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Gish  Jen

Gish Jen

Award-Winning Author

Biography

Hailed as “one of the most insightful writers of our time,” Gish Jen balances analysis with storytelling, bringing brilliance, wit and warmth to pressing questions of culture, identity, and globalization. Why are human rights so important to the West, but not the East? Why did the West produce Apple, and the East Alibaba? What do we make of the copycat phenomenon we see in the East? How about the math scores? Why are some Easterners uncomfortable talking in class? Jen’s answers are always nuanced and ever surprising. Read More >

Gish Jen is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She has also been a Guggenheim fellow and a fellow of the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study. She is the recipient of a Lannan Literary Award in Fiction, as well a $250,000 Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters; the last was granted to her by jury comprised of John Updike, Cynthia Ozick, Don DeLillo, and Joyce Carol Oates. Her novels include such critically-acclaimed works as Typical American, Mona in the Promised Land, The Love Wife, and World and Town. Her short fiction has appeared in The Best American Short Stories four times, including The Best American Short Stories of the Century. 

Featured in a PBS American Masters special on the American Novel, Jen delivered the William E. Massey Lectures in the History of American Civilization at Harvard University in 2012. These were the basis of her first nonfiction book, Tiger Writing: Art, Culture, and the Interdependent Self. Princeton critic Elaine Showalter named Jen one of the 8 most important woman writers in America; and writer Junot Diaz declared her “the great American novelist we’re always talking about.” Jen’s latest book, also nonfiction, is called The Girl at the Baggage Claim: Explaining the East-West Culture Gap (Knopf), and has drawn praise from figures from Eric Lander to Yo-Yo Ma. Says MIT professor Sherry Turkle, “Misunderstanding East-West differences can cost us in every way we know how to measure: in money, friendship, education, in the balance of power, and the fate of the planet. The Girl at the Baggage Claim is remarkable and fluent but, most of all, essential.” Read Less ^

Speaker Videos

2017 MOCA Legacy Award Honoree

Remade in China: Why the East Embraces Imitation

Gender and the Business of Friction

Exploring Cultural Barriers Through Writing

Tiger Writing: Art, Culture, and Self

Typical American on PBS

Speech Topics

Explaining the East-West Culture Gap

Why does the East, and especially China, approach many things – from innovation to intellectual property to human rights to elder care – so differently than the West? And is life in the East warmer, and why are East-West negotiations so difficult, and what exactly is going on with Asian and Asian American math scores? In this provocative, essential and wide-ranging talk, Jen shows how a profound difference in self drives many of the differences we perceive, as well as how understanding that difference –and embracing the bicultural among us – can foster creativity, tolerance, learning, and productivity. Ideal for corporations, legal firms, town halls, conferences, and general audiences, this talk can be adapted to address the particular concerns of the client.

“But I Don’t Want to Go to Med School!”: Asian Parents, American Kids, and the Role of Culture in the Classroom

Not all Asians are great test-takers; and not all Asian parents are crazy Asian parents. And, of course, Asians are not Asian Americans. Still, certain experiences, strengths and challenges tend to characterize Asian and Asian American students. Why is it so hard for some to speak up? Why do some parents push the way they do? Is there such a thing as Asian grit? What about a bamboo ceiling? Have experiences like the internment of the Japanese in WWII left their mark? In this talk, Gish Jen shows how deeply culture informs student life—and enriches it.

Art, Culture & Self

Is our mantra “To thine own self be true”? Or do we believe that, as Humphrey Bogarts says in Casablanca, that “the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world”? Drawing on a host of examples from art, architecture, and narrative, Jen fascinatingly demonstrates how deeply our relative individualism or collectivism affects our self-expression – as well as how our art in turn helps shape our selves.

An Evening with Gish Jen

Jen will read from her fiction and talk about her process and journey as well as about her themes and the world.