August 12, 1955
Long Island, New York, U.S.
|Alma mater||Harvard University|
|Period||1986 – 21st century|
|Notable works||Typical American|
Mona in the Promised Land
The Love Wife
World and Town
Tiger Writing: Art, Culture, and the Interdependent Self
The Girl at the Baggage Claim: Explaining the East-West Culture Gap
|Spouse||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 was from Shanghai and her father was 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, was nominated for a National Books Critics' Circle Award. Her second novel, Mona in the Promised Land, 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.
Her fourth 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. World and Town won the 2011 Massachusetts Book Prize in fiction and was nominated for the 2012 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.
Her fifth novel was released in February 2020 and is titled The Resisters. It is about baseball, class warfare, and a sentient Internet. A related short story ("Tell Me Everything") was commissioned by the New York Times as part of their Privacy Project and published 1-5-2020.
Jen's second story collection, "Thank You Mr. Nixon," will be published by Knopf in February 2022.
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's second work of non-fiction is "The Girl at the Baggage Claim: Explaining the East-West Culture Gap," published in February 2017. This is a provocative study of the different ideas Easterners and Westerners have about the self and society and what this means for current debates in art, education, geopolitics, and business. Drawing on stories and personal anecdotes, as well as recent research in cultural psychology, Jen reveals how this difference shapes what we perceive, remember, say, do, and make – in short, how it shapes everything from our ideas about copying and talking in class to the difference between Apple and Alibaba.
Jen has also published numerous pieces in the New York Times, the New Yorker, the Washington Post, and The New Republic, among others. In response to the 2021 Atlanta spa shootings, Jen penned an OpEd for the New York Times.
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 were asked to name their successors in the 21st century, John Updike picked Jen.
- 2017 Legacy Award, Museum of Chinese in America, New York
- 2015 Honorary PhD, Williams College
- 2013 Named Sidney Harman Writer-in-Residence, Baruch-CUNY
- 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
- 2004 Honorary PhD, Emerson College
- 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
- 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
- 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" Archived August 14, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
- Andersen, Beth E., "Review: World and Town", Library Journal, October 1, 2010
- "The Ascendence of Bernie Sanders, and the Novelist Gish Jen". The New Yorker. Retrieved February 16, 2020.
- "Tell Me Everything". The New York Times. Retrieved February 20, 2020.
- "Home | Harvard University Press". Hup.harvard.edu. Retrieved March 16, 2014.
- Elaine Showalter (May 9, 2009). "Elaine Showalter chooses the best novelists writing in the US today | Books". The Guardian. Retrieved March 16, 2014.
- Updike Remembered, The New Republic, https://newrepublic.com/article/books-and-arts/updike-remembered
- "Gish Jen". Contemporary Authors Online. Gale. 2015.