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Author Profile: Ruthanne Lum McCunn [in Notable Asian Americans]

Ruthanne Lum McCunnDuring the early years of her life, Ruthanne Lum McCunn was known as Roxey Drysdale. Born to a Scottish American father and a Chinese mother, McCunn’s features are not recognizably Asian. But growing up in Hong Kong surrounded by her mother’s extended family and living the majority of her adult life in California, McCunn’s identity today is completely Asian American. That synthesized identity is reflected in her name: Lum is her mother’s maiden name – “When I started to write, I felt it was important to have the Lum in there. Everything I write comes from that source” – while McCunn is her married name. “It’s really because of both my mother and my husband that I am able to do the work that I do,” she told Terry Hong in an interview. “I’m able to write about Chinese America because of my mother, and I’m also able to write because it was my husband who encouraged me to go for it.”

McCunn wrote her first book, An Illustrated History of the Chinese in America, for her students in a junior high school in San Francisco where she was working as a bilingual teacher. She had discovered that virtually no books existed about Chinese Americans, much less Chinese American history.

By the time An Illustrated History was published in 1979, McCunn had left her decade-long career as librarian and teacher to become a full-time writer. Her work since then has steadily added to the growing library of Asian American literature. She has written three novels, a children’s tale, a book of proverbs, and a compilation of personal histories of Chinese Americans. Her books have won awards, including the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation and the Outstanding Academic Book from Choice magazine. She is also a recipient of the Distinguished Achievement Award from the National Women’s Political Caucus.

Chinese Beginnings
Ruthanne Lum McCunn was bom February 21, 1946, in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Her father was a merchant marine of Scottish American descent, and her Chinese mother was from Hong Kong. While visiting the United States as a tourist, McCunn’s mother married the merchant marine. In 1947 when the infant McCunn was a year old, the family relocated to Hong Kong. Though McCunn’s father was at sea for much of her childhood, she grew up in the midst of her mother’s extended family that included her mother, an aunt, uncle, cousins, and a great-aunt. …[click here for more]

Profile: “Ruthanne Lum McCunn (1946 – ), Writer, teacher” Notable Asian Americans, edited by Helen Zia and Susan B. Gall, Detroit: Gale Research, 1995

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult, Adult


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