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Gish Jen

Award-Winning Author


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.

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 Strauss Living from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, awarded 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 most recent work, a book of nonfiction entitled The Girl at the Baggage Claim: Explaining the East-West Culture Gap, is due out from Knopf in March 2017.


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 is the West so crazy about the memoir, 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 and tolerance.

Two Selves Go to College

Do all students want to find their passion and make a difference? Do they all come to college ready to speak up in class, and talk about themselves, and defend their career choices, if they must, to their parents? Not necessarily if they come from working class or non-Western backgrounds. Drawing on studies, stories from life, and her own journey toward becoming a novelist, Jen presents a personal and helpful framework in which to place the cultural struggles of some students.

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 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 artworks in turn shape ourselves.

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.

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