Jen in 2010
1955 (age 58–59)
Long Island, New York
|Alma mater||Harvard University|
|Period||1986 – 21st century|
|Notable work(s)||Typical American
Mona in the Promised Land
The Love Wife
World and Town
Tiger Writing: Art, Culture, and the Interdependent Self
|Spouse(s)||David C. O'Connor|
Early life and education
Gish Jen is a second generation Chinese American. Her parents emigrated from China in the 1940s, her mother from Shanghai and her father from Yixing. Born in Long Island, New York, she grew up in Queens, then Yonkers, then Scarsdale. Her birth name is Lillian, but during her high school years she acquired the nickname Gish, named for actress Lillian Gish.
She graduated from Harvard University in 1977 with a BA in English, and later attended Stanford Business School (1979–1980), but dropped out in favor of the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, where she earned her MFA in fiction in 1983.
Several of her short stories have been reprinted in The Best American Short Stories. Her piece "Birthmates", was selected as one of The Best American Short Stories of The Century by John Updike. Her works include four novels: Typical American, Mona in the Promised Land, The Love Wife, and World and Town. She has also written a collection of short fiction, Who's Irish?.
Her first novel, Typical American, attempts to redefine Americanness as a preoccupation with identity. "As soon as you ask yourself the question, "What does it mean to be Irish-American, Iranian-American, Greek-American, you are American," she has said.
Her second novel, Mona in the Promised Land concerns the invention of ethnicity, and features a Chinese-American adolescent who converts to Judaism. The Love Wife, her third novel, portrays an Asian American family with interracial parents and both biological and adopted children as "the new American family". She asks the question "What is a family?" as a way of asking, "What is a nation?"
The latest novel, World and Town, portrays a fragile America, its small towns challenged by globalization, development, fundamentalism, and immigration, as well as the ripples sent out by 9/11. It explores the changing face and role of immigrants in America, as well as a changing America.
World and Town won the 2011 Massachusetts Book Prize in fiction and was nominated for the 2012 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.
Jen's writing confounds categories like the "immigrant novel," probing societal constructions and boundaries of every stripe, and moving in a direction that seeks to enrich and even redefine what it means to be American.
In 2013 Jen published her first non-fiction book, entitled Tiger Writing: Art, Culture, and the Interdependent Self. Based on the Massey Lectures that Jen delivered at Harvard in 2012, Tiger Writing explores East-West differences in self construction, and how these affect art and especially literature.
Jen has also published numerous pieces in the New York Times, The New Republic, and in other venues.
Honors and awards
In 2009, Princeton's Elaine Showalter devoted much attention to Jen in her survey of American women writers, "A Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers From Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx." In an article in The Guardian, Showalter elaborated, including Jen in a list of eight top authors, and pointing out that Jen's "vision of a multicultural America goes well beyond the angry rants or despairing projections of Roth, DeLillo, McCarthy or other finalists in the Great American Novel competition."  In 2012, Junot Diaz concurred, calling Jen "the Great American Novelist we're always hearing about." And in 2000, in a millennial edition of The Times Magazine in the UK, in which figures preeminent in their fields were asked to named their successors in the 21st century, John Updike picked Jen.
- 2013 Story included in The Best American Short Stories of 2013
- 2012 Delivered the Massey Lectures at Harvard University (an annual lecture series sponsored by the American Studies program)
- 2011 Winner of the Massachusetts Book Prize
- 2011 Nominated for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award
- 2009 Elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
- 2006 Featured in a PBS American Masters Program on the American Novel
- 2003 Received a Mildred and Harold Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters
- 2003 Received a Fulbright Fellowship to the People's Republic of China
- 2001 Received a Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study Fellowship
- 1999 Story included in The Best American Short Stories of the Century (John Updike, ed.)
