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From Hubei to the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame: Hualing Nieh Engle Talks about Her "Three Lives" and the Founding of the UI International Writing Program

 

Jennifer Feeley


Born in a war-torn China in 1925 and recently inducted into the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame, Hualing Nieh Engle 聶華苓 has lived a long and fruitful life. She is the author and translator of more than twenty books, including Mulberry and Peach 桑青與桃紅, a novel which garnered the American Book Award in 1990, and a bestselling memoir entitled Three Lives in Images 三生影像, that has appeared in multiple editions in Hong Kong and mainland China and is slated for release in Taiwan sometime next year. On the eve of the Communist victory, she escaped from the mainland to Taiwan, where she became literary editor of the liberal journal Free China Fortnightly 自由中國, the youngest and only female member of the editorial board. In 1963, she met Paul Engle, then Director of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, while he was on a study tour of the contemporary Asian literary scenes. In 1964 she accepted Paul's invitation to become a writer in residence at the Writers Workshop. Two years later she earned her MFA while teaching Chinese Literature in the Program for Asian Studies at the University of Iowa. In 1967, she and Paul (whom she married in 1971) founded the International Writing Program, where she served as Associate Director until Paul's retirement in 1977, when she assumed the directorship. Among the many notable legacies of her long involvement in the IWP were the “Chinese Weekends” she and Paul launched in 1979, which gave Iowa City the distinction of being the first place in the world where mainland Chinese and Taiwanese writers could meet after decades of mutual isolation. She retired in 1988 and currently serves as a member of the IWP Advisory Board. This interview, which took place at Hualing Nieh Engle's home in Iowa City, was conducted in two sittings, the first on June 9 and the second on September 11.



When did you start writing?
 
In my last year of college in China during the Chinese civil war, in Nanjing, at National Central University, where I'd been an English major. When the Communists took over, they didn't like the word “central” (which denoted the Nationalist Party), so they changed the name to Nanjing University. During the Chinese Civil War, I saw people who'd been allied with the Nationalist party (Guomindang) on the right suddenly switch to the left. It was almost a trend. But I couldn't join them: my father had been killed by the Communists when he was working for Chiang Kai-shek's 蔣介石 government in Guizhou.

Why was your father executed by the Communists?
 
During the 1920s and 30s, the Nationalists were fighting with other parties for political power. Originally my father belonged to a smaller, opposition party, and when the Nationalists started assassinating the opposition, my father hid out in the Japanese concession in Hankou, Hubei because the Japanese administration wouldn't allow the Chinese military into that area. For awhile, my mother couldn't find him, but eventually we did and settled down with him there. However, he was jobless for almost eight years. Eventually, in 1935, the Nationalists sent him to a remote area in Guizhou, which was very poor back then. He was supposed to be the commander-in-chief of the army of that area, but he had no army because Chiang didn't trust people outside his party. He didn't even have a single soldier! So when the Red Army came through Guizhou on their way to Baoan, which was a Communist base in Shaanxi province, they killed him. Really, this period of history is so complicated. I don't know how you can condense it into just a few sentences!

So what happened with your father affected your political leanings.
 
I couldn't support the left because of what happened to my father, but I was not sure about their ideas anyway. At the same time, however, I wasn't happy with Chiang Kai-shek's government. I was very alone, neither on the left nor on the right, while it seemed everyone else took a political position. I couldn't take sides—I was an outsider—so I began writing about this situation of the Chinese at the time. The title of the work was “Metamorphosis” 變形虫. That was the beginning of my career as a writer.

Which took off after you moved to Taiwan. When did you make that move?
 
I went to Taiwan during the summer of 1949. My first husband Wang Zhenglu 王正路 and I had gotten married earlier that year in Beijing, then called Beiping, before it fell to the Red Army. When the Communists came we disguised ourselves as farmers and fled south. The Red Army was taking one city after another—woosh!—just like that! On our journey south, we underwent countless interrogations by the Red Army: check-up after check-up after check-up! We finally arrived at Nanjing, an area under Chiang's control, but then the Red Army was heading that way, so we went to Wuhan, where my mother and brother and sister were. I told my mother that they had to get out because of what had happened to my father, and she asked, how? I promised her I'd do anything to support them and insisted that they leave. We all hopped on a train. We were lucky; it was nearly impossible to get on trains at that time. You didn't even need tickets, it was total chaos! We arrived in Guangzhou and had to stay there until we got passage to Taiwan. Zhenglu and I went by plane because we'd gotten jobs with the Nationalist government, while the rest of my family went by ship.

