Gail Tsukiyama was born in San Francisco, her mother a Chinese immigrant, her father Japanese from Hawaii. She attended San Francisco State University where she received both her Bachelor of Arts Degree and a Master of Arts Degree in English with the emphasis in Creative Writing. Most of her college work was focused on poetry, and she was the recipient of the Academy of American Poets Award.
Between 1997 to 1999, she sat as a judge for the Kiriyama Book Prize and serves as Book Review Editor for the online magazine The WaterBridge Review. In September of 2001, she was one of fifty authors chosen by the Library of Congress to participate in the first National Book Festival in Washington, D.C., and has been guest speaker at the Hong Kong International Literary Festival and the Sydney Writers’ Festival.
Her multicultural upbringing is reflected in the deeply personal stories about Chinese women which she has been writing since her first novel, Women of the Silk, was published in 1991. An unexpected bestseller, it launched her successful writing life.
She also writes short stories, many of which have been translated into various languages throughout the world.
Tsukiyama considers herself an examiner of social groups who live apart from mainstream society, what she calls the lives of “early Chinese feminists,” as embodied by the silk workers in her first novel, or the sumo culture in her latest novel, The Street of a Thousand Blossoms. She has also tackled the topics of the differences between Chinese and Japanese culture (The Samurai’s Garden) and the daily struggles of young women growing up in World War II Hong Kong (Night of Many Dreams) and living with illness (Dreaming Water). Her novel, The Language of Threads, is a sequel of sorts, following the story of Pei, the young girl sold into the silk trade by her poor parents in Women of the Silk.
A serious researcher, Tsukiyama spent most of her writing time looking into the silk society which survived in China for one hundred years, between 1830 and 1930. “[The first book] grew out of library research and my desire to write about Chinese society. I became intrigued by a brief reference to these women silk workers in the autobiography of writer Han Suyin. The few lines described a community of unmarried women who earned their own livings...I knew instantly I wanted to write about these early Chinese feminists.”
In fact, not only is she preserving a special aspect of her ancestral heritage through mining this subject in her work, but she has also found that “it has given me a greater sense of who I am ...” At the age of thirty, she realized that she needed to learn so much more to keep from losing her own heritage and thus started this fruitful investigation into China’s female past.
“At thirty, I began to regret not having learned to write and speak Cantonese—language being so important to understanding a culture. Something inside of me wanted to go back and learn what it meant to be Chinese and Japanese.” Not only has Tsukiyama been able to do that for herself, she has also done it for her very grateful audience. –Jana Siciliano
St. Martin's Griffin
St. Martin's Press
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