Born in China, Louis Chu emigrated to America when he was nine years old. Thus Asia and America played significant roles in his formative experience. In Eat a Bowl of Tea, Chu’s only published novel, he writes knowledgeably and feelingly about life in a rural community of South China as well as about life in New York’s urban Chinatown. Chu’s life and career in the United States followed a pattern of education and employment that many immigrants would envy. After completing high school in New Jersey, Chu attended Upsala College, earning his degree in 1937. He then attended New York University, obtaining an M.A. in 1940. Two years of graduate study at the New School for Social Research in New York rounded off his formal education. During World War II, Chu served in the Signal Corps of the U.S. Army. In 1940, he married Pong Fay, who had been born and raised in China; they brought up four children in Hollis, New York, a Queens suburb, where they made a Chinese-speaking home.
Things Chinese American were very much a part of Chu’s career. From 1951 to 1961, he was a disc jockey for radio station WHOM in New York City (he was the only Chinese American disc jockey in the city). His radio show, called Chinese Festival, could be heard four evenings a week. In 1961, Chu went to work for the city’s Department of Welfare and became the director of a center in New York’s Chinatown. He was also an entrepreneur, being the owner of the Acme Company, and played an active role in the Chinatown community, holding the post of executive secretary of the Soo Yuen Benevolent Association for more than a decade.
Chu’s experience and observation provided ample grist for the mill of his novel, Eat a Bowl of Tea, whose protagonist wrestles with issues of traditional Confucian filial duty, marital infidelity, and his identity as a Chinese in America during the 1940’s.