How was the adjustment to life in Taiwan?
 
Taiwan had just been recovered from the Japanese. I have to say, the Taiwanese still seemed culturally Japanese at that time. It was like being in another country, and it felt so far from the mainland, where we'd lost our homes, our land. In every way it was foreign to us. In Taipei, I could still hear the click-clack of wooden clogs on the streets.

After we arrived, my first husband left to work as an interpreter in Japan, and we ended up being separated more than we were together during our fifteen-year marriage. He went back and forth between various countries, and we ended up divorcing in 1964. Meanwhile, I had gotten an editorial job at Free China Fortnightly 自由中國 almost as soon as we had arrived in Taiepi. Hu Shi 胡適 was the publisher and Mr. Lei Chen 雷震 was the president. It was a very liberal magazine for the period and promoted democratic reform.

What was Hu Shi like?
 
He was charming, pleasant, distinguished. A true gentleman. He was one of the great leaders in modern Chinese writing. I was introduced to Lei Chen as a young, jobless writer, and he asked me to be the literary editor of the magazine. This was in 1949, the beginning of Chiang Kai-shek's newly established government in Taiwan. After a year or so, Lei Chen asked me to serve on the editorial board. I was the sole woman on the board, and also its youngest member, being only twenty-four. It was a man's world. They were distinguished men of letters. I learned a lot from them. They were the best Chinese minds of their generation.

Aside from your editorial duties, did you continue to write?
 
Of course, but I tried to publish my work elsewhere. By the time I left for Iowa in 1964, I had published seven books of fiction and translation including a novel, but I mainly wrote short stories. I think it's more difficult to write a good short story than a novel. A short story, because of its length, requires much greater compression, but if you get it right, then it's so good!

You have a great photo of the Free China Fortnightly editorial staff. That's you standing on the far left and Lei Chen at your feet, but who are the others?
 
That's me on the left, standing next to Mrs. Lei [Song Ying 宋英], who was not a member of the editorial board. Next to her are Yin Hai-guang 殷海光 and Xia Dao-ping 夏道平. Sitting in front of us, from left to right, after Lei Chen, are Song Wen-ming 宋文明, Dai Du-heng 戴杜衡, and Shen Si-cong 沈思聰. The picture was taken in 1959. The following year, Lei Chen was arrested.


Didn't Chiang's administration shut down Free China Fortnightly and ban its contributors from publishing because Lei Chen criticized the KMT for being a “one party dictatorship”?
 
The magazine stood for democracy, freedom, liberal rights. Chiang's government couldn't take it. It was closed down in 1960 and four people were arrested. One of them was pressured to make false accusations against Lei Chen. He lied and said he was a Communist spy, sent by the Communists to work with Lei Chen. Hu Shih had become in 1957 the President of Academia Sinica in Taiwan, but he was in the States when Mr. Lei was arrested. He kept quiet although he was closely connected with the magazine and very much concerned. Later, in 1957, when he became the President of Academia Sinica in Taiwan, he still kept quiet. He was so distinguished and so famous that Chiang's government couldn't touch him. I believe in his heart he was on our side but couldn't speak out.

I heard that when you were in Taipei last August to receive a medal of achievement, the President of Taiwan, Ma Ying-jeou 馬英九 offered a public apology for how the party had treated you all.
 
Yes. I was invited to Taiwan to attend a memorial panel in honor of Yin Hai-guang 殷海光, “Search for the Space of Freedom—Free China as the Center” (追求自由的空間---一以自由中國為中心). He was on the editorial board of Free China Fortnightly, had written many of the editorials that had infuriated Chiang's government, and was put under house arrest after the magazine was closed down 1960 until he died in 1969. Nine years! The memorial panel lasted two days. President Ma Ying-jeou came at the end and gave a speech in which he emphasized the need for peace in Taiwan. He apologized with a bow to those who had been persecuted by the Nationalist government for advocating democracy and freedom, especially those who'd been imprisoned.

