Helen Zia is a writer, activist and Fulbright Scholar. Her latest book, Last Boat out of Shanghai: The Epic Story of the Chinese who Fled Mao’s Revolution, was an NPR best book of 2019 and shortlisted for a 2020 national PEN AMERICA award. Her first book, Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People, about the contemporary civil rights struggles of Asian Americans, is a staple of Asian American studies classes.
The daughter of Chinese immigrants, Helen was born and raised in New Jersey during the civil rights, anti-war and women’s movements and her journalism centers on stories of social change and justice. She was Executive Editor of the iconic feminist publication MS.magazine, and has been outspoken on issues ranging from human rights to countering gender and hate violence and homophobia. Her work on the Asian American landmark civil rights case of anti-Asian violence appears in the Oscar-nominated film, “Who Killed Vincent Chin?” In 2010, Helen became a witness in the federal case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that made marriage equality the law of the land.
Helen has received honorary doctorates from the University of San Francisco and the City University of New York Law School. She attended Princeton University on a full scholarship and was a member of its first graduating class of women. Helen quit medical school to work as a construction laborer, an autoworker, and a community organizer, until she discovered her life’s work as a journalist and writer.