Ling Ma

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Ling Ma
OccupationWriter, professor
Known forSeverance
AwardsKirkus Prize
Academic background
Academic work
InstitutionsUniversity of Chicago

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 and was 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,[3] initially an only child because of China's "one-child policy."[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 in 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] 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 has also published short stories in Granta, Playboy, and the Chicago Reader.[14]


  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. ^ Ma, Ling. "Bio". Tumblr. Retrieved 2019-01-23.
  4. ^ Shapiro, Ari (2018-08-10). "In Satirical 'Severance,' A Stricken Country Works Itself To Death". 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 Schaub, Michael. "'Office politics is, to some degree, horrifying' - Ling Ma on her horror-satire 'Severance'". Los Angeles Times. 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. ^ Day, Madeline (2018-08-22). "Apocalyptic Office Novel: An Interview with Ling Ma". The Paris Review. Retrieved 2019-01-23.[verification needed]

External links[edit]