I was awarded with the medal by President Ma the next day at the Presidential Mansion. He entered the hall cheerful and smiling. After the ceremony began, he pinned the medal on me. We shook hands and all of us drank champagne. Some of my good friends attended the occasion, including Lin Hwai-min 林懷民, Chiang Hsun 蔣勳, Yin Yong-peng 殷永芃. I was so happy to see all of them! Later, I was asked to make a speech. I began with my thoughts about leaving Taiwan back in 1964. At that time, I decided, “I'll never come back here!” because I was so angry about the incident with Free China Fortnightly. I went to Taiwan with Paul in 1972 to visit Mr. Lei Chen who had been released after 10 years in prison, and then in the 80s, but during those visits I always had to be careful and couldn't call on my friends. The secret police were watching me. Reflecting on Ma's apology on behalf of his party's actions, I concluded my remarks by saying, “Today I am back.” From Taipei I went to Kuala Lumpur and received the Hua Zong International Chinese Writing Award from the Sin Chew Corporation of Publications.



with Chiang Hsun and Lin Hwai-min in Taipei
What effect did the Free China Fortnightly affair have on you personally?
 
I was isolated for two years! Mr. Lei Chen and three others were arrested, but they couldn't arrest me: my father had been killed by the Communists! I stayed home and wrote my first novel, The Lost Golden Bell 失去的金鈴子, as well as short stories, and did translations, but nobody dared hire me. The secret police had been watching the area around my house. I didn't see my friends for a long time. I didn't want to get people involved and they didn't dare come visit me. Even a pedicab driver down the road could've been an informant!

How did you survive?
 
From writing and translation. I wrote my first novel, The Lost Golden Bell. I had been a student of English literature, so I translated Henry James, Katherine Mansfield, Faulkner, Hemingway, Willa Cather, and several other American writers.

Looking back, do you feel that translation had an influence on your writing?
 
It trained me to become a better writer in Chinese. A translator must be loyal to the original author but also transform the language into something new. I don't know if you'd agree, but I think it's more difficult to translate essays than fiction. In fiction there's a storyline, and the most difficult part is the dialogue, which is so local and full of idioms. With essays, it's the tone. When Paul Engle and I first met, I mentioned that I had translated Faulkner's “The Bear.” He asked me how I dealt with Faulkner's Mississippi dialect. I told him that there are many southern dialects in Chinese, so I simply used one of those.

Which dialect did you use?
 
That was a joke, my way of dealing with Paul! We always enjoyed playful banter. We were like two ping-pong players hitting the ball back and forth—friendly players I should add. In reality, translating “The Bear” was extremely difficult. Some of his sentences go on for half a page. My style is not at all like that. Translating Faulkner forced me to stretch my use of the Chinese language.

You came out of seclusion to teach the first creative writing courses in Chinese.
 
Yes. A leading scholar, Tai Jingnong 台靜農, came to my house in 1962. He was the head of the Chinese literature department at Taiwan University and also one of Lu Xun's 魯迅 literary followers. He said, “I want to start a new course in creative writing, would you like to come teach it?” It really took guts for him to ask me to teach in his department. I was still under government suspicion at the time. In a way, he was telling Taiwan, “She's okay, she can come out and work.” It was the first creative writing course in Chinese. Immediately after Tai employed me, Hsu Fukuan 徐復觀 from Tunghai University invited me to teach creative writing there too. At first I declined because I had accepted the offer from Prof. Tai already, but he convinced me to teach at Tunghai on weekends. He also created the special course, creative writing, for me to teach.

Were you reading a lot of Chinese literature back then?
 
Books by mainland writers were banned at that time in Taiwan. Later, when I was in the U.S., I worked with a team to translate literature of the Hundred Flowers Movement. I knew these authors' works back when they had been attacked as “Rightists”: Wang Meng 王蒙, Ding Ling 丁玲, Liu Binyan 劉宾雁, and Zhang Xianliang 張賢亮 and others. During the 1980s, when we brought them to the International Writing Program, Wang Zengqi 汪曾祺 quiped, “Nieh Hualing brings the Leftists from Taiwan and the ‘Rightists' from mainland China!”

What do you think of contemporary Chinese literature?
 
Nowadays, because of all the political movements, writers in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and especially those from mainland China who grew up during the Cultural Revolution or afterward, they are out of touch with classical Chinese literature. They couldn't get the books. I think that's the main difference between my generation and the one after mine. They lacked exposure to the classical literature.

But they're still more accessible to me than the newer, younger generation of Chinese writers, including those in Taiwan—writers in their 20s, 30s for example. They may be very creative, but I'm just not used to their language. It's not the same. I think some of them have been adversely influenced by the bad translations of the literature in the West. In China nowadays, big publishers have translators work in teams, so that when some book in the West comes out and is a best-seller or wins a major award, they can divide the labor and publish the translation in a few days. It's fast, but the language isn't polished.

What do you think of the poetry being published today?
 
