Gish Jen (SHS 1973)

Short Story Writer, Novelist

Gish Jen’s parents immigrated from Shanghai to New York in the 1940’s.  Jen was born in the U.S.A., grew up in Scarsdale, graduated from Harvard and spent a year at Stanford’s Business School.  Those experiences, particularly her years in Scarsdale, led her to reflect on the immigrant experience, ethnic identity and the American Dream. Jen remembers the struggle of her family to fit in to the culture of Scarsdale. 

Writing about those experiences did not come easily. Jen left Stanford, taught English in China for a year and then, in 1983, enrolled in the Masters in Fine Arts program at the University of Iowa. It was there that her short story, “Bellying Up,” was published. Then Cambridge called again and Jen received a grant to study and write at the Bunting Institute. Almost immediately articles by Jen were published in the Atlantic and in The New Yorker.

Her novels followed. “Typical American” published in 1991 was nominated for a National Book Critic’s Circle Award. “Mona in the Promised Land” was published five years later and was selected as one of the ten best books of 1996 by the Los Angeles Times. “The Love Wife,” penned in 2004, continued the theme of Jen’s fictional family.

A collection of her short stories, “Who’s Irish” was also published during this period. Like “Mona” and “Typical American” these stories are widely taught in colleges today.