Da Chen ’90

Branching Out

Fall 2010

New York Times best-selling author Da Chen ’90 remembers being moved to tears when he first read the letter informing him that he was accepted to Columbia Law School. “Dean [of Admissions James] Milligan actually circled the words ‘with enthusiasm’ in the letter,” he recalls. For Chen, that moment represented the culmination of an unlikely journey that began in his rural hometown in China’s Fujian province.

In his two memoirs, Colors of the Mountain and Sounds of the River, Chen recounts his childhood growing up in poverty during China’s Cultural Revolution. After a chance meeting with a professor of English, he began spending 16-hour days studying for the entrance exam required for admittance to Beijing Language and Culture University. Not only was he accepted to the university as a student, he eventually stayed on as a professor in the English department. Then, at the age of 23, he traveled to America to attend Union College in Lincoln, Neb., before enrolling at the Law School.

Following graduation, Chen worked for Rothschild investment bank, where he focused on mergers and acquisitions matters. After the birth of a daughter in 1996, he decided to write Colors of the Mountain, which went on to become a best seller. Now, he is the author of five books, including a young-adult adaptation of his
first memoir.

Chen, who lives on Long Island with his wife and two children, spends much of his time speaking at corporate conferences, colleges, and high schools about his inspirational background. “Though I’m not in a courtroom,” Chen says, “what I do now is still a form of advocacy.”

Photographed by Thomas Jack Hilton