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Session 7 Critical Pedagogy: Octavia E. Butler and Ruthanne Lum McCunn - Authors and Literary Works

Author: Octavia E. Butler
Work: Parable of the Sower
Author: Ruthanne Lum McCunn
Work: Thousand Pieces of Gold


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Ruthanne Lum McCunn

Ruthanne Lum McCunn was born in San Francisco's Chinatown district in 1946, and was raised and schooled in Hong Kong. As a young girl, McCunn recalls being left out of kids' groups because of her mixed ethnic background (Chinese and Scottish). But her isolation from children gave her access to gatherings of adult women who shared with her their stories and thoughts. "My writer's voice really comes from the oral storytelling of my childhood," McCunn once said. "Books were very hard for me to come by because we had no public library and books were very expensive, but everybody told stories. And I loved to listen to them."

McCunn returned to California at the age of 16 to attend college. After graduating, she worked as a librarian and school teacher in Santa Barbara. In 1988, she published Thousand Pieces of Gold. The book won wide acclaim and was made into a film. McCunn has balanced her teaching and writing careers ever since.

McCunn has consistently drawn on her Scottish-Chinese heritage in both her fiction and nonfiction writing, and her well-received books -- including Pie-Biter, Wooden Fish Songs, Sole Survivor, and The Moon Pearl -- have all dealt with Chinese American themes. McCunn is as well known for her meticulous historical research as she is for her graceful writing; through her studies, she has uncovered stories that have helped to detail what we know about nineteenth century Chinese and Chinese American lives.

McCunn's fiction focuses as much on the issues of women as it does on the experiences of Chinese and Chinese Americans. Wooden Fish Songs, for example, tells the story of Lue Gim Gong, a nineteenth century Chinese immigrant to America, from the perspective of three powerful women, one Chinese, one white, and one African American. The Moon Pearl, too, tackles gender issues by exploring the lives of the first women to work in the silk industry. McCunn has remarked that independent women, like the heroines of The Moon Pearl, are her inspiration: "I always remembered admiring [unmarried working women]," she says. "They walked tall. It always struck me that even though they were servants, they had more freedom than the wives they were working for."

McCunn has won numerous awards for her work, including the 1997 J.F. McDonnell Award for Best Fiction for Wooden Fish Songs, the Choice Outstanding Academic Book Award in 1990 for her nonfiction work Chinese American Portraits, and the 1984 American Book Award for her children's book Pie-Biter. She has also been an artist-in-residence at the Basement Workshop in New York and has taught at Cornell, the University of San Francisco, and the University of California, Santa Cruz.

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