Professor Chai's 'Useful Phrases for Immigrants' Wins American Book Award

Wednesday, September 11, 2019
Photo of May-lee Chai standing in front of bookshelves at The Poetry Center
Photo by Sreang Hok

Creative Writing Assistant Professor May-lee Chai has won an American Book Award for her collection of short stories, Useful Phrases for Immigrants (Blair, 2018).

The American Book Awards were created in 1980 to provide recognition for outstanding literary achievement from the entire spectrum of America’s diverse literary community. This year’s 15 awards also honor alum Halifu Osumare (M.A., ’93) for Dancing in Blackness: A Memoir and former Professor Nathan Hare, a founder of the Black Studies Department, for lifetime achievement.

Useful Phrases for Immigrants is a collection of short stories showing how Chinese families in China and America navigate changing economic and cultural circumstances by creating an environment for empathy instead of fear. It also won the Bakwin Award for Writing by a Woman.

Chai (MFA, Creative Writing, ’13) is the author of 10 books. Her 2001 family memoir, The Girl from Purple Mountain, written with her father, was nominated for the National Book Award in nonfiction. Other books include her memoir Hapa Girl, a Kiriyama Prize Notable Book; the novel Tiger Girl, winner of an Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature; and her original translation from Chinese to English of the 1934 Autobiography of Ba Jin. Her short prose has been published widely, including in The Rumpus, Missouri Review, Seventeen, Glimmer Train, Dallas Morning News and the San Francisco Chronicle. Chai recently won $2,400 from the University’s Marcus Fund for Excellence in Creative Writing for her project about Chinese labor during the building of the Transcontinental Railroad. She joined the SF State faculty in 2017.

Winners will be recognized at a public ceremony November 1 at the Main Branch of the San Francisco Public Library.

— Ufuoma Umusu


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