Lisa Ko

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Lisa Ko
Born New York City
Residence Brooklyn, NY
Alma mater Wesleyan University
Occupation Writer, editor
Notable work The Leavers
Awards PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, National Book Award for Fiction finalist

Lisa Ko is an American writer. Her debut novel, The Leavers, won the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction and was a finalist for the 2017 National Book Award for Fiction.

Early life[edit]

Born in New York City,[1] Ko grew up as the daughter of Chinese immigrants from the Philippines in a predominantly white area of suburban New Jersey. She began writing stories and keeping a journal at the age of five, though she only shared the work with others in high school, and found teachers encouraged her to pursue it.[2] She then attended Wesleyan University, majoring in English.[2]


Ko participated in the founding of Hyphen magazine, serving as books editor.[3]

Ko published her debut novel, The Leavers, with Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill in 2017[4] after winning the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction. Established by Barbara Kingsolver, the prize awards $25,000 as well as a book contract for a work of previously unpublished fiction engaging social justice topics.[5] The book follows Polly, an undocumented immigrant from China to the United States, and her son Deming, who is adopted by a white couple when Polly goes missing.[6]

The Leavers was inspired by a 2009 New York Times story about an undocumented immigrant woman who was held, largely in solitary confinement, for more than a year and a half.[7] Reviewing the book in The New York Times, Gish Jen said Ko's book "has taken the headlines and reminded us that beyond them lie messy, brave, extraordinary, ordinary lives."[8]

The Leavers is a 2017 finalist for the National Book Award for fiction.[9]

Personal life[edit]

Ko lives in Brooklyn, New York.[2]


  1. ^ Hong, Terry (May 2, 2017). "'The Leavers,' inspired by a real story, confronts transracial adoption". Christian Science Monitor. ISSN 0882-7729. Retrieved August 31, 2017.
  2. ^ a b c Hung, Melissa (May 1, 2017). "'The Leavers' novelist Lisa Ko found success through massive failure". NBC News. Retrieved August 28, 2017.
  3. ^ Hung, Melissa (May 28, 2017). "Interview with "The Leavers" Author Lisa Ko". Hyphen Magazine. Retrieved August 31, 2017.
  4. ^ "THE LEAVERS by Lisa Ko". Kirkus Books. January 23, 2017. Retrieved August 31, 2017.
  5. ^ Cha, Steph (June 8, 2017). "The immigrant novel, 2017: Lisa Ko's 'The Leavers' shines a light on ugly truths". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 28, 2017.
  6. ^ Miller, Stuart (May 12, 2017). "Lisa Ko Talks Immigration, Fractured Families and The Leavers". Paste Magazine. Retrieved August 31, 2017.
  7. ^ Weiss-Meyer, Amy (May 14, 2017). "'The Leavers' Is a Wrenching Tale of Parenthood". The Atlantic. Retrieved August 28, 2017.
  8. ^ Jen, Gish (May 16, 2017). "Migration, a Makeshift Family, and Then a Disappearance". The New York Times. Retrieved August 28, 2017.
  9. ^ "2017 National Book Award finalists revealed". CBS News. October 4, 2017. Retrieved October 4, 2017.

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