New York State Writers Institute
Gish Jen
Gish Jen


The Writer PBS Series
Channel 17
Sunday at 2:00 p.m.

November 12, 2000

Gish Jen is a novelist and short story writer. Her most recent publication is Who's Irish?: And Other Stories (1999, Knopf), which Kirkus Reviews describes as a "sharp-eyed debut collection of eight stories examining American life from a foreigner's perspective." Her first novel Typical American (1991, Houghton Mifflin, ISBN 0-395-54689-3), follows a trio of young Chinese immigrants who slowly transform into everything they once criticized in the "typical American," was a New York Times notable book of the year, and a finalist for the National Book Critics' Circle award. Reviewers praised the novel and ranked Jen with such established Asian-American writers as Maxine Hong Kingston and Amy Tan.

In Mona in the Promised Land (1996), her second novel and also a New York Times notable book, Jen continues to explore notions of cultural diversity and ethic identity as Chinese-American Mona Chang decides to convert to Judaism. The Los Angles Times termed it "a shining example of a multicultural message delivered with the wit and bit of art. . ." and named it one of the ten best books of 1996.

Jen's stories have been published in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, The New Republic, The Los Angeles Times, and The New York Times, as well as in numerous textbooks and anthologies, including The Best American Short Stories of the Century, edited by John Updike. She has received grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Bunting Institute, and the National Endowment for the Arts, among other sources, and has published two novels.

In the October 5th edition of The New York Times it was announced that Gish Jen received a 1999 Lannan Literary Award for fiction. The Lannan Literary Awards were established in 1989, in the amount of $75,000 each, to honor writers for work of exceptional quality.

A graduate of Harvard University and the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Jen lives in Cambridge with her husband and two children.

Gish Jen visited the NYS Writers Institute on October 12, 1999.

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"Yifeng has come to America to study to be an engineer and then return to China. But soon his name is Ralph Chang, and he has been joined by his ambitious sister, Theresa. She in turn finds him a perfect wife in beautiful and docile Helen. Together they set out to make the American dream come true in every way: making money in fast food, buying a bargain house in the suburbs, pursuing excursions into adultery. Theirs is the story of a family coming together and coming apart, and of miracles real and imagined, as Gish Jen puts her unique stamp on the American dream in this astonishingly accomplished debut.

"Gish Jen has done much more than tell an immigrant story. . .She has done it more and in some ways better than it has every been done before." - Los Angeles Times Book Review

"A terrific novel. . .full of winning ironies." - People

"No paraphrase could capture the intelligence of Gish Jen's prose, its epigrammatic sweep and swiftness. . .The author just keeps coming at your line after stunning line." - New York Times Book Review

"An irresistible novel. . .suspenseful, startling, heartrending, without ever losing its discerning comic touch." - Entertainment Weekly

"Typical American is indeed an American story, and Gish Jen's immensely intelligent, thunderously funny, truly heartbreaking novel is perhaps the best story of contemporary immigrant experience ever to grace our literature." - Jayne Anne Phillips

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"Perceptive and sharply detailed stories that inhabit the boundary between nostalgia and resentment that is the exile's true domain without falling into either." - Kirkus Reviews on Who's Irish?

"Jen's casual style and deftness with different voices make this a rich and compelling novel." - on Mona in the Promised Land