Ling Ma

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Ling Ma
Born6 May 1983
Sanming, Fujian, China
Occupationwriter, professor
Known forSeverance
AwardsKirkus Prize

Ling Ma is a Chinese American novelist and Assistant Professor of Practice in the Arts at the University of Chicago. Her first book, Severance, won a 2018 Kirkus Prize as well as being listed as a New York Times Notable Book of 2018[1] and shortlisted for the 2019 Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award.[2]

Early life[edit]

Ma was born in Sanming, Fujian, China, an only child because of China's "one-child policy".[3][4] She grew up in Utah, Nebraska, and Kansas.[5] She has an AB from the University of Chicago and received an MFA from Cornell University.[6]


Ma's debut novel, Severance is described as "a biting indictment of late-stage capitalism and a chilling vision of what comes after, but that doesn’t mean it’s a Marxist screed or a dry Hobbesian thought experiment."[7] Severance is a novel that is partially post-apocalyptic horror, and partially office satire.[8] It follows the novel's narrator after the aftermath of the outbreak of a deadly fever that has killed almost everyone in the US.[9] An earlier chapter from the book won a 2015 Disquiet Literary Prize, the Graywolf Prize.[10]

Ma began the novel while working as a fact checker for Playboy, a job she held from 2009 to 2012.[11] It began as a short story, written in her office during her last few months there; after her layoff, it became a novel which she wrote while living on severance pay.[12] She took four years to write it[8], and finished the novel at Cornell as part of the work in her MFA program.[13] She said that she watched George Romero films while working on Severance, and also The Walking Dead[8].

Ma said she "felt pressured to write a traditional immigration novel" while in the MFA program at Cornell, but instead decided to write about otherness and alienation via the trope of zombie apocalypse.[5] Ma's main character is, like her, a first generation immigrant. The New York Times review states that "laced within its dystopian narrative is an encapsulation of a first-generation immigrant’s nostalgia for New York."[14]

Ma has also published short stories in Granta, Playboy, and the Chicago Reader.[15]


  1. ^ "2018 Finalists". Kirkus Reviews. 2016-11-11. Retrieved 2019-01-22.
  2. ^ "Announcing the 2019 PEN America Literary Awards Finalists". PEN America. 2019-01-15. Retrieved 2019-02-23.
  3. ^ Shapiro, Ari (2018-08-10). "In Satirical 'Severance,' A Stricken Country Works Itself To Death". Retrieved 2019-01-23.
  4. ^ Ma, Ling. "Bio". Tumblr. Retrieved 2019-01-23.
  5. ^ a b Borrelli, Christopher (2019-01-15). "Chicago author Ling Ma never thought she'd write a zombie apocalypse novel. Here's what changed her mind". Retrieved 2019-01-23.
  6. ^ "Severance - Ling Ma - About the Author". US Macmillan. Retrieved 2019-01-22.[verification needed]
  7. ^ SEVERANCE by Ling Ma | Kirkus Reviews.
  8. ^ a b c Schaub, Michael. "'Office politics is, to some degree, horrifying' - Ling Ma on her horror-satire 'Severance'". Retrieved 2019-07-15.
  9. ^ "'Severance' Is the Apocalyptic Millennial New York Immigrant Story You Didn't Know You Needed". Electric Literature. 2018-08-14. Retrieved 2019-07-15.
  10. ^ "Finalist winners 2015". Disquiet International. Retrieved 2019-01-22.
  11. ^ Ma, Ling (2018-08-10). "Crying At The Playboy Office". BuzzFeed News. Retrieved 2019-01-23.
  12. ^ Fan, Jiayang (December 10, 2018). "Ling Ma's "Severance" Captures the Bleak, Fatalistic Mood of 2018". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2019-01-23.
  13. ^ Morgan, Adam (2018-08-14). "In 'Severance,' Ling Ma Destroys New York City". Chicago Review of Books. Retrieved 2019-01-23.
  14. ^ Hitchens, Antonia (2018-11-21). "The End Is Near in Two Dystopian Debut Novels". The New York Times. Retrieved 2019-01-23.
  15. ^ Day, Madeline (2018-08-22). "Apocalyptic Office Novel: An Interview with Ling Ma". The Paris Review. Retrieved 2019-01-23.[verification needed]

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