City College Library of The City University of New York no.59 (n.s.) Fall 1999

Spotlight on Asian Women Novelists

n Thursday, September 23 the City College Archives on the Cohen Library's fifth floor hosted a reading by  two talented young authors, Mia Yun and Patricia Chao. This "New York is Book Country" event was co-sponsored by The Friends of the City College Library and The Simon H. Rifkind Center for the Humanities and Arts.

Mia Yun

Ms. Yun lead off by reading several excerpts from her 1998 novel, House of the Winds, which paints a vivid picture of generational mother and daughter relationships as seen through the eyes of a young girl growing up in Korea in the 1960s. The lyrical language, read aloud in the author's beautifully accented voice, made for delightful listening, while the humor she liberally sprinkles throughout her writing evoked smiles and appreciative laughter from the audience. While her themes are universal, the author's background surfaces in her story's references to arranged marriages, saving face, and a grandmother's offhand comment that a baby boy rather than a girl might have helped a marriage.  It seems only fitting that this well-received novel will soon be out in a Korean translation.

Of her debut novel, which was a finalist for the 1999 Independent Publisher Book Awards,  World Literature Today wrote, "House of the Winds is not a novel to be rushed through. One must...savor each word, each phrase, each sentence. The reader is simply stunned by the freshness of the language..."

A native of Korea, Ms. Yun lived there through her college years at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul. She left to earn her MA in creative writing at City College where she studied with Cynthia Ozick. She now makes her home in New York City.

Patricia Chao

Following Ms. Yun, Patricia Chao read from two books, one published in 1997, Monkey King, and one in progress, tentatively titled Mambo Peligroso. Her work shares with Mia Yun's a focus on family and womenin Ms. Chao's novel, a young woman tries to integrate her Chinese and American roots as she struggles with a difficult family secret.  A different sensibility permeates this  author's work, however, perhaps reflecting her California roots, her years in New Haven, and her parentageher  Chinese father and Japanese mother both taught at Yale University. Majoring in creative writing at Brown University where she won the Rose Low Memorial Poetry Prize,  Ms. Chao moved to China to work as an editor at a Beijing radio station. Upon her return to the United States, she earned her MA in creative writing from New York University, studying with E.L. Doctorow. She now teaches at Sarah Lawrence.

Monkey King, described by the Los Angeles Times as marking "the debut of a gifted stylist with a penetrating eye for detail,"  tells the story of twenty-something Sally Wang. It "skillfully laces past and present, China and America, into a compelling tale of one woman's fight for her life and identity," according to the Chicago Tribune.   Commenting on the author's first novel, The Washington Post Book World wrote of "Chao's luminous prose [and] "intelligent sympathy for the frailties of her characters." Her second reading from her work in progress was written only the day before this event. The writing evidenced a remarkably fluid writer who captivated her audience with the assurance of both her humorous writing and her style of delivery.

A reception featuring dim sum and almond cookies followed and those attending had the opportunity to buy copies of the books which their authors promptly signed.

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