- 1999 Received a Lannan Literary Award for Fiction
- 1995 Story included in The Best American Short Stories of 1995
- 1992 Received a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship
- 1991 Finalist for the National Book Critics' Circle Award
- 1988 Received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship
- 1988 Story included in The Best American Short Stories of 1988
- 1986 Received a Radcliffe College Bunting Institute Fellowship
(from the MLA database, March 2008)
- "Interethnic Relationships in Chang-rae Lee's Native Speaker and Gish Jen's Birthmates." By: Brada-Williams, Noelle. pp. 18–25 IN: Goldblatt, Roy (ed.); Nyman, Jopi (ed. and introd.); Stotesbury, John A. (ed.); Singh, Amritjit (afterword); Close Encounters of an Other Kind: New Perspectives on Race, Ethnicity, and American Studies. Joensuu, Finland: Faculty of Humanities, University of Joensuu; 2005. xv, 278 pp. (book article)
- "A Quartet of Voices in Recent American Literature."She hates to write but her dad madeher. By: Burns, Gerald T.; Philippine American Studies Journal, 1991; 3: 1–8. (journal article)
- "Material Bodies and Performative Identities: Mona, Neil, and the Promised Land." By: Byers, Michele; Philip Roth Studies, 2006 Fall; 2 (2): 102–20. (journal article)
- "Disjuncture at Home: Mapping the Domestic Cartographies of Transnationalism in Gish Jen's The Love Wife." By: Chen, Shu-ching; Tamkang Review: A Quarterly of Literary and Cultural Studies, 2006 Winter; 37 (2): 1–32. (journal article)
- "Literary Reading and Intercultural Learning-Understanding Ethnic American Fiction in the EFL-Classroom." By: Donnerstag, Jürgen; Amerikastudien/American Studies, 1992; 37 (4): 595–611. (journal article)
- "From Story to Novel and Back Again: Gish Jen's Developing Art of Short Fiction." By: Feddersen, R. C.. pp. 349–58 IN: Kaylor, Noel Harold, Jr. (ed., preface and foreword); Creative and Critical Approaches to the Short Story. Lewiston, NY: Mellen; 1997. v, 488 pp. (book article)
- "Gish Jen." By: Feddersen, R. C.. pp. 196–208 IN: Fallon, Erin (ed.); Feddersen, R. C. (ed. and introd.); Kurtzleben, James (ed.); Lee, Maurice A. (ed.); Rochette-Crawley, Susan (ed.); Rohrberger, Mary (preface); A Reader's Companion to the Short Story in English. Westport, CT: Greenwood, for Society for the Study of the Short Story; 2001. xxxiv, 432 pp. (book article)
- "Reinventing a Chinese American Women's Tradition in Gish Jen's Mona in the Promised Land." By: Feng, Pin-chia; EurAmerica: A Journal of European and American Studies, 2002 Dec; 32 (4): 675–704. (journal article)
- "'Who's Jewish?':Some Asian-American Writers and the Jewish-American Literary Canon." By: Freedman, Jonathan; Michigan Quarterly Review, 2003 Winter; 42 (1): 230–54. (journal article)
- "Immigrant Dreams and Civic Promises: (Con-)Testing Identity in Early Jewish American Literature and Gish Jen's Mona in the Promised Land" By: Furman, Andrew; MELUS, 2000 Spring; 25 (1): 209–26. (journal article)
- "The Redefinition of the 'Typical Chinese' in Gish Jen's Typical American." By: Huang, Betsy; Hitting Critical Mass: A Journal of Asian American Cultural Criticism, 1997 Summer; 4 (2): 61–77. (journal article)
- "'Cheap, On Sale, American Dream': Contemporary Asian American Women Writers' Responses to American Success Mythologies." By: Kafka, Phillipa. pp. 105–28 IN: Blazek, William (ed. and introd.); Glenday, Michael K. (ed. and introd.); American Mythologies: Essays on Contemporary Literature. Liverpool, England: Liverpool UP; 2005. x, 305 pp. (book article)
