Bonnie Tsui was born in Queens, New York, and raised on Long Island. As her parents met in a swimming pool in Hong Kong, it seemed fitting that she and her brother should then prepare for competitive swimming careers, which lasted a decade. She attended Harvard University, where she rowed novice crew, snowboarded, and graduated magna cum laude in English and American Literature and Language. She also lived in Australia, studying at the University of Sydney and writing for The Sydney Morning Herald, and won a Radcliffe Traveling Fellowship to New Zealand.
In 2009, her book American Chinatown: A People’s History of Five Neighborhoods was published by Simon & Schuster’s Free Press; it won the 2009-2010 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature and was a San Francisco Chronicle bestseller and Best of 2009 Notable Bay Area Books selection. She has been the recipient of the Lowell Thomas Gold Award for travel journalism and the Jane Rainie Opel Young Alumna Award at Harvard University. In 2017, she was awarded the 2017 Karola Saekel Craib Excellence in Food Journalism Fellowship by the San Francisco Chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier. She is also the recipient of a 2019 National Press Foundation Fellowship.
A frequent contributor to The New York Times and California Sunday magazine, Bonnie has also performed numerous times at Pop-Up Magazine and other live storytelling events. She helped to launch F&B: Voices from the Kitchen, a storytelling project from La Cocina that shares stories from cooks and kitchens that are less often heard. She also appeared as a talking head in the documentary The Search for General Tso, to explain the curiously foreign-yet-familiar quality of Chinese-American food, and was featured in the History Channel series “America: Promised Land.”
Bonnie lives and surfs in the Bay Area and works at the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto. Her next book, Why We Swim, will be published by Algonquin Books in May 2020. She is also finishing her first children’s book, Sarah & the Big Wave, about big-wave women surfers; it will be published by Henry Holt Books for Young Readers.
She also hopes, as Oliver Sacks writes in “Water Babies,” to “swim till I die.”