Vanessa Holford Diana
The first Asian American to publish fiction in North America, Edith Maude Eaton was born in Macclesfield, England on March 15, 1865, to a Chinese mother, Grace A. “Lotus Blossom” Trefusis, and an English father, Edward Eaton. Interracial marriage was a taboo in China and England, as well as North America, in the late nineteenth century, a topic about which Eaton would later write in both her short fiction and autobiographical essays. In 1872, the family moved to Montreal, where Eaton took care of her younger siblings—there were eventually fourteen—and occasionally helped supplement the family's meager income by selling lace or her father's paintings door-to-door. As a child, Eaton suffered racist taunts and physical abuse from the white children around her, and the consequences of racism against the Chinese would become a central issue in her writing. Supporting herself as a stenographer, magazine subscription saleswoman, and typesetter at the Montreal Daily Star, Eaton began publishing short stories, autobiographical essays, and journalistic sketches of Chinese American communities at the age of eighteen. Throughout her life, Eaton struggled to support herself while finding time to write; at the same time she struggled with various physical ailments, including malaria, rheumatoid arthritis, and rheumatic fever, which contributed to her death from heart disease at age forty-nine.
Eaton signed her publications in Canadian and U.S. periodicals with the nom de plume Sui Sin Far, a name her mother called her as a child. As S.E. Solberg notes, she chose this pen name early in her writing career despite being “unacquainted with her mother's native language, except for a few phrases, during her early years” and despite the fact that “she had very little