Larissa Lai was born in La Jolla, California in 1967, grew up in Newfoundland and finished high school in Vancouver. She does not speak Chinese. She assisted in curating the film, video and photography exhibit Yellow Peril: Reconsidered and was a coordinator for SAW Video Co-op, an artist-run video production centre in Ottawa. She has also been a member of the Asian Canadian Writers' Workshop in Vancouver prior to moving to Calgary. In 1995 she received an Astraea Foundation Emerging Writers Award. She has travelled to southern China in search of her roots, once with her aunt Yuen-Fong Woon, a professor of Asian Studies at the University of Victoria, and once with her close writing friend Rita Wong.

Her first novel When Fox is a Thousand (Press Gang, 1995; Arsenal Pulp, 2004) was shortlisted for the Chapters/Books In Canada First Novel Award. It evokes popular Chinese films on the supernatural and traditional folktales with a twinned tale of two murders. After a maidservant is found dead under a tree in the ninth century, a young Taoist nun is executed for murder. An Asian woman is also found dead under a tree in Stanley, possibly the victim of racist violence or an unfortunate love affair. A fox appears, with the folklorist power to change into women in order to seduce, manipulate and teach lessons of morality. This fox meets the central contemporary character, Artemis Wong.

Lai's second novel Salt Fish Girl (Thomas Allen, 2003) also rebounds from China. It introