Larissa Lai

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Larissa Lai
Born La Jolla, California
Occupation writer, poet, professor
Nationality Canadian
Notable works Salt Fish Girl; When Fox is a Thousand

Larissa Lai (born 1967) is an American-born Canadian writer, critic, and professor.

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 writer-in-residence at the Markin-Flanagan 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]



  • When Fox is a Thousand (1995)
  • Salt Fish Girl (2002)

Books of poetry[edit]

  • Sybil Unrest (with Rita Wong) (2009) Line Books
  • Automaton Biographies (2009) Arsenal Pulp Press


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


Critical reception[edit]

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) has proven an obvious 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.[5]

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”.[6] 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.[7] 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.[8] 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).[5] In summary, Lai's novels have generated much acclaim for their innovative narratives that help readers understand the modern diasporic experience.


  1. ^ "Faculty page". University of British Columbia. 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. ^ a b Nicholas Birns (2008). "The Earth's Revenge: Nature, Transfeminism and Diaspora in Larissa Lai's Salt Fish Girl". In Lee, Robert A. China fictions, English language : literary essays in diaspora, memory, story (Online ed.). Amsterdam: Rodopi. ISBN 978-9042023512. 
  6. ^ Phung, Malissa (2012). "The Diasporic Inheritance of Postmemory and Immigrant Shame in the Novels of Larissa Lai". Postcolonial Text. 7. 
  7. ^ Oliver, Stephanie (Spring 2011). "Diffuse Connections: Smell and Diasporic Subjectivity in Larissa Lai's "Salt Fish Girl."". Canadian Literature (208). 
  8. ^ Reimer, Sharlee (2010). "Troubling Origins: Cyborg Politics in Larissa Lai's Salt Fish Girl". Atlantis. 35 (1): 4. 

External links[edit]