I still think that Cheng Ch'ou-yu 鄭愁予, Yu Kwang-chung 余光中, and Ya Hsien 瘂弦 are the best in modern Chinese poetry.

And they all have Iowa connections.
 
Yes, Yu Kwang-chung and Cheng Ch'ou-yu obtained their MFAs from the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Ya Hsien received a Master's degree from Wisconsin, but he was one of the first to come as part of the International Writing Program. He stayed on for two years. He just called me yesterday. He's now retired and living in Vancouver.

::Mo Yan::
Which mainland Chinese writers do you read on a regular basis?
 
I read Mo Yan, Yu Hua, Su Tong 蘇童, Li Rui 李銳, and Jia Pingwa—those writers who started publishing in the 1980s. And now there are younger ones such as Chi Zijian 遲子建, Bi Feiyu 畢飛宇, who was here in Iowa two years ago. Just recently, within two weeks he received four literary prizes! Chi Zijian also has won several literary awards in China.

In fiction, the form is very important. Every writer must invent his or her own fictional form; nowadays in mainland China, they're extremely inventive in this regard. I think many of the writers who excel at making new forms have been influenced by Latin American literature. Take Mo Yan's Life, Death, Exhaution 生死疲勞, for instance.(I would like to translate the title as Life, Death, Exhaustion) The writers are northerners. They grew up in northern China and were rooted in the local language and life. Anyway, the standard Chinese language, putong hua, 普通話 is based on the Beijing dialect. They're different from the writers of the same generation who grew up in Taiwan. If the Taiwanese authors write in Taiwanese, I don't understand, yet if they write in Mandarin, then they don't have such a strong cultural attachment to Taiwan. Some writers are children of the Chinese who fled to Taiwan, but they have lost touch with the mainland. I feel closer to the writing in mainland China, even though I wasn't in China during the period that Mo Yan and his generation came of age. They attracted attention and interest in the 1980s. They convey the experience of the most difficult time in China. They grew up in the Cultural Revolution.

Do you also try to keep up with the younger writers in China?
 
I am interested, of course. There is a writer in Shanghai, Han Han 韓寒. He's sold millions of copies of his books. He's so rich now, so active. I've also read some new works on the Internet, but I have to say, though, that I much prefer reading literature published in book form. Something you can put on the library shelf. Things published online appear for a while but then they're gone.

Who are you reading at the moment?
 
Ge Fei 格非. I like his generation of writers. They convey the experience of the most difficult time in China. They grew up in the Cultural Revolution.

What do you think of all the overseas Chinese writers now writing in English?
 
Well, Ha Jin 哈金 writes in English. I just feel it's kind of . . . I don't feel so close to what he writes. It's different. The Chinese experience expressed in another language feels like a skeleton without flesh and blood. It's like a Chinese person in an American suit. I don't know whether he's American or Chinese when I read his writing. But I feel closer to the Chinese writers who write in their mother tongue.

Mulberry and Peach
So language is important to you.
 
Very much. When I came to Iowa in 1964, I lost touch with my mother tongue. I couldn't make up my mind which language to write in—Chinese or English? I'd already published seven books in Chinese but was also familiar with Western literature. My novel The Lost Golden Bell, for instance, was one of the earliest examples of what had come to be called Modernism. I majored in English literature in college, then in Taiwan I translated Henry James, Faulkner and other Western writers. After moving to the U.S., I wondered, should I now start to write in English? Or keep going in Chinese? I couldn't write a word for quite a few years. Then, one day in 1970, I sat down and wrote “桑青與桃紅” [the title of Mulberry and Peach] on Chinese checked paper, and suddenly I couldn't stop writing! From then on, I've been writing in my mother tongue. I've published 24 books so far.

Were there any writers outside the Chinese-speaking world with whom you identified?
 
I found that the situation of Eastern European writers during the Cold War was familiar to me. The life they lived was like my own. I realized then that what I felt was not a specific Chinese condition but a human condition. In order for me to write about what happened back in China, I could only write in Chinese.

Why was it so critical for you write in Chinese?
 
My style is very compressed with regards to wording, which can be easily expressed in Chinese but requires too much explanation in English because of all of the cultural differences. I don't think I could make my writing come out the way I would like in English. The Chinese language is rooted in me. Yet when I write in Chinese, I feel I have to create my own language, one that is not specific to any particular locale. When I go back to visit China, Hong Kong, or Taiwan, it's a different world. My language may be different from how Chinese writers now write, but it's my language. Anyway, the writer creates his or her own language. So Iowa's my home in terms of place, but Chinese is my home in terms of language.

