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Ava Chin

  • Author, Mott Street: A Chinese American Family's Story of Exclusion and Homecoming
  • Writing Professor and Fulbright Scholar


Acclaimed writer Ava Chin reveals her family's complex legacy as an embodiment of recurrent American themes in her book Mott Street: A Chinese American Family's Story of Exclusion and Homecoming. Transcending her personal journey uncovering family secrets and long-severed connections, Ava illuminates current issues including immigration, identity, discrimination, grief and resilience. She investigates intimate stories across the generations as relevant metaphors, and even cautionary tales, for contemporary life.

Creative and thoughtful, Ava's heart-felt speaking captivates audiences across a range of topics, including Asian Americans, diversity, family storytelling, and even personal bonds forged through food and sustainability. She consistently links individual experiences with the pluralistic—advocating to find the common ties that connect us while vowing to drive future change. Raised by her single mother and maternal grandparents, Ava imparts her unique emotional intelligence to reach listeners in small and large venues.

Ava shares insights from her heritage:

The transcontinental railroad was so important to our family not only because of the work that helped to bridge the divide between east and west, uniting us as a country physically after the Civil War, but also what it symbolized for us. There was so much pride that my great-great-grandfather had worked and labored on this railroad—the labor was so intense that many Chinese men lost their lives. These were some of the first family stories that I ever heard, and I found it nothing short of inspiring. It sparked my imagination, but also made me realize there was a great big gaping hole in the history that I was taught at school. Uncovering these stories was personally moving for me, and spoke to something much larger happening in society at that time.

A Fulbright scholar and writing professor at the City University of New York, Ava's previous memoir Eating Wildly won first prize at the MFK Fisher Book Awards recognizing excellence in food writing. Ava also edited the anthology Split: Stories from a Generation Raised on Divorce with various perspectives related to growing up in a divorced family. She has been a fellow at the New York Public Library's Cullman Center, the Asian American Writers' Workshop, and the New York Institute for the Humanities, where she currently serves on the board. Her work extends to journalism, essays, fiction, poetry, and song lyrics, including several years at the New York Times as its Urban Forager columnist.


Poetry reading


  • Mott Street: The Struggle for Inclusion in the Building of America. Ava Chin uncovered repeated themes of resilience and survival while investigating her family’s hard-fought immigration saga from China to North America. Starting with draconian restrictions from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, seeking to block Asian migrants after relying on Chinese labor to complete the transcontinental railroad, Ava brings light to the forgotten history of exclusionary practices as seeds for racism and discrimination seen today. Connecting the past with the future, Ava says, “As difficult as it is to stomach that this actually happened, I think it's important that we acknowledge it, because we don't want it to happen again.”
  • What Does It Mean to Be Asian American? A Celebration of Asian American Culture. From Bruce Lee’s influence on hip-hop stars to the popularity of anime and KPop, Asians occupy their distinct place shaping the cultural legacy of our nation. But this influence is far from a new phenomenon, working against depictions of Asians as flat, stereotypical caricatures that abounded in the media. As a fifth generation Chinese American, Ava Chin speaks to the strength she found in Asian and Asian American culture under the pandemic and how it can translate to other groups, both social and ethnic. Ava traces a lineage of Asian American contributions to literature, film, and popular culture, addressing the state of Asian America today.
  • The Challenge of Writing an Epic Narrative. Ava Chin offers insights and advice universal to all writers and creatives while shaping her memoir. Even as an experienced storyteller and writing professor, she confronted many challenges threading together family narratives across generations and eras. Devoting years to researching and writing this book that was increasingly part of her destiny, Ava faced the following questions:

    • How does one craft a nonfiction book when the official record is silent, non-existent, or a heavily-biased kind of fiction?
    • How does an author weave nearly five decades of research into a single compelling narrative?
    • How to determine which material to keep and to exclude while maintaining storyline integrity?

    Through personal experience and hard-won lessons, Ava shares the wisdom she gained undertaking this daunting yet special project.

  • Food, Family and Foraging: A Love Story. Growing up in a culture inextricably coupled with traditional foods, Ava Chin lives surrounded by cuisine, community, and connections with nature. Nurtured by the cooking of her maternal grandfather, Ava explores the meaning of food through Chinese specialties, neighborhood favorites, and even urban foraging. Known for her writing on food and the environment, including her book Eating Wildly as well as her New York Times column “The Urban Forager,” Ava recounts key events related to food as catalysts for self-discovery and sustainability, leading to personal healing, family reconciliation and—unexpectedly—true love.

Keywords: Chinese, ethnicity, discrimination, resilience, family, food, community, writing

Book Ava Chin