A Chinese American short story writer, novelist, playwright, and editor, Frank Chin was born to a young Chinese couple in Berkeley, California, on February 5, 1940. His father was an immigrant and his mother was a fourth-generation resident of Oakland Chinatown. Chin's parents abandoned him shortly after his birth. During the first six years of his life, Chin lived with an elderly white couple near an abandoned gold mine in California. At the age of six, his parents reclaimed him. He grew up in Chinatowns in Oakland and San Francisco.
Chin studied at the University of California, Berkeley, between 1958 and 1961 before attending the Writer's Workshop at the University of Iowa between 1961 and 1963 on a scholarship. Then, he worked as a clerk for the Southern Pacific Railroad for almost three years before finishing up the remaining requirements for his B.A. degree at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 1965. Starting from the following year, he worked for a Seattle TV station for three years until he got a chance to teach Asian Studies at San Francisco State University and the University of California, Davis. A vanguard that helped shape modern Asian American literature since the 1960s, Chin, as Benjamin Tong recollects, “taught the very first college course in Asian American literature, following the famous student-faculty strike at San Francisco State University” (S6). Chin helped launch the Combined Asian-American Resources Project with a group of Asian American writers and scholars. While serving as a playwright-in-residence at the American Conservatory Theater, Chin established the Asian American Theater Workshop in 1972. He also taught courses in Asian American literature at several colleges.