Larissa Lai

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Larissa Lai
BornLa Jolla, California
Occupationwriter, poet, literary critic
Notable worksSalt Fish Girl; When Fox is a Thousand

Larissa Lai (born 1967) is an American-born Canadian novelist and literary critic.


Born in La Jolla, California, she grew up in St. John's, Newfoundland. She attended the University of British Columbia and, in 1990, graduated with a B.A. in Sociology. Subsequently, she earned her MA from the University of East Anglia, and her PhD from the University of Calgary (2006). She is currently an Assistant Professor in Canadian Literature in the English Department at the University of British Columbia.[1] She is an active committee member of the reading series Play Chthonics at UBC's Green College. She also edited poetry for the journal Canadian Literature from 2007 to 2010. A Chinese-Canadian, she has been cited as an example of "the growing elasticity of Canadian fiction and Canadian identity".[2]

Her first novel, When Fox is a Thousand (1995) (Press Gang) was shortlisted for the 1996 Books in Canada First Novel Award.[3] When Fox Is a Thousand was republished by Arsenal Pulp Press in 2004, slightly revised, and with a new Afterword. Her second novel, Salt Fish Girl (Thomas Allen), was published in 2002, and shortlisted for the James Tiptree, Jr. Award, the Sunburst Award and the City of Calgary W. O. Mitchell Award.

From 1997 to 1998 she was the Canadian Writer-in-Residence at the Calgary Distinguished Writers Program at the University of Calgary, and she held a similar position as writer-in-residence at Simon Fraser University in 2006. She was awarded a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council postdoctoral fellowship at UBC in 2006-2007.

Lai has twice been an instructor at Clarion West science fiction and fantasy writer's workshop (in 2004 and 2007). She was also an instructor at the original Clarion workshop at UCSD in 2009.

She has published articles and criticism in such journals as West Coast Line, Canadian Literature, The Capilano Review, English Studies in Canada and Fuse Magazine, as well as several anthologies including Asian Canadian Writing Beyond Autoethnography and Bringing it Home: Women Talk About Feminism in Their Lives.

An out lesbian,[4] she was one of the panelists at Write Out West, one of Canada's first-ever full-scale conferences of LGBT writers, in 1997.[4]

Her novel The Tiger Flu won the Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction at the 31st Lambda Literary Awards.[5]



  • When Fox is a Thousand (1995)
  • Salt Fish Girl (2002)
  • The Tiger Flu (2018)

Books of poetry[edit]


  • Eggs in the Basement (2009) Nomados
  • Nascent Fashion (2004)
  • Rachel (2004)


  • Slanting I, Imagining We: Asian Canadian Literary Production in the 1980s and 1990s (2014) Waterloo, Ont.: Wilfrid Laurier University Press. ISBN 0-88920-417-9.

Themes and Subjects[edit]

Lai's work explores intersections of identity in relation to race, culture, gender, and sexuality.[7] In Lai's novels, she draws inspiration from Chinese mythology and culture with a particular focus upon historical and mythological female figures; these historical, cultural, and mythical connections are integrated within a feminist science fiction framework in the novel Salt Fish Girl.[8] Complex romantic and sexual relationships between Asian women are a recurring subject within Lai's work and serve as the main focal point for her novels.[7]

In an interview with Canadian Women in the Literary Arts, Lai discussed her book Slanting I, Imagining We within the context of being involved within the creative and literary fields of Toronto in the 1990s. [9] Lai said of her work during this time: "For me it was a time when questions of race, class, gender and sexuality were open to public debate in a broad and engaged ways. They still held their contentiousness, but productively so. Questions of history, movement, representation and justice were all available for interrogation. The work was not easy. The questions were personal and political and incredibly difficult to answer."[9] Lai cites discussions and interactions with other authors of color during this time as immensely influential and formative for her own work.

Critical reception[edit]

Lai's novels have generated much acclaim for their innovative narratives that help readers understand the modern diasporic experience. As a Canadian writer using Canadian presses, most criticism of Lai has been based in Canada, but a monograph, entitled The Influence of Daoism on Asian-Canadian Writers published in the U.S. (Mellen, 2008) is an exception. For a young writer, Lai has generated a great amount of scholarship and criticism. Her works contain social critique relevant to modern audiences, and many scholars have used her works to better understand the Chinese diaspora.[10]

Many scholars emphasize the contributions that Lai has made critiquing common understandings of race, gender, and national identity. Malissa Phung analyzes Lai as part of Chinese diaspora, and particularly studies how her works investigate "Immigrant Shame" and "Postmemory".[11] Stephanie Oliver suggests that Lai innovatively uses smell as an indicator of "politics of representation, regimes of racialization, the power of the gaze, and the dynamics of visibility and invisibility that are key to processes of social marginalization" of the diasporic experience, rather than the more common visual and auditory frameworks.[12] Reimer examines how Lai uses cyborgs in her novel Salt Fish Girl to criticize origin stories. Reimer suggests that Lai reveals common Enlightenment ideas as racist and limiting, and uses her novels to suggest new ways of understanding.[13] Birns situates Lai as a postcolonial transfeminist, prominently featured in the Canadian canon but not as well known internationally. Birns says Lai's novel "Salt Fish Girl" raises questions about gender and ethnicity by offering "multiple, diasporic identities to counter the repressive rhetoric of monolithic globalization" (Birns, 178).[10]


  1. ^ "Faculty page". University of British Columbia. Archived from the original on 3 May 2013. Retrieved 27 May 2013.
  2. ^ Van Luven, Lynne (June 29, 1997). "True North: Canadian Literature Isn't What You Think". The New York Times Book Review. Retrieved 27 May 2013.
  3. ^ "Fraser wins First Novel prize". Toronto Star. April 26, 1996. Retrieved 27 May 2013.
  4. ^ a b "Gay and Lesbian: Write Out West". The Province, November 6, 1997.
  5. ^ "Canadians win three Lambda awards for LGBTQ writing". Toronto Star, June 4, 2019.
  6. ^ a b "Larissa Lai". Poetry Foundation. 2018-12-21. Retrieved 2018-12-21.
  7. ^ a b Ho, Tamara (January 4, 2012). "Larissa Lai's "New Cultural Politics of Intimacy": Animal. Asian. Cyborg". SocialText Online. Retrieved 21 December 2018.
  8. ^ Joo, Hee-Sung Serenity (2014). "Reproduction, Reincarnation, and Human Cloning: Literary and Racial Forms in Larissa Lai's Salt Fish Girl". Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction. 55: 46–59. doi:10.1080/00111619.2011.625999.
  9. ^ a b Jerome, Gillian; Quartermain, Meredith. "An Interview with Larissa Lai". Canadian Women in the Literary Arts.
  10. ^ a b Nicholas Birns (2008). "The Earth's Revenge: Nature, Transfeminism and Diaspora in Larissa Lai's Salt Fish Girl". In Lee, Robert A (ed.). China fictions, English language : literary essays in diaspora, memory, story (Online ed.). Amsterdam: Rodopi. ISBN 978-9042023512.
  11. ^ Phung, Malissa (2012). "The Diasporic Inheritance of Postmemory and Immigrant Shame in the Novels of Larissa Lai". Postcolonial Text. 7.
  12. ^ Oliver, Stephanie (Spring 2011). "Diffuse Connections: Smell and Diasporic Subjectivity in Larissa Lai's "Salt Fish Girl."". Canadian Literature (208).
  13. ^ Reimer, Sharlee (2010). "Troubling Origins: Cyborg Politics in Larissa Lai's Salt Fish Girl". Atlantis. 35 (1): 4.

External links[edit]