Poets and Writers



Not only is Amy Tan a best-selling novelist and a musician, performing with the Rock Bottom Remainders alongside fellow authors Stephen King, Barbara Kingsolver, and others, she is also a talented visual artist, as her new book, The

Backyard Bird Chronicles (Knopf, April 2024), amply demonstrat­es. A testament to Tan’s “obsession with birds,” as she puts it in her preface, the volume includes excerpts from hundreds of pages of Tan’s journals documentin­g the wildlife she has observed flitting among the trees and grasses behind her home in northern California. Her drawings range from meticulous, lifelike portraits of single birds to cartoons of the animals engaged in mock conversati­on with one another. Great horned owls, crows, warblers, scrub jays, hummingbir­ds, spotted towhees, and many other species appear in pencil renderings that range from informal sketches to lushly colored illustrati­ons. While Tan has taken drawing classes—a course of study she did not begin until she was sixty-four, she writes—her method for visually capturing her subjects involves a force beyond technical skill. “‘Be the bird,’” she writes of her mystical-sounding approach, one she relates to her work as a novelist: “To feel the life of the story, I always imagine I am the character I am creating,” Tan writes. “By imagining I was that bird, I felt a personal connection to it and a deeper sense of what life is like for every bird: Each day is a chance to survive.” In addition to drawings, Chronicles also contains prose from Tan’s birding journals. In dated, diary-like entries, she describes the looks and movements of her feathered friends, her impression­s of them, and other thoughts that cross her mind: “Birds are creatures of habit in their habitat,” she writes in an entry on January 10, 2019. “Me, too.”

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