Ly Lan’s mother was the daughter of a peasant, already engaged to a village boy by age 16. At the market one day, she was seen by a Chinese immigrant who was so charmed by her grace that he followed her back to her village and continued to court her.
She married the foreigner over the objections of her family and the rest of the village, after threatening to “go to a pagoda and stay there as a nun.” Ly Lan was born in 1957 in her mother’s village of Binh Nham, 25 kilometers from Saigon.
Lan spent her early childhood there, where she was greatly influenced by her village teacher, Duc, “the master potter who kneaded and molded [her] personality.” Her father moved the family from the village after the death of her mother, when Lan was seven and a half years old.
They went to Cho Lon, the Chinatown of Saigon, where she and her sisters felt like “sea fish in a fresh water aquarium.” At first, Lan attended a private Chinese school, where her difference, coupled with her fierce independence and unwillingness to yield to others’ rules sent her home every day “with bruises and scratches from forehead to heels” but with an undaunted spirit.
After half a year her father took her out of that school and sent her to Vietnamese public schools. At Cho Quan primary school, followed by Gia Long high school for girls, she received an excellent feminist education and was trained “to play [a] worthy crucial role in the reconstruction and development of the country and family in the post-war age.”
In 1976, a year after the war ended, Lan entered the Teacher’s College at the University of Ho Chi Minh City and received her bachelor’s degree in English in 1980. Despite the fact that a teacher’s salary at the time was the equivalent of only ten US dollars a month, Lan followed the example of Teacher Duc.
She became a teacher herself, first in the small village of Can Giuoc in the Mekong Delta, then at various high schools in Ho Chi Minh City and finally as a lecturer at Van Lang University in Ho Chi Minh City. At the same time Lan also started to write and publish short stories and articles.
Her works appear in the best literary journals as well the most popular newspapers and women’s and children’s magazines. Ly Lan’s first collection of short stories, Singing Grass, appeared in 1983, and has been followed by over twenty collections of short stories and poems and one novel. Please see Further Reading for details.
In 1997 she stopped teaching to give herself more time to work as a freelance writer. Besides creative writing, Lan has also worked as a journalist for the Worker newspaper in Ho Chi Minh City, as well as translating all six volumes of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels.
Ly Lan recently received her master’s degree in English at Wake Forest University and now serves as Adjunct Professor at the Center for East Asian Studies at Western Washington University. She divides her time between Vietnam and the United States, at work on a new novel.
Lily Chiu’s introduction draws on an unpublished English-language memoir by Ly Lan.