Chang, Leonard 1968-
CHANG, Leonard 1968-
PERSONAL: Born December 25, 1968, in New York, NY; son of C. Yul and Umee (present surname, Pepe) Chang. Education: Attended Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH, 1987–89; Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, A.B. (cum laude), 1991; University of California, Irvine, M.F.A., 1994.
CAREER: Writer and educator. Antioch University, Los Angeles, CA, member of core faculty for master of fine arts (M.F.A.) program, beginning 1998; Mills College, Oakland, CA, distinguished visiting writer, 2001–03; teaches occasionally at Antioch University, Seattle, WA, in the M.F.A. graduate writing program.
AWARDS, HONORS: Black Heron Press Award for social fiction, 1996, for The Fruit 'n Food; Outstanding Local Discovery Award for literature (Goldie Award), San Francisco Bay Guardian, 1998.
The Fruit 'n Food, Black Heron Press (Seattle, WA), 1996.
Dispatches from the Cold, Black Heron Press (Seattle, WA), 1998.
Over the Shoulder, Ecco Press (New York, NY), 2001.
Underkill, Thomas Dunne Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Fade to Clear, Thomas Dunne Books (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor of short stories to periodicals, including Prairie Schooner, Confluence, Crescent Review, Bamboo Ridge, and Crab Orchard Review.
SIDELIGHTS: Midway into his college years, Leonard Chang decided he would be a professional writer. By the time he reached his mid-thirties, he had published five novels. The first, titled The Fruit 'n Food, tells the story of Thomas Pak, a twenty-six-year old Korean American college graduate stuck in a crime-infested neighborhood with few prospects. When he is hired to work at the local Korean family market, Fruit 'n Food, the place "becomes an embattled haven for him, a vulnerable middle-class island in a sea of racially motivated hate and despair," according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer. In Dispatches from the Cold, published in 1998, Chang again explores relationships, social tension, and violence. The story concerns a growing conflict between Raj Shin, a troubleshooter who is trying to straighten out a sporting goods store, and Farrel Gorden, a store employee in an unhappy relationship who is also having an affair with Shin's wife. Andrea Caron Kempf, writing in the Library Journal, noted that the author's "gift for unsentimental storytelling is indisputable." A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote, "The deliberately slow pace of the narrative accentuates the impact of the step-by-step account of Gorden's descent into murderous rage."
Chang's 2001 crime novel Over the Shoulder introduces a recurring Korean American narrator named Allen Choice. Choice and his partner, both bodyguards, are assigned to protect a prominent Silicon Valley computer executive. The job seems routine until Choice's partner is shot in the head by a drive-by killer. As Choice tries to unravel the reasons why, he meets up with reporter Linda Maldonado, turns up surprising facts about his deceased partner, and uncovers disturbing information about his own family history. Choice ultimately searches not only for the murderer but for his own identity. According to Barbara Buhrer on the About.com Web site, "Chang does a masterful job of combining the past and present." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly called Over the Shoulder "an absorbing blend of literary novel and crime thriller." Writing in Booklist, Thomas Gaughan commented: "It's good intrigue, it's skillfully written, and it's highly readable."
Allen Choice returns in Chang's next book, Underkill, this time investigating the death of Linda Maldonado's brother, Hector. Choice takes Hector's ex-girlfriend to a rave to find out more about Hector's death and end ups up tangling with a drug pusher named Lowell Bangs, who may or may not have killed Hector. It is "a gripping story laced with action," noted a Kirkus Reviews contributor. Rex Klett, writing in the Library Journal, called the book a "stimulating addition to Chang's neonoir crime series."
In Fade to Clear, Choice once again finds himself on a case through his now ex-girlfriend Linda Maldonado. This time, he is looking for Linda's nine-year-old niece Nora. The missing girl's kidnapping is related to her parents' divorce. During his search for her, Choice encounters the girl's father, Frank Stauntom, who bears a deep-seated hatred for his ex-wife, Linda's sister. In a review of Fade to Clear, a Kirkus Reviews contributor noted, "Choice—intuitive, two-fisted, sometimes melancholic, often confused and funny despite himself—drives a breakout novel not to be missed." Frank Sennett, writing in Booklist, also noted that the protagonist's "decency, dedication, and dopey charm win readers over even as they long to shake some sense into him." Michelle Kung commented in Entertainment Weekly that the author's "taut, suspenseful storytelling" and "atmospheric use of the Bay Area" make for "an engrossing caper."
Commenting on his decision to feature a Korean American character in his ongoing crime series, Chang told Martha Vickery of the Korean Quarterly, "I hope I can write enough stories about [Choice] that he becomes completely real to the reader, and not just a representative of a certain ethnic group." In a 2004 San Francisco Chronicle interview with Annie Nakao, the author reiterated: "What better way to normalize the Asian American male than to have him deal with everyday life?"
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, January 1, 2001, Thomas Gaughan, review of Over the Shoulder, p. 923; May 1, 2003, Frank Sennett, review of Underkill, p. 1538; May 1, 2004, Frank Sennett, review of Fade to Clear, p. 1502.
Entertainment Weekly, May 21, 2004, Michelle Kung, review of Fade to Clear, p. 84.
Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2003, review of Underkill, p. 429; February 15, 2004, review of Fade to Clear, p. 155.
Korean Quarterly, summer, 2003, Martha Vickery, "The Inner Detective: A Portrait of Mystery Author Leonard Chang."
Library Journal, July, 1998, Andrea Caron Kempf, review of Dispatches from the Cold, p. 132; April 1, 2003, Rex Klett, review of Underkill, p. 133.
Publishers Weekly, October 28, 1996, review of The Fruit 'n Food, p. 59; June 8, 1998, review of Dispatches from the Cold, p. 48; December 18, 2000, review of Over the Shoulder, p. 57; March 3, 2003, review of Underkill, p. 56; March 29, 2004, review of Fade to Clear, p. 41.
San Francisco Chronicle, August 1, 2004, Annie Nakao, interview with Leonard Chang.
Wall Street Journal, February 26, 2001, Tom Nolan, "A Frightening Garden of Unearthly Delights," p. A20.
About.com, http://www.mysterybooks.about.com/ (April 4, 2001), Barbara Buhrer, review of Over the Shoulder.
Leonard Chang Web site, http://www.leonardchang.com (October 18, 2005).