Gish Jen

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Gish Jen
Born Lillian Jen
1955 (age 63–64)[1]
Long Island, New York
Occupation novelist
Nationality American
Alma mater Harvard University
Period 1986 – 21st century
Genre novel
Notable works Typical American
Mona in the Promised Land
The Love Wife
Who's Irish?
World and Town
Tiger Writing: Art, Culture, and the Interdependent Self
Spouse David C. O'Connor

Gish Jen, born Lillian Jen (Chinese: ; pinyin: Rén Bìlián) August 12, 1955, is a contemporary American writer.[1]

Early life and education

Gish Jen is a second generation Chinese American. Her parents emigrated from China in the 1940s, her mother from Shanghai and her father from Yixing. Born in Long Island, New York,[2] she grew up in Queens, then Yonkers, then Scarsdale. Her birth name is Lillian, but during her high school years she acquired the nickname Gish, named for actress Lillian Gish.[1]

She graduated from Harvard University in 1977[3] with a BA in English,[4] and later attended Stanford Business School (1979–1980), but dropped out in favor of the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, where she earned her MFA in fiction in 1983.[3]


Several of her short stories have been reprinted in The Best American Short Stories. Her piece "Birthmates", was selected as one of The Best American Short Stories of The Century by John Updike. Her works include four novels: Typical American, Mona in the Promised Land, The Love Wife, and World and Town. She has also written a collection of short fiction, Who's Irish?.

Her first novel was Typical American. Her second novel, Mona in the Promised Land features a Chinese-American adolescent who converts to Judaism. The Love Wife, her third novel, portrays an Asian American family with interracial parents and both biological and adopted children.

The novel World and Town portrays a fragile America, its small towns challenged by globalization, development, fundamentalism, and immigration, as well as the ripples sent out by 9/11.[5] World and Town won the 2011 Massachusetts Book Prize in fiction and was nominated for the 2012 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.[citation needed]


In 2013 Jen published her first non-fiction book, entitled Tiger Writing: Art, Culture, and the Interdependent Self. Based on the Massey Lectures that Jen delivered at Harvard in 2012, Tiger Writing explores East-West differences in self construction, and how these affect art and especially literature.[6]

Jen has also published numerous pieces in the New York Times, The New Republic, and in other venues.[7]

Honors and awards

In 2009, Princeton's Elaine Showalter devoted much attention to Jen in her survey of American women writers, "A Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers From Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx." In an article in The Guardian, Showalter elaborated, including Jen in a list of eight top authors, and pointing out that Jen's "vision of a multicultural America goes well beyond the angry rants or despairing projections of Roth, DeLillo, McCarthy or other finalists in the Great American Novel competition." [8] In 2012, Junot Diaz concurred, calling Jen "the Great American Novelist we're always hearing about." And in 2000, in a millennial edition of The Times Magazine in the UK, in which figures were asked to named their successors in the 21st century, John Updike picked Jen.[9]

  • 2013 Story included in The Best American Short Stories of 2013
  • 2012 Delivered the Massey Lectures at Harvard University (an annual lecture series sponsored by the American Studies program)
  • 2011 Winner of the Massachusetts Book Prize
  • 2011 Nominated for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award
  • 2009 Elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
  • 2006 Featured in a PBS American Masters Program on the American Novel
  • 2003 Received a Mildred and Harold Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters
  • 2003 Received a Fulbright Fellowship to the People's Republic of China
  • 2001 Received a Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study Fellowship
  • 1999 Story included in The Best American Short Stories of the Century (John Updike, ed.)
  • 1999 Received a Lannan Literary Award for Fiction
  • 1995 Story included in The Best American Short Stories of 1995
  • 1992 Received a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship
  • 1991 Finalist for the National Book Critics' Circle Award
  • 1988 Received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship
  • 1988 Story included in The Best American Short Stories of 1988
  • 1986 Received a Radcliffe College Bunting Institute Fellowship

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Matsukawa, Yuko, "MELUS interview: Gish Jen", MELUS, Vol. 18, 1993
  2. Lauter, Paul (ed.). "Gish Jen (b. 1955)". The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition. Retrieved March 6, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 Ganguli, Ishani, "Novelist Gish Jen Finds Literary Voice Outside Harvard Identity", The Harvard Crimson, Tuesday, June 4, 2002
  4. "2001–2002 Radcliffe Institute Fellows: Gish Jen"
  5. Andersen, Beth E., "Review: World and Town", Library Journal, October 1, 2010
  6. "Home | Harvard University Press". Retrieved 2014-03-16.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Elaine Showalter (2009-05-09). "Elaine Showalter chooses the best novelists writing in the US today | Books". The Guardian. Retrieved 2014-03-16.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Updike Remembered, The New Republic,

External links