She was born and raised in Hackney in east London to a Chinese father and an English mother. Her poetry was first published when she was 14. She is an Orwell Prize shortlisted blogger and the author of several stage shows, and has written and presented documentaries and drama for BBC Radio 4 and has hosted a weekly hour-long show on Resonance 104.4FM radio.
She was the first British Chinese comic to take a show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with Suzy Wrong – Human Cannon (1994) (in which she memorably gunned down audiences with a pump-action sex doll firing ping-pong balls out of its business end), and was the first to appear on British television, in Stewart Lee and Richard Herring’s show, Fist of Fun (BBC2) in 1995. She is the author of I, Imelda (1998); Anna May Wong Must Die! (2011); Taikonaut (2006); and The Steampunk Opium Wars (2012).
Her programmes for BBC Radio 4 include: the groundbreaking ten-part series, Chinese in Britain (2007), which drew public attention to the identity of the first documented Chinese person to live and work in Britain, the 17th century Jesuit priest Shen Futsong; A Celestial Star in Piccadilly: Anna May Wong, introducing British listeners to the Hollywood legend and most famous Chinese woman in the world in the 1920s and 30s (2009); Chopsticks At Dawn, exploring the familiar five-note musical trope cartooning Chinese music (2010); China, Britain and the Nunzilla Conundrum, on Chinese trade and the novelty goods we demand from Chinese factories (2010); St Ives and Me, in which she shared her love of the Cornish artists’ colony (2011); and Madam Mao’s Golden Oldies, looking at Jiang Qing’s five model operas during the Chinese Cultural Revolution and what happened to some of the people involved (2012). She wrote and narrated the Radio 4 play, Red Guard – Yellow Submarine (2007). For BBC Radio 3 she wrote and presented Yoko Ono – A Life in Flux (1999 BBC R3) about the respected artist rather than the rock chick in which Ono broke her silence and gave her first interview to the British media for years. In autumn 2013, she hosted a weekly hour-long show on Resonance 104.4FM radio, Madam Miaow’s Culture Lounge, which will return in 2014.
She has written for the Guardian, the Morning Star, New Internationalist magazine, Tribune and the South China Morning Post. Her blog Madam Miaow Says, which she launched in 2007, was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize in 2010 and longlisted for the same prize in 2012.
When she was 14, her first poetry was published in the Jonathan Cape anthology Fire Words. She won the Farrago Poetry Zoo Award for Best London Performance in 2012. Reaching for my Gnu is her first collection of poetry.
Of her work, she says: ‘I always seem to end up grappling with issues of politics and identity, subverting stereotypes and poking the status quo with a sharp stick. Comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable is a pretty good rule of thumb to try to live by. I strongly believe that a rising tide floats all boats and that it’s an artist’s duty to make visible the invisible. My role model is Prometheus but I’m not entirely happy with the bit about having your liver pecked out by an eagle every night.’
She has been in a Bond movie, dated a rock legend, been drawn by Patrick Heron, photographed by Bob Carlos Clarke and dressed by Vivienne Westwood. She organised and directed the press for several campaigns to hit national and international media including: the Chinese foot and mouth Disease smear in 2001; the Socialist Alliance in the London (2000) and general elections (2001); the Stop the War Coalition anti-war protests culminating in the million-strong London demonstration February 2003; and helped kick off the RSC Orphan of Zhao protest by the British East Asian Actors group in 2012.
She is a regular at the St Ives Arts Festival, giving poetry readings, hosting Madam Miaow’s Culture Lounge at the Arts Club and, in 2012, brought The Steampunk Opium Wars to the festival.
She has recently run the Hothouse Project, a series of journalism courses featuring fellow Aaaargh! Press author Charles Shaar Murray, and a Poetry Against the Machine class for the Orwell Prize Wigan Pier Workshops. Her next collection of poems will be published by Aaaargh! Press in 2018. Her website is here.
PRAISE FOR ANNA CHEN
‘Charming, witty and sophisticated.’
‘Hard hitting and often hilarious … arresting … engrossing and provoking.’
‘Sensitive, intelligent … insistent and illuminating.’
‘It’s the stuff of brilliant satire … riveting.’
‘A strange rendezvous of language, wit, and the imagination. … She fully integrates the movingly personal, the vibrantly social and the diablolically political. Her rhyming is frequently quasi-Byronic, full of surprise and acerbic invention … Burning words, full of life and truth.’
CHRIS SEARLE, MORNING STAR
‘A charismatic and attractive performer … original, amusing, rude and rousing.’
MANCHESTER EVENING NEWS
Video: Wilko Johnson likes Reaching for my Gnu
Video: Anna Chen performs her poem “Burger” from Reaching for my Gnu
Chi Chi’s Glorious Swansong
Margaret Thatcher Died at the Ritz