author to speak at Monastery
Ruthanne Lum McCunn, author of the book Thousand Pieces of Gold, the story of Polly Bemis, will make a presentation on May 12, 2005, at 7:00 pm at the Monastery of St. Gertrude dining room. The presentation will consist of readings from Thousand Pieces of Gold and a discussion of new research about Polly Bemis. It is free to the public and is sponsored by the Historical Museum at St. Gertrude.
McCunn is an Eurasian of Chinese and Scottish descent. Born in 1946 in San Francisco's Chinatown, she grew up in Hong Kong, where she was educated first in Chinese and then British schools. In 1962 she returned to the U.S. to attend college.
McCunn began writing seriously when she was thirty. Three years later, she published her first novel Thousand Pieces of Gold. Acclaimed as a "stunning biography" by the Los Angeles Times, the novel was a Quality Paperback Book Club Alternate and was made into a film. Her children's picture book, Pie-Biter, won the Before Columbus Foundation's American Book Award in 1984, and her account of the world's champion survivor Poon Lim, published as Sole Survivor, was a Dolphin Book Club Alternate and selected as 1985 Best Book, Nonfiction Adventure by the Southwest Booksellers Association. Choice selected her Chinese American Portraits: Personal Histories 1828-1988 as an Outstanding Academic Book in 1990. Her novel Wooden Fish Songs won the Women's Heritage Museum's Jeanne Farr McDonnell Award for Best Fiction in 1997. A stage adaptation of this book enjoyed successful tours of over thirty colleges, libraries, museums, and community organizations including the Smithsonian and University of Hawaii.
Ruthanne's most recent novel, The Moon Pearl, tells the story of young girls in nineteenth century China who fought and won a battle for economic and personal independence that changed the future for thousands of others. Published in 2000, the novel was highlighted in The New York Public Library's 2001 "Books for the Teen Age" and chosen by the American Library Association as "The Best of the Best" from American University Presses in 2002. Helen Zia, author of Asian American Dreams and contributing editor to Ms. Magazine, praised the novel as "a stunning and inspiring tale … breathtaking in its historical mastery, spellbinding as (McCunn) captures the triumph of the human spirit."
McCunn’s works appeal to young and seasoned readers alike. Asked why her books appeal to such a broad age range, she replied, "I have always been a voracious reader, and books were hard to come by when I was a child in Hong Kong. There were no public libraries and my family had neither the means nor the desire to purchase books. But I always had access to stories told by adults in my life and/or by professional storytellers on the street. The age of the audience for the professional storytellers spanned babies strapped on the backs of adults to old grannies and grandpas. So the storyteller had to seize and maintain the interest of children as well as adults. Otherwise the bored child would become disruptive and have to be taken away by the adult who brought him or her. Then there'd be fewer people around at the end when the hat was passed around for coins. It's the voice of these storytellers that I have in my head when I write, so my influence is oral rather than literary, my voice direct."