Bonnie Tsui

From Openwaterpedia
Why We Swim by Bonnie Tsui

Bonnie Tsui is a 43-year-old American writer who was born in Queens, New York, and raised on Long Island. She lives, swims, and surfs in the Bay Area of San Francisco.


  • She is the author of Why We Swim that was published by Algonquin Books in April 2020 that was selected as one of Time Magazine's 100 Must-Read Books of 2020.
  • She authored American Chinatown: A People’s History of Five Neighborhoods .
  • She authored Sarah & The Big Wave (Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, forthcoming)

Swimming & Professional Career

She was a competitive swimmer for 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, she 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.”

She works at the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto. She is 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 in spring 2021.

Algonquin Books On Why We Swim

Humans, unlike other animals that are drawn to water, are not natural-born swimmers. We must be taught. Our evolutionary ancestors learned for survival; now in the 21st century we swim in freezing Arctic waters and piranha‑infested rivers to test our limits. Swimming is an introspective and silent sport in a chaotic and noisy age, it’s therapeutic for both the mind and body, and it’s an adventurous way to get from point A to point B. It’s also one route to that elusive, ecstatic state of flow. These reasons, among many others, make swimming one of the most popular activities in the world.

Why We Swim is propelled by stories of Olympic champions, a Baghdad swim club that meets in Saddam Hussein’s palace pool, modern‑day Japanese samurai swimmers, even an Icelandic fisherman who improbably survives a wintry six‑hour swim after a shipwreck. New York Times contributor Bonnie Tsui, a swimmer herself, dives into the deep from the San Francisco Bay to the South China Sea, investigating what seduces us to water, despite its dangers, and why we come back to it again and again. She offers an immersive, unforgettable, and eye-opening perspective on swimming—and of human behavior itself.

WOWSA Live with Bonnie Tsui and Kimberley Chambers

Bonnie Tsui and Kimberley Chambers on the 8 May 2020 edition of WOWSA Live with International Marathon Swimming Hall of Famers Antonio Argüelles and Steven Munatones.

2020 WOWSA Awards

Why We Swim by Bonnie Tsui was nominated for the 2020 WOWSA Awards in the World Open Water Swimming Offering of the Year with the following nomination: Why is the most asked question in the open water swimming world. Why did you cross the channel? Why do you swim in 0°C water? Why did you swim the marathon? Why do you train so much? Why is also arguably the most difficult question to answer. But Bonnie Tsui pens the most eloquent response in her highly acclaimed book, Why We Swim. She explains the seduction of the water in its various forms - from the frigid cold to the tropical warmth - from myriad perspectives in San Francisco Bay, Japan, and Baghdad. For elevating the joy of swimming and the raison d'être in the water to millions of swimmers and non-swimmers alike, for becoming an Amazon best seller and Time Magazine Must-Read Book of 2020, for sharing her thoughts on how to answer the question 'why?', Why We Swim by Bonnie Tsui is a worthy nominee for the 2020 World Open Water Swimming Offering of the Year.

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