Brilliant, funny, and ever-surprising, Gish Jen tackles the issues of our time with originality and heart. Her most recent novel, The Resisters, imagines an America some fifty years from now, in which surveillance technology supports a new Jim Crow—challenged by a girl with a golden arm and an underground baseball league. “A stone-cold masterpiece” that “should be required reading for the country” (Ann Patchett), The Resisters was named one by Parade as of the best dystopian novels of all time and was a IndieBound bestseller. The New York Times noted “it grows directly out of the soil of our current political moment” and NPR observed that “with her characteristic generosity, Jen offers hope that, after a long, misbegotten seventh-inning stretch, Americans will once again take up the hard work of participatory democracy.” She has further explored the world first introduced in The Resisters through short fiction pieces for The New York Times Privacy Project special issue and Audible.
“Triumphantly original… The Resisters is a 1984 for our times.”
It is not the first time Jen has addressed the American Dream—or nightmare. Many of her early novels are classics of American immigrant literature, distinguished by an inimitable blend of charm and vision. Her debut novel, Typical American—a finalist for the National Book Critics’ Circle Award—seeks to redefine Americanness as a preoccupation with identity. As soon as you ask yourself, what does it mean to be Iranian American, Syrian American, or Chinese American, she argued in this book, you are American. In Mona in the Promised Land—a book author Amy Tan called “both hilariously funny and seriously important”—a Chinese American teenager converts to Judaism, raising questions about whether we are defined by choice or blood. The Love Wife explores the experiences of mixed-race families in what Michiko Kakutani called “a big story about families and identity and race and the American Dream” on the eve of 9/11. And World and Town follows a retired schoolteacher through her move to a small New England town challenged by globalization. In the words of Entertainment Weekly, “In this thick, satisfying sprawl of a read, Jen gracefully introduces some of the great issues of our time: how the shock of 9/11 reverberated from city to town; how lost souls can cling meanly to fundamentalism; how it feels when a chain store bulldozes into a mom-and-pop community, or a family farm finally collapses.”
In January 2022, Jen will make her return to short fiction with Thank You, Mr. Nixon, her first collection of stories in two decades. The book—rife with “keen intelligence blended with sly humor” according to National Book Award-winning author Ha Jin—refracts the fifty years since the opening of China through the eyes of its everyday citizens. Named a most anticipated book by Esquire, The Los Angeles Times and other publications, Thank You, Mr. Nixon has earned starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, and Booklist, with the latter noting, “Jen distills five decades of cultural collision, confusion, and collaboration between the U.S. and China into eleven gorgeously comedic and heartbreaking stories cleverly linked through family and friends…. The connections Jen finesses among her entrancing characters are surprising and piquing, her painterly descriptions compassionate and amusing, her summoning of ambiguity and hard truths uniquely illuminating.”
“Gish Jen is the Great American Novelist we’re always talking about.”
—Junot Diaz, author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
A true Renaissance woman, Jen explores our changing world in her nonfiction as well. In The Girl at the Baggage Claim: Explaining the East-West Culture Gap, Jen offers a provocative and essential look at the different ideas Eastern and Western cultures have about self and society. Drawing on personal experience, a wealth of illuminating anecdotes, and insights from cultural psychology, Jen enriches our understanding of ourselves and our world. Writing in The Washington Post, novelist Lisa See observed “Gish Jen has once again taken the universal and made it personal, and vice versa.”
Asked to give the Massey Lectures in the History of American Civilization at Harvard University in 2012, Jen interwove 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.”
“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 short stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Times Magazine, and dozens of other periodicals and anthologies. The “tender and funny” (The San Francisco Chronicle) collection Who’s Irish, explores ambition, compromise, and assimilation through stories of first- and second-generation immigrants. She has, what’s more, been published in The Best American Short Stories four times, including in The Best American Short Stories of the Century, edited by John Updike. In fact, for a 1999 issue of The Times Magazine (UK) where preeminent 20th century figures tapped their successors for the new millennium, Updike chose Jen.
A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Jen is a recipient of fellowships from, among others the Radcliffe Institute, the Fulbright Foundation, and the Guggenheim Foundation, as well as a Lannan Literary Award for Fiction and a Mildred and Harold Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Her work has been featured in a PBS American Masters special on the American novel. Currently, she is a visiting professor at Harvard University and holds honorary doctorates from Emerson College and Williams College.
In her lively and informative talks, Jen explores the experiences, passions, and practices that give rise to her work.here.