Funny, surprising, and observant, Gish Jen is a brilliant chronicler—in both fiction and nonfiction—of America and the immigrant experience. Her work explores not only themes of alienation and identity, but also artistic expression and the self, as she challenges us to ask how the cultures we are steeped in influence the stories we tell.
Jen’s early novels, including her debut Typical American—a finalist for the National Book Critics’ Circle Award that explores and seeks to redefine Americanness—are classics of American immigrant literature.
“Gish Jen is at the forefront of American writers dealing with that most basic of American issues―who we are as a country and a culture. Her work is as serious and important as this issue, but her books and stories are nevertheless a joy to read, full of wit, humor, nuance, and emotion.”
―Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of The Sympathizer
Jen’s newest novel, The Resisters, invites the reader into a not-so-distant dystopian future. In AutoAmerica, water covers half the land and the internet has become the face of a surveillance state. The people are divided into the angel-fair “Netted” who dwell on the high ground, and the mostly coppertoned “Surplus,” who live on swampland if they’re lucky and on the water if they’re not.
Into this world comes Gwen, a Blasian pitching prodigy born to a Surplus couple. She rises through the ranks of the underground baseball league and, when AutoAmerica re-enters the Olympics―with a special eye on beating ChinRussia―attracts interest. Soon she is at Net U, falling in love with her coach and considering “crossing over,” even as her mother challenges the apartheid of AutoAmerica with lawsuits. Allegra Goodman calls The Resisters “inventive, funny, and tender,” The Washington Post praised “chillingly plausible…gripping”, and Newsday characterized the book as “a 1984 for our times.”
“An absolute joy . . . I finished The Resisters with a tear in my eye and a smile on my face. Who could ask for a better combo?”
―Stephen King, bestselling author of On Writing, The Plant, and The Shining
In her 2017 nonfiction book The Girl at the Baggage Claim, Jen offers a provocative and essential look at the different ideas Eastern and Western cultures have about self and society. Drawing on her personal experiences, a wealth of illuminating anecdotes, and research into cultural psychology, Jen enriches our understanding of ourselves and our world. Writing in The Washington Post, Lisa See called The Girl at the Baggage Claim “timely and extremely important… Gish Jen has once again taken the universal and made it personal, and vice versa.”
“A deep psychological examination of how place, habits, and identity mix in our world. Tremendous!”
—Yo-Yo Ma, Cellist and Presidential Medal of Freedom Laureate
In her novels and short stories, Jen constantly revisits the American dream, introducing us to characters who puzzle out their identities in moving and comic ways. In Mona in the Promised Land, a New York Times Notable Book, a Chinese American teenager converts to Judaism to the dismay of her family. Amy Tan called the book “both hilariously funny and seriously important.”
The Love Wife explores the experiences of mixed-race families in “a darkly comic fairy tale about cultural assimilation, biological destiny and domestic warfare” (Publishers Weekly).
World and Town follows a retired teacher through her move to a struggling New England town, uncovering profound insights about identity, belonging, and community. The Miami Herald praised it as “a triumph of a novel. . . . Jen reflects America, at its best, its worst, its most vulnerable.”
Invited to give the Massey Lectures in the History of American Civilization at Harvard University in 2012, Jen infused her father’s life story with cutting-edge research to reveal and explain cultural differences in narrative. Her lectures―published by Harvard University Press as Tiger Writing: Art, Culture and the Interdependent Self―have since become a mainstay of creative writing courses. Novelist Junot Diaz calls Tiger Writing “penetrating, inspired, and, yes, indispensable…a profound meditation on the divergent roles that storytelling, artmaking, and selfhood take on across the East-West divide.”
“In a magnificent feat of integration, Tiger Writing honors the becoming of the Chinese American writer. I am proud, proud, proud to share ancestors-and the novel and the world-with Gish Jen. Oh, and the wonderful faith―that the novel can be learned!”
―Maxine Hong Kingston, author of To Be the Poet
Jen’s short stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, and dozens of other periodicals and anthologies. She has been published in The Best American Short Stories four times, including in The Best American Short Stories of the Century, edited by John Updike. Jen’s work was also featured on a PBS American Masters’ special on the American novel. In 2003, an American Academy of Arts and Letters jury composed of John Updike, Cynthia Ozick, Don DeLillo, and Joyce Carol Oates awarded Jen a five-year Mildred and Harold Strauss Living Award, the most lucrative literary award in the US. Jen is also a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; the recipient of honorary doctorates from Williams College and Emerson College; and a recipient of Lannan, Fulbright, Radcliffe, Guggenheim, and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships.
In her talks, Jen explores the themes that animate her work: cultural difference, artistic expression, dystopia, the American dream, and feminism. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts with her family.