Professor Chai: Where Once Were Qilin: Return to Nanjing

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

CATAPULT -- May-lee Chai is the author of 10 books, including the short-story collection “Useful Phrases for Immigrants,” which won a 2019 American Book Award; memoir “Hapa Girl”, a Kiriyama Prize Notable Book; the novel “Tiger Girl,” which won an Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature; and her original translation from Chinese to English of the 1934 “Autobiography of Ba Jin.” She is an assistant professor of Creative Writing at San Francisco State University.

“Nanjing is a portal to the past. My past, certainly,” Chai writes.

“On my inaugural trip to Nanjing in 1985, I was 18 and traveling with my father. It was his first time back in China since his family fled in 1949 at the end of the civil war. We found his childhood home, a two-story gray brick building with an elegant tiled roof and sweeping eaves. I was thrilled to see family history come alive. Places I’d heard about in stories around the dinner table — or in arguments about the wars they’d lived through, who made what decision when, who nearly died and why — were now right before my eyes.