This season we look at what inspires writers to write. Not really asking why someone became a writer but with an interest in how they met their characters, what brought them to a certain topic or place or thing. We’ll be joined by some old friends as well as some new ones.
Rachel DeWoskin is our first guest. She is the author of Big Girl Small and Foreign Babies in Beijing. She will be joined by James Kesteloot who served as the inspiration for one of the characters in her new book Blind. (You’ll have to read the book to figure out which one!) Kesteloot is a former executive with the Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind and a member of President Obama’s Committee on employment opportunities for the blind or the severely disabled.
We look forward to a fabulous evening!
“On Sight and Insight” begins at 6:30 pm at Blackstone Library, 4904 S. Lake Park Ave on Wednesday, January 28.
As we discussed for the past couple of posts, Rachel DeWoskin has a great deal of experience living as an outsider. The experiences she had in China have granted her that unique feeling of simultaneously being desired (as a beautiful exotic woman on a hit TV show) and being estranged (having negative stereotypes attributed to her for those same attributes). The protagonist of her most recent book Big Girl Small has a similar experience as a dwarf. As the starred Publisher’s Weekly review puts it, Judy Lohden has “two visions of herself—that of a pretty teenage girl with an hourglass figure who happens to be three feet nine inches tall, and that of a sideshow attraction.” She’s very talented, not the least of which are her beautiful voice, her intelligence and her wry sense of humor, the latter two showing prominently as she narrates her story. Her beauty attracts the attention of Mr. Popular Jeff Legassic, but she’s ultimately rejected as she’s humiliated at prom. In fact, she begins the book hiding out in a seedy motel, recovering from the heartbreak she suffered, a stark symbol of her isolation.
“Foreign Babes in China” uses the culture clash I mentioned last time as a source for a lot of drama and comedy. The theme song is a mash-up between hip-hop in English (with token references to the [Great] Wall and Tiananmen Square) and traditional Chinese pop. If the whole song was in English it could easily be the theme song to a sitcom here in the United States. The show also shares an emphasis on melodramatic romantic entanglements. “Robert’s totally in love,” DeWoskin’s character says at the very beginning of one episode, “He followed Louise all the way from America even though Louise doesn’t love him!” The rest of the conversation revolves around whether Robert’s rival, Tianling, has “the guts” to make a move while Robert’s around. This rival is a Chinese local, and his friend urges him to “Do it for China!” It’s a typical dramatic angle, but with a nationalistic twist.
Next week’s Despres Lecture speaker, Rachel DeWoskin, is known in the United States for her books, more recently for her young adult literature. But she’s been a familiar face to Chinese television audiences for years now. In China, DeWoskin was known as Jiexi, the breakout character from the hit show 洋妞在北京, translated as “Foreign Babes in China.” Born in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1972 and raised by a noted sinologist, she was ideally suited to play a seductive Westerner in China’s hit show. DeWoskin arrived at just the right time for her to interact with the Chinese zeitgeist and become a transformative sex symbol.
(photo credit: anne li)
Rachel DeWoskin is a woman with her feet on two continents and her writing across three genres. DeWoskin, who has won several awards including the 2012 ALA’s Alex Award for her recent novel, Big Girl Small, has spent much of her life between the US and China, even becoming the star of a Chinese soap opera while living in Beijing. Her memoir, Foreign Babes in Beijing, and her novel, Repeat After Me, provide a glimpse into Chinese – American relations. She is also a published poet and is currently teaching memoir and fiction at the University of Chicago.
Join us for an intriguing look into this writer’s world.
Wed., April 25, 2012 @ 6pm