018.

Her new novel, The Resisters, is set in a strange future that will strike many of us as extremely plausible.

The time: not so long from now. The place: AutoAmerica. The land: half under water. The Internet: one part artificial intelligence, one part surveillance technology, and oddly human--even funny. The people: Divided. The angel-fair "Netted" have jobs, and literally occupy the high ground. The "Surplus" live on swampland if they're lucky, on water if they're not.

"The Resisters is palpably loving, smart, funny, and desperately unsettling. The novel should be required reading for the country both as a cautionary tale and because it is a stone-cold masterpiece. This is Gish Jen's moment. She has pitched a perfect game." --Ann Patchett

Gish Jen spoke to us via email from home.

Q: Are we living right now in dystopian times?

A: Hmm, I'll have to think about that one.

Q: What can dystopian literature teach us about the present moment?

A: Our worst nightmares are clarifying. What do we really care about? What would we fight for? What keeps our hearts beating? Our everyday lives can distract us from our own deepest truths.

Q: Is there anything you enjoyed reading during these days of social distancing?

A: I loved Yiyun Li's new book, Must I Go, which will be out in a few months. It's an excavation of a book that digs deep and shies away from nothing.

Q: Do you have any favorite books you can recommend to us now?

A: My family and I have been memorizing poetry, including Matthew Arnold's Dover Beach. It's so sad. And yet, concerned though it is with the 'turgid ebb and flow of human misery' of Sophocles' time, and with the loss of faith of Arnold's, it is itself so beautiful and transcendent that art seems as eternal as the sea.

Q: Are there any actions we should take?

A: I wish everyone would keep a journal.

Q: Is there any news from your life that you'd like to share?

A: We have adopted a kitten. She is a very shy young lady but ventures out when no one is looking.

Q: Thanks so much!

A: You are totally welcome. More power to you!

NYS Writers Institute clip from Gish Jen's January 2018 visit:

"The Book Show" interviews with Gish Jen and WAMC's Joe Donahue

Q for you: Read any good dystopian books lately?


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