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Authors come to Mills, speak about womanhood in novels

Four writers — Lalita Tademy, Anchee Min, Susan Vreeland, and Yiyun Li — were invited to come help commemorate the 135th anniversary of the founding of the Alumnae Association of Mills College and speak about the formidable female characters in their books. The event was moderated by Ajuan Mance on Oct. 12th in Littlefield concert hall.

Tademy is the author of three novels, including, Citizen’s Creek, which comes out Nov. 4th. Tademy worked as general manager and vice president of several tech companies in Silicon Valley for over a decade prior to deciding that she wanted to write. In creating the women of her novels, she said it was very important to her that each woman had a unique voice.

Anchee Min was born in Shanghai, China, and moved to the U.S. in 1984. Her first book, “Red Azalea,” became an international bestseller. She has written six historical novels. Min chose to read from her newest book, a memoir entitled “The Cooked Seed,” at this event. Min said that, as a writer, she lives to promote the guts of humanity.

Susan Vreeland, who writes historical fiction and taught high school English for thirty years in San Diego, California, has written four New York Times bestsellers and has been translated into 26 languages. She read from her novel, “Lisette’s List,” and said that, in her mind, a strong woman is a woman who goes her own way.

Li was born in Beijing, China, and moved to the United States in 1996. She has written two novels and two books of short stories. She said that the writer must never look away when creating their characters, never shy from their harsh truths.

The authors spoke briefly, after each of them had given a reading from their work, about how they created the women in their books and what was important to them during that process. Tademy said that it was important to her to show women in all their facets and all of their faces.

Vreeland spoke of her character Lisette, citing her as an example of her belief that strong women are flexible and adaptive. The book is set during World War II, and Lisette faces many challenges which cause her to change from the Parisian woman she’s always been to one who makes cheese and cares for the land in order to survive.

Li said that she likes to think of her characters unconfined by worldly levels. She said that she doesn’t label herself as a mother or a writer, and she doesn’t think her characters would label themselves either.

Min spoke most of the process of writing her two memoirs. She said that it took honesty to write about the poverty, language barriers and loneliness that moving to the United States inflicted upon her life. She said that she had to ask herself what the self was and to be willing to show it.

“Perhaps, strong womanhood is just writing women as they are,”  Mance said after listening to the writers’ responses.  

First year Alexa Barger said that to see these distinguished writers who know what they want and know what they’re doing gave her insight into what it takes to be a writer.

Steven Weinberg, who attended the event, said that he’ll that what he’ll take most from the event was how brutally hard it is to write, to be truthful about characters and how painful it must be to create a really interesting character.

English Professor Ruth Saxton said that she enjoyed the event enormously and that it was terrific to see the panel of women writers, along with some of her former students, who have become a part of the AAMC and who put the event together.

The work of all four authors, including Tademy’s forthcoming novel, can be ordered through Barnes and Noble.