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A Search for Creativity: Amy Tan’s TED Talk Inspires A Reading List

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Where does creativity come from? In this TED talk from TED2008, The Joy Luck Club author Amy Tan meditates on the influences in her life and the lives of others in an attempt to discover where creativity can be found within us. For Tan, it’s all about intentionality, focus and serendipity. Drawing examples from her own life and writing process, Tan tries to discern how much of what happens to us is up to random chance, and how that element of random chance changes our perspectives on life and art. In this funny, charming, personal and insightful talk, Tan delves deeply into the way we respond morally to the world, universe and each other.

In looking for where creativity comes from, these five books speak to the broad issues Tan discusses in her talk. These books will not only get your juices flowing, but might also give you a few ideas about where creativity and our points of view originate from.

steal-like-an-artist-kleonSteal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative, Austin Kleon (Workman, 2012)

This stimulating and motivational book posits that nothing is original and encourages people to accept the remixing of ideas to make something new. Written by artist and writer Austin Kleon, this manifesto on creativity seeks to help readers get in touch with their inner artists.


the-woman-warrior-maxine-hong-kingstonThe Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts, Maxine Hong Kingston (Vintage, 1989)

This classic work of creative nonfiction by Maxine Hong Kingston interweaves fantasy elements from Chinese culture and harsh realities of growing up as a first generation Chinese-American woman. The book traces the way life experiences are shaped by perspective, culture and escapist imagination.



fine-fine-fine-fine-fine-diane-williamsFine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Diane Williams (McSweeny’s, January 2016)

The latest collection of short stories by absurdist master Diane Williams are sharp, unsettling and brain-bendingly hilarious. Her very short stories are taught enough to tell a complete, rich and too-real story in a few pages or less and after you sink your teeth into them, you’ll be noticing peculiar truths in every aspect of your everyday life.



fun-home-alison-bechdelFun Home: A Family Tragicomic, Alison Bechdel (Mariner Books, 2007)

This classic and darkly comedic graphic novel by super cartoonist Alison Bechdel, which has recently been adapted into a Tony-winning musical, explores the way art, sexuality and ultimately family form who we become. As Tan puts it in her talk, “Childhood trauma makes great material,” and this simultaneously heartbreaking and hilarious family graphic memoir proves the point.



hard-boiled-wonderland-haruki-murakamiHard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World: A Novel, Haruki Murakami (Vintage, 1993)

This novel is mind-bending and pairs magical realism with futuristic dilemmas, so essentially it’s par for the course for the immensely talented Haruki Murakami. However, this book, among other things, is about choosing the world we want to live in: a fundamental question at the heart of any and every creative endeavor.



Recommended reading:

The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan (Ecco, 2014)

valley-of-amazement-amy-tanTan’s latest novel tells the story of two women during one of China’s most climactic points in its history: the collapse of the last Imperial dynasty and the rise of the Republic. It’s a stirring novel about mothers, daughters and the tenacity of love.


Katie Hires is a book lover, pop culture nerd, and graphic designer. When she's not researching Game of Thrones fan theories, she's either reading or at home making pasta.

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