Department of English
Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University
On Language and Embracing Failure as a Writer: An Interview with Ha Jin
by Jessica Brilliant Keener
How has your experience of the English language
changed over time? Can you go back and remember your impressions as a beginner?
As a beginner, we just worked like a machine. The school
emphasized British English—a few could read Charles Dickens because their
parents were English teachers. The first few years I didn’t work hard, but
toward the end of my second year suddenly American Literature became very
popular in China. Faulkner, Hemingway, all the Jewish writers. We didn’t have
the originals, just quotes from critics. I became fascinated and wanted to study
American literature. That’s when I began to work hard, really hard on the
language. You had to be able to read and write to get into a graduate program.
Then I came to this country [to Brandeis]. After a while I
picked it up and it became less difficult. I could write papers. Still,
there’s a difference between creative writing, writing a paper, and talking.
Academic English was fine, but after the Tiananmen Massacre I decided to stay,
and that’s the turning point when I really began to work to learn how to
|shall v. will|
 Kenner, Jessica Brilliant. “On Language and Embracing Failure as a Writer: An Interview with Ha Jin.” AGNI Online 11 Jul. 2006. 3 May 2007 <http://www.bu.edu/agni/interviews-exchanges/online/2005/jin.html>.
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