Da Chen grew up in the deep south of China, running barefoot in muddy fields and riding the backs of water buffaloes. In his tiny Fujian village, water was fetched from an ancient well swimming with snakes, and the only lights that burned in most households were hissing kerosene lanterns. As the grandson of a disgraced landowner, he was a victim of communist political persecution and hollowing poverty during the Cultural Revolution. His family was beaten, his father thrown in reform camp, and young Chen, at the age of nine, was threatened with imprisonment.
Unfailing family love helped him survive in a dysfunctional society and he found unexpected love and friendship with four other hoodlum outcasts, but dreams made him soar above the poverty and persecution. His first encounter with a Christian woman, a Baptist professor, was life changing. She taught him English and opened the possibility of another world. He excelled in college at Beijing Languages and Culture University, and stayed on as a professor of English after graduating top in his class.
His father also recognized that his son had bigger desires than their village could satisfy, so he took Da Chen to a local flute maker. Da Chen was dazzled by the many flutes hanging from the ceiling, all of which the shopkeeper had made from bamboo he grew behind his shop. Da Chen chose a flute and began his lifelong love of music. Da Chen practiced passionately, learning popular Chinese melodies by ear. Music was a spiritual escape for Da Chen, and through it he transcended his village—even his country—to feel part of something universal. To this day, during his readings and keynote addresses, he plays his flute, transporting himself and his audiences back to the place of his childhood.
Da Chen arrived in America at the age of 23 with $30 in his pocket, his bamboo flute, and a heart filled with hope. He attended Columbia University School of Law on a full scholarship, and upon graduating, worked for the Wall Street investment banking firm of Rothschilds, Inc.
Colors Of The Mountain, his first memoir, was compared to Angela’s Ashes and went on to become a New York Times bestseller. Sounds Of The River, the sequel to his first memoir, was published to rave international reviews. The LA times wrote, “Chinese literature has brought to these shores many new and interesting voices—the haunting lyricism of Ha Jin, the harsh worldview of Anchee Min, the righteous indignation of Adeline Yen Mah. Da Chen’s voice comes from the soil of China…his exuberance for life and its possibilities set him apart from others in the genre.” Da Chen’s first adult fiction,Brothers, was published in September 2006 and was a 2007 Quill Awards finalist in the general fiction category. Da is also the recipient of the NCSS 2010 Spirit of America Award and the 2007 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature by the American Librarians Association.
His first fiction for young readers, Wandering Warrior, published by Random House Children’s Books, is described by USA Today as “China’s answer to [Harry] Potter.” China’s Son, the children’s adaptation of Da Chen’s memoir (2002), was a Borders Original Voices Award finalist, American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults final nominee, New York Public Library Book For the Teen Age List, and PBS TeacherSource recommended book. Da Chen recieved the 2007 Rip Van Winkle Award for outstanding contributions to Children’s Literature by the New York Library Association.
Da has been featured on NPR, CNN International, The Diane Rehm Show, CSPAN Book TV, and Fox News Channel. His books are translated into eleven languages and are frequently chosen as common reader selections among American universities, and used as textbooks by schools such as Yale, Vassar, Wellesley, the Culinary Institute of America, the United Nations-affiliated Vienna International School, and in many high schools and middle schools. He lives in upstate New York with his wife, Sunny, and their two young children.