- "Imagined Cities of China." By: Lee, A. Robert; Wasafiri: Journal of Caribbean, African, Asian and Associated Literatures and Film, 1995 Autumn; 22: 25–30. (journal article)
- "Imagined Cities of China: Timothy Mo's London, Sky Lee's Vancouver, Fae Myenne Ng's San Francisco and Gish Gen's New York." By: Lee, A. Robert; Hitting Critical Mass: A Journal of Asian American Cultural Criticism, 1996 Fall; 4 (1): 103–19. (journal article)
- "About Gish Jen." By: Lee, Don; Ploughshares, 2000 Fall; 26 (2–3): 217–22. (journal article)
- "Failed Performances of the Nation in Gish Jen's Typical American." By: Lee, Rachel. pp. 63–79 IN: Franklin, Cynthia (ed. and introd.); Hsu, Ruth (ed.); Kosanke, Suzanne (ed.); Navigating Islands and Continents: Conversations and Contestations in and around the Pacific. Honolulu, HI: College of Languages, Linguistics and Literature, University of Hawaii; 2000. xxx, 275 pp. (book article)
- "Gish Jen." By: Lee, Rachel. pp. 215–32 IN: Cheung, King-Kok (ed. and introd.); Words Matter: Conversations with Asian American Writers. Honolulu, HI: U of Hawaii P, with UCLA Asian American Studies Center; 2000. 402 pp. (book article)
- The Americas of Asian American Literature: Gendered Fictions of Nation and Transnation By: Lee, Rachel C.. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP; 1999. xi, 205 pp. (book)
- The Americas of Asian-American Literature: Nationalism, Gender, and Sexuality in Bulosan's 'America Is in the Heart', Jen's 'Typical American', and Hagedorn's 'Dogeaters' By: Lee, Rachel C.; Dissertation Abstracts International, 1996 Feb; 56 (8): 3126A-27A. U of California, Los Angeles, 1995. (dissertation abstract)
- "When the West Is One: Undoing and Re-Doing the Hegemony of U. S. Culture in Diasporic Writing by Chinese American Women." By: Lim, Shirley Geok-lin. pp. 129–38 IN: Atherton, John (ed. and introd.); Bruyère, Claire (ed. and introd.); Lire en Amérique. Paris, France: Institut d'Etudes Anglophones, Université Paris VII-Denis Diderot; 1992. 172 pp. (book article)
- "Mona on the Phone: The Performative Body and Racial Identity in Mona in the Promised Land." By: Lin, Erika T.; MELUS: The Journal of the Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States, 2003 Summer; 28 (2): 47–57. (journal article)
- "Cultural Cross-Dressing in Mona in the Promised Land." By: Ling, Amy. pp. 227–36 IN: Davis, Rocío G. (ed and introd.); Ludwig, Sämi (ed. and introd.); Asian American Literature in the International Context: Readings on Fiction, Poetry, and Performance. Hamburg, Germany: Lit; 2002. 265 pp. (book article)
- "Rice Talk: Discoursing Asian American Literature." By: Lopez, Ferdinand M.; Unitas: A Quarterly for the Arts and Sciences, 2003 Mar; 76 (1): 76–97. (journal article)
- "American Exceptionalism and Multiculturalism: Myths and Realities." By: Madsen, Deborah L.. pp. 177–87 IN: Maeder, Beverly (ed. and introd.); Representing Realities: Essays on American Literature, Art and Culture. Tübingen, Germany: Gunter Narr; 2003. 228 pp. (book article)
- "Artefact, Commodity, Fetish: The Aesthetic Turn in Chinese American Literary Study." By: Madsen, Deborah L.. pp. 185–97 IN: Wang, Jennie (ed. and introd.); Querying the Genealogy: Comparative and Transnational Studies in Chinese American Literature. Shanghai, China: Shanghai yi wen chu ban she; 2006. 557 pp. (book article)
- "MELUS Interview: Gish Jen." By: Matsukawa, Yuko; MELUS, 1993–1994 Winter; 18 (4): 111–20. (journal article)
