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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1171

Frank Chin 1940-

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(Full name Frank Chew Chin Jr.) American playwright, novelist, short story writer, television writer, and editor.

The following entry provides an overview of Chin's career through 1998.

Chin has played an important role in the development of Asian-American literature. His works seek to promote the unique identity of Asian Americans, acknowledge Chinese history and culture, and to subvert the stereotypical representations imposed upon Asian Americans by white society. Chin has pursued this goal through his involvement in critical inquiry and through his plays, novels, and short stories.

Biographical Information

Chin was born on February 25, 1940 in Berkeley, California, and was raised in the Chinatowns of Oakland and San Francisco. He spent the first six years of his life living with an older white couple on an abandoned gold-mining site. His father was hiding Chin from his maternal grandmother, who disapproved of her fifteen-year-old daughter's involvement with the older man. At the age of six Chin moved to Oakland's Chinatown district to live with his parents, and throughout his literary career he has explored his feelings toward Chinatown and its inhabitants in his work. He attended the University of California at Berkeley and won a fellowship to the Writer's Workshop at the University of Iowa before receiving his bachelor's degree from the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1965. After graduation, he took a job with the Southern Pacific Railroad, becoming the first Chinese American brakeman in the company's history. Chin left the railroad in 1966 and began writing and producing documentaries for KING-TV in Seattle, Washington. Chin began his dramatic career in the early 1970s, staging The Chickencoop Chinaman in 1972 and The Year of the Dragon two years later. Both plays were produced off-Broadway by the American Place Theatre, making Chin the first Asian American to have work presented on a mainstream New York stage. In 1973 Chin formed the Asian American Theatre Workshop in San Francisco, and he remained its director until 1977. His first novel, A Chinese Lady Dies, won the Joseph Henry Jackson Award but was never published. His second novel, Charlie Chan on Maui, was rejected by publishers when the owners of the Charlie Chan copyright threatened legal action. Told by publishers that his work was not commercially viable, Chin did not publish his first novel, Donald Duk (1991), until after the success of his short-story collection, The Chinaman Pacific and Frisco R. R. Co. (1988). Since the 1980s Chin has had little involvement with theater, preferring to write fiction and essays on Chinese and Japanese history, culture, and literature. He has taught courses on Asian American subjects at San Francisco State University, the University of California at Berkeley, Davis, and Santa Barbara, and at the University of Oklahoma at Norman. He has also received a number of awards and fellowships throughout his career.

Major Works

Chin's works grapple with questions of Asian-American identity, history, and culture. Many of Chin's fictional tales are coming-of-age stories that reflect the author's own experiences and questions of cultural and ethnic identity. In Chickencoop Chinaman, Tampax Lum searches for a new identity outside the narrow confines of the Chinatown in which he was raised. The play proposes that Chinese Americans cannot find their culture by imitating anyone else; they should not be forced to choose between being Chinese and being American; and they should not allow themselves to be used as a model upon which all other minority groups are judged. The play also deals with the question of Chinese-American manhood but gives no answers as to how the Chinese-American male may find his identity and sense of his own manhood. Several characters in the...

(The entire section contains 49414 words.)

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