2017 National Book Award Finalist, Fiction

Lisa Ko

The Leavers, by Lisa Ko Lisa Ko
The Leavers
(Algonquin Books / Workman Publishing)

ISBN: 9781616206888

National Book Foundation: Why did you write this book?
Lisa Ko: I’d been reading real-life stories of undocumented immigrant women whose U.S.-born children were taken away from them and adopted by white American families, while the women were deported or jailed in one of the many for-profit immigration detention facilities across the country. Some of the women who were deported wanted to take their children with them back to their countries of origin, but U.S. courts said no, the kids were better off staying in America, in their adoptive families. Why did the kids have to stay while their mothers had to leave? I couldn’t get these stories out of my head, especially as the daughter of immigrants, and the questions they raised about class and cultural assimilation, and about family, identity, and survival.
Foundation: What’s your favorite bookstore or library?
Ko: My locals: Greenlight Bookstore and the Brooklyn Public Library.

judges' citation

Lisa Ko’s The Leavers gives us Deming Guo, who is also Daniel Wilkerson, a transnational adoptee abandoned by his mother, Polly Guo, an undocumented Chinese immigrant. In their criss-crossing stories we see how this novel’s unique doubled consciousness is the one way they can be together, and in their struggle to belong, at least to themselves, there is a vision for an America big enough to include them when America does not. A bold reinvention of the Asian immigrant novel as great American novel.


A vivid and moving examination of borders and belonging, The Leavers is the story of how one boy comes into his own when everything he’s loved has been taken away—and how one woman learns to live with the mistakes of her past.

About the Author

Lisa Ko is the author of The Leavers, a novel which won the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction. Her writing has appeared in Best American Short Stories 2016, The New York Times, Apogee Journal, Narrative, O. Magazine, Copper Nickel, Storychord, One Teen Story, Brooklyn Review, and elsewhere. Lisa has been awarded fellowships and residencies from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, the MacDowell Colony, the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, Writers OMI at Ledig House, the Jerome Foundation, Blue Mountain Center, the Van Lier Foundation, Hawthornden Castle, the I-Park Foundation, the Anderson Center, the Constance Saltonstall Foundation, and the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center. Born in Queens and raised in Jersey, she lives in Brooklyn.


- WEBSITE: lisa-ko.com

- TWITTER: @iamlisako

(Photo credit: Bartosz Potocki)


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