Earlier I mentioned overseas authors who write in English. What about those who continue to writer in Chinese, such as Pai Hsien-yung 白先勇? Do you have any affinity toward their work?
 
Sure, sure. Pai Hsien-yung's younger than me, but he wrote about the life in Taiwan during the 50s, when I was there. We have a lot of experiences in common. His father was a high-ranking general. My father belonged to his father's clique when it was in control of Wuhan, which placed my father at the top of a military garrison, so I feel very close to Pai's writing. Paul Engle actually brought Pai Hsien-yung to the Writers' Workshop.

How did you first meet Paul Engle?
 
In 1963, Paul had a Rockefeller grant to visit Asia. He was only in Taiwan for three days. The cultural attaché of the American embassy organized a party so he could meet some local writers. I had already emerged from isolation and was one of the writers they invited. I didn't like going to public occasions at that time, so I arrived late. The host offered to introduce me to Paul, but he was talking to a lot of writers and kept me waiting forever. Finally, he turned around and I was introduced to him. He said that he'd read some of my stories in translation and I replied, “You're rude.”



So how did you get from thinking he was rude to agreeing to join him in Iowa?
 
After the party, there was a dinner held in his honor, I think hosted by Yu Kwang-chung. I was invited and by chance was seated next to Paul. He talked about his experiences travelling around Asia. He was always joking and laughing—he loved being the center of attention. Suddenly he asked me, “Would you like to go to Iowa?” I told him I couldn't go; I wasn't sure I could get an exit visa to leave Taiwan. Then he asked me to have breakfast with him the next day. I said, “No, I have to teach at Taiwan University in the morning.” He said, “Well, what about lunch? I will cancel the other appointment I've made for lunch. ” And I said yes. We talked about Faulkner, translation. When we were saying good-bye, he repeated, “You must come to Iowa.” I told him I had two little girls and wasn't sure I could get out. When he was leaving Taiwan, Yu Kwang-chung and several others saw him off at the airport, I was invited to join them. I agreed, and when Paul and I were saying good-bye at the gate, he again repeated, “You must come to Iowa.”

He certainly had his eye on you.
 
At the dinner the previous night, he'd said, “I want to drive you home.” We wandered around Taipei in a taxi. When he walked me to my door, he was like a child. He looked up at the stars in the sky and asked me to make a wish. I said I didn't have one. He said his wish was “See you again, again, and again.” That was nearly half a century ago.

So you accepted his invitation?
 
Not then. I was not sure I could get out of Taiwan. I came to the Writers' Workshop in 1964 as a writer-in-residence. After one year, I entered the Fiction Workshop and earned an MFA within a year. At the same time I was teaching Chinese Literature in the Program for Asian Studies at the University of Iowa. In 1967, Paul and I started the International Writing Program.

How did the idea for the IWP develop?
 
We were on his boat. He liked to take friends near the dam on the Iowa River. I told Paul that the Writers' Workshop was such a success, producing some very distinguished writers, but the foreign writers didn't fit there. Paul was extremely familiar with the European literary scene and curious to know more about Asia, so in the early 1960s he started inviting writers from Asia to the Workshop. The year I came, 1964, there were already writers from the Philippines, India, Japan, and even Afghanistan on campus. All of us were older and already published. We were established writers. So I said to Paul, “Why don't you start a program for international writers?” He said, “That's the craziest idea I've ever heard. The administration may not welcome it; we already have crazy American writers on campus.” But he was persuasive, and after some brainstorming, he earned the support of some faculty members and administrators and finally obtained the approval of the university president, Howard Bowen.

How did you select writers in the early years?
 
It was very expensive to bring writers from foreign countries, so we agreed we should bring outstanding writers and emerging talent. Each writer was a costly investment. In the first year of the IWP, 1967, we could only afford twelve writers.

Who were they?
 
There was Dai Tian 戴天 from Hong Kong and Ya Hsien 瘂弦 from Taiwan, Ryuichi Tamura 田村隆一 and Tauchi Hatsuyoshi 田内初義 came from Japan and Fernando Afable and Wilfrido D. Nolledo form the Philippines. We also had Hans Christoph Buch from Germany, Sankha Gnosh from India, Eugene Nicole from France, Tahereh Saffarzadeh from Iran, Wilton Sankawulo from Liberia, the Singapore writer May Wang, and Daniachew Worku from Ethiopia.

