Jean Kwok

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Jean Kwok
Jean Kwok.jpg
BornHong Kong
EducationHarvard University
Columbia University
Notable worksGirl in Translation
Mambo in Chinatown
Notable awardsAmerican Library Association Alex Award
Chinese American Librarians Association Best Book Award

Jean Kwok is the award-winning, New York Times and international bestselling Chinese American author of two novels: Girl in Translation and Mambo in Chinatown.


When Kwok was five years old, her family emigrated to Brooklyn, NY from Hong Kong. The apartment that she, her parents and siblings lived in was infested with roaches and rats and they did not have any central heating. She worked in a Chinatown clothing factory for much of her childhood.[1]

After elementary school, Kwok was accepted to Hunter College High School, a public secondary school for intellectually gifted students. Upon graduation from high school, she was granted early admission to Harvard University. Originally interested in science, in part to escape a life toiling in a factory, she realized when she was at Harvard that she could follow her dream instead. This realization prompted Jean to change her concentration to English and American Literature.[2][3] She received her BA in English with honors, all while working up to four jobs at a time. After her graduation from Harvard, Kwok needed a day job to help support herself while she was writing. She spent three years working for Fred Astaire East Side Studio in New York City as a professional ballroom dancer. Kwok then decided it was time to go back to school and received her MFA in Fiction from Columbia University.[4]

After that, she moved to the Netherlands for love and worked for Leiden University and the Delft University of Technology, teaching English and as a Dutch-English translator. Kwok now writes full-time and lives in the Netherlands with her husband, their two sons, and their cats.[5]


Kwok is a New York Times and international bestselling author. Her work has been published in 18 countries and taught in universities, colleges and high schools across the world. She has been selected for numerous honors including the American Library Association Alex Award, the Chinese American Librarians Association Best Book Award and the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award international shortlist. Jean’s writing has been reviewed in Time, The New York Times, USA Today, Newsweek and Vogue, among others. She has spoken at many schools and venues including Harvard University, Columbia University and the Tucson Festival of Books.[5]

Kwok is trilingual, speaking Dutch, Chinese, and English fluently, as evidenced by the VPRO documentary filmed about her.[6] She also studied Latin for 7 years.[7] She is a member of the Curatorial Board of Ragdale Foundation.[8]


Girl in Translation[edit]

Kwok's debut novel Girl in Translation was published by Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin, in May 2010 and became a New York Times and international bestseller. It has been published in 18 countries and translated into 16 languages. Kwok drew upon her personal experience to write this novel about an exceptionally bright young girl who leads a double life in an exclusive private school and a Chinatown sweatshop.[9]

Author Min Jin Lee compared the novel to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.[10] Nicole Tsong in the Seattle Times commented on Kwok's innovative use of language that allows readers to experience the linguistic barriers for themselves: "Kwok uses the potent combination of... halting English and a sophisticated internal narration about her new life to tell [the heroine's] story." [11] Hannah Lee in the Philadelphia Jewish Voice noted that Girl in Translation was "as accurate to my childhood and upbringing in the world of New York's garment factories as a novel can be."[12] Girl in Translation was featured in The New York Times, USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, Vogue and O, The Oprah Magazine, among others.[13][14]

Mambo in Chinatown[edit]

Kwok's immigrant background plus her experience working as a professional ballroom dancer helped her to write her second novel about a young woman torn between her family duties in working class Chinatown and her escape into the world of ballroom dancing.[15]

Kwok's second novel Mambo in Chinatown was also published by Riverhead Books in the United States on June 24, 2014. It has been published in 8 countries and translated into 7 languages. It was one of the New and Noteworthy Books listed by USA Today in June 2014[16] and was selected for Penguin Stacks and Best Books of 2014 by Real Simple and Woman's Day.[17][18] The Chicago Tribune wrote, "rarely has [this story] been told with such grace, lightness and humor as in this delightful novel" while the Boston Herald called it "a great story of cultural conflict and reaching for your dreams."[19][20]

Future writing[edit]

Kwok's next novel will be published in 2019 by William Morrow and Company, a division of HarperCollins.[21]

Honors and awards[22][edit]



  • Girl in Translation (2010)
  • Mambo in Chinatown (2014)

Short stories[edit]


  • "Flawed Words and Stubborn Sounds" (2000)
  • "A Translation of Schrijvende Vrouw" (2000)



  • Elements of Literature (2007)
  • The NuyorAsian Anthology (1999)


  1. ^ "Jean Kwok" Contemporary Authors, Gale Cengage, 2011.
  2. ^ "'The sweatshop was my home': How one woman escaped the poverty trap". Retrieved 2015-08-06.
  3. ^ "Jean Kwok" New York, NY: Penguin Speakers Bureau. Last accessed May 1, 2011.
  4. ^ "Bustle". Retrieved 2015-08-19.
  5. ^ a b "Author", Jean Kwok Official Website. Last accessed May 1, 2018.
  6. ^ "Jean Kwok documentary".
  7. ^ "Jean Kwok and the Girl in Translation" by Amanda Cardo, Sampsonia Way, April 27, 2011.
  8. ^ "Curatorial Board" Last accessed May 1, 2018.
  9. ^ "Interview: Jean Kwok and Girl in Translation (Part Two) | Sampsonia Way Magazine". Retrieved 2015-08-19.
  10. ^ "Girl in Translation", Princeton Book Review. Last accessed May 1, 2011.
  11. ^ "'Girl in Translation':Debut Novel is an Immigrant's Tale" by Nicole Tsong, Seattle Times, May 1, 2010.
  12. ^ "Reflections on Labor Unions since the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire" by Hannah Lee, Philadelphia Jewish Voice, March 29, 2011.
  13. ^ "Girl in Translation", Liberty Bay Books. Last accessed May 1, 2011.
  14. ^ "News & Reviews", Jean Kwok Official Website. Last accessed May 1, 2011.
  15. ^ "Website For Asian Writers". Website For Asian Writers. Retrieved 2015-08-19.
  16. ^ "Books: New and noteworthy". Retrieved 2015-08-12.
  17. ^ Mambo in Chinatown by Jean Kwok – Penguin Books USA.
  18. ^ "Real Simple Readers Review the Best Books of 2014". Retrieved 2015-08-12.
  19. ^ Tribune, Chicago. "2014 books that flew under radar". Retrieved 2015-09-15.
  20. ^ "Dreams take flight in Jean Kwok's 'Chinatown'". Retrieved 2015-09-15.
  21. ^ "News", Jean Kwok Official Website. Last accessed May 1, 2018.
  22. ^ "Awards", Jean Kwok Official Website. Last accessed May 1, 2018.

External links[edit]

See also[edit]