I was born in San Francisco's Chinatown in 1948, but grew up in a black neighborhood. During elementary and middle school, I commuted to a bilingual school in Chinatown. So I did not confront white American culture until high school. Approaching that culture as an outsider, I have been fascinated by all its aspects — from its great novels to its children's literature, comic art, and science fiction. Thus, I am able to pursue the figure of the “stranger” both in my studies and my writing.
While I was in high school, I discovered and began writing science fiction. At 18, my first short story was published — I was paid a penny a word by a science fiction magazine. I continued to write and five years later I published my first novel, Sweetwater.
In 1966, I attended Marquette University and graduated from the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1970. I received my doctorate in English from the State University of New York at Buffalo, where I wrote my dissertation on William Faulkner's early novels. I now live in San Francisco with my wife, Joanne Ryder, and write and teach.
Probably the reason why much of my writing has found its way to a teenage audience is that I'm always pursuing the theme of being an outsider — an alien — and many teenagers feel they're aliens. All of my books have dealt with the outsider — from the aliens of Sweetwater to alienated heroes such as the Chinese-American aviator in Dragonwings.