That's quite a diverse group. Where did you get the money to bring them?
 
Paul raised it all himself the first two years. He was well-known and knew how to raise money. As the program became more recognized, we received more outside funding, and in 1969, we started to receive grants from the State Department. Paul continued his fundraising efforts, and gradually the IWP grew larger and larger.

Tell me about the “Chinese Weekends” you and Paul organized.
 
It started in 1979, after America and China resumed diplomatic relations. When Paul told me the good news over breakfast one morning, I was so excited I said: “We must bring writers from China!” but then we thought how nice it would be if we also brought writers from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and overseas. China and Taiwan were hostile toward each other at the time, so Taiwan refused to let their writers come, but one writer, Kao Chun 高准, happened to be overseas, so he came to join us. From Hong Kong, Lee Yee 李怡 and Dai Tian 戴天 came. Dominic Cheung 張錯 and Wai-lim Yip 葉維廉, who were already in this country, also came. Xiao Qian 蕭乾 was the first writer from mainland China. Our first “Chinese Weekend” was three days in total. A very exciting time for all of us, for it was the first time writers from these different regions could get together. We were especially happy to have Xiao Qian, who had been so well-known and then suffered under the stigma of being a "Rightist." He was the first writer to get out of China. Everyone wanted to talk to him. We were so happy to see him.

You've had several Chinese Weekends since then.
 
Yes. In 1980, Ai Qing 艾青 came. In 1981, Ding Ling came. We had the Chinese Weekend each year. But it didn't continue. We ran out of money.

Ding Ling with Merwin & Sontag
Who've been some of the more interesting Chinese writers?
 
Too many! But of course, Ding Ling. When she told me about herself, she said, “Hualing, I'm still not sure about my future.” She was referring to the effects of having been suppressed and forced to suffer so much during the Anti-Rightist Campaign and the Cultural Revolution. She'd been beaten up by the Red Guards. She was still worried about what would happen to her. We became very good friends. She and Paul liked each other. The Chinese Communist and the American imperialist could laugh together!




In Three Lives you have a lovely vignette entitled "Beautiful Eyes" that describes Ding Ling's reactions to meeting W. S. Merwin and his to meeting her:
 
        When Ding Ling saw the American poet W.S. Merwin at my house
        She stared at him and said: What beautiful eyes you have!
        That's 'cause I'm looking at you, he replied
 
Yes, Susan Sontag was there as well. Really though, I've also enjoyed all the Chinese writers we've invited in recent years: Su Tong, Li Rui 李銳, Jiang Yun 蔣韻, Xi Chuan 西川, Meng Jinghui 孟京輝, Lou Ye 婁燁, Tang Ying 唐穎, Zhang Xian 張獻, Yu Hua 余華, Mo Yan 莫言, Chi Zijian 遲子建 , and Bi Feiyu 畢飛宇. And now we have Ge Fei 格非, as well as Dung Kai Cheung 董启章 from Hong Kong. When Yu Hua came, he was suffering from writer's block. He said that because of his trip to America he was able to write the novel Brothers 兄弟.

On the back of your recent memoir, Three Lives in Images 三生影像, you have an interesting preface . . .
 
Yes. It says: “I'm a tree. The roots are in China. The trunk is in Taiwan. The branches are in Iowa.” Am I a Chinese writer or a Chinese American writer? I feel like a woman with three styles of dresses, and I'm comfortable in each one of them.

Last fall you were inducted into the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame. You must have been very pleased.
 
It was an honor. My home in China Mainland is gone. My home in Taiwan is no longer there, either. I've been here in Iowa for over 40 years. My children grew up here, my grandchildren were born here. I had a full life with Paul Engle. Iowa is my home. We hosted many IWP parties here. [She looks around her living room.] This house is too big for me now, but I'm still here. I feel it's full of my life with Paul. It's kept me going; I couldn't live anywhere else. This is my home. I have more memoirs to write.

Look! [A young doe comes to drink from her birdbath, staring at us through the picture window.] You're so lucky! In China, the deer is a symbol of long life.

Isn't your house nicknamed Lu Yuan 鹿園, Deer Garden?
 
Yes, but I don't feed them anymore. It's too much work. But sometimes they show up anyway.

You have a lovely house. Thanks for letting me come over and for sharing your "three lives."
 
It's a pleasure. I hope you'll come to love Iowa as much as I do.

 
The Deer Garden
 
 
 
    
All photos copyright © 2009 by Hualing Nieh Engle. All rights reserved.