- "Gish Jen's Mona in the Promised Land." By: Partridge, Jeffrey F. L.. pp. 215–32 IN: Parini, Jay (ed. and introd.); American Writers: Classics, Volume II. New York, NY: Scribner's; 2004. xiv, 336 pp. (book article)
- Crossroads and Mirrors in New World Literature, 1814–1997: Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, Charles Chesnutt, and Gish Jen By: Poehlmann, Bess Lyons; Dissertation Abstracts International, Section A: The Humanities and Social Sciences, 2004 June; 64 (12): 4455. Brandeis U, 2004. (dissertation abstract)
- "Affirmations: Speaking the Self into Being." By: Samarth, Manini; Parnassus: Poetry in Review, 1992; 17 (1): 88–101. (journal article)
- "Writing about the Things That Are Dangerous: A Conversation with Gish Jen." By: Satz, Martha; Southwest Review, 1993 Winter; 78 (1): 132–40. (journal article)
- "The Symbolic Triune of Gish Jen's Typical American." By: Schaefer, Judith; Notes on Contemporary Literature, 2003 Sept; 33 (4): 10–12. (journal article)
- "Gish Jen (Lillian Jen)." By: Simal, Begoña. pp. 142–54 IN: Madsen, Deborah L. (ed. and introd.); Asian American Writers. Detroit, MI: Gale; 2005. xxiv, 460 pp. (book article)
- "Gish Jen: 'The Book That Hormones Wrote.'" By: Smith, Wendy; Publishers Weekly, June 7, 1999; 246 (23): 59–58. (journal article)
- "Success Chinese American Style: Gish Jen's Typical American." By: TuSmith, Bonnie; Proteus: A Journal of Ideas, 1994 Fall; 11 (2): 21–26. (journal article)
- "'An Identity Switch': A Critique of Multiculturalism in Gish Jen's Mona in the Promised Land." By: Wang, Chih-ming. pp. 139–54 IN: Brada-Williams, Noelle (ed. and introd.); Chow, Karen (ed. and introd.); Crossing Oceans: Reconfiguring American Literary Studies in the Pacific Rim. Hong Kong: Hong Kong UP; 2004. xiv, 200 pp. (book article)
- "'An Onstage Costume Change': Modernity and Immigrant Experience in Gish Jen's Typical American." By: Wang, Chih-ming; NTU Studies in Language and Literature, 2002 Dec; 11: 71–96. (journal article)
- "Writing on the Slash: Experience, Identification, and Subjectivity in Gish Jen's Novels." By: Wang, Chih-ming; Sun Yat-sen Journal of Humanities, 2001 Oct; 13: 103–17. (journal article)
- "But What in the World Is an Asian American? Culture, Class and Invented Traditions in Gish Jen's Mona in the Promised Land." By: Wong, Sau-Ling Cynthia; EurAmerica: A Journal of European and American Studies, 2002 Dec; 32 (4): 641–74. (journal article)
- "Academic Dissidentifications." By: Wu, Yung-Hsing; Profession, 2004; 107-17. (journal article)
- "Becoming Americans: Gish Jen's Typical American." By: Xiaojing, Zhou. pp. 151–63 IN: Payant, Katherine B. (ed. and introd.); Rose, Toby (ed. and epilogue); The Immigrant Experience in North American Literature: Carving Out a Niche. Westport, CT: Greenwood; 1999. xxvii, 190 pp. (book article)
- "Jen’s World and Town, a Female Bildungsroman Novel of Postmodern Humanism." By: Echols, Katherine E; Plaza: Dialogues in Language and Literature, 2011; Vol 1, No 1. (journal article)
- Matsukawa, Yuko, "MELUS interview: Gish Jen", MELUS, Vol. 18, 1993
- Lauter, Paul (ed.). "Gish Jen (b. 1955)". The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition. Retrieved March 6, 2012.
- Ganguli, Ishani, "Novelist Gish Jen Finds Literary Voice Outside Harvard Identity", The Harvard Crimson, Tuesday, June 4, 2002
- "2001–2002 Radcliffe Institute Fellows: Gish Jen"
- Andersen, Beth E., "Review: World and Town", Library Journal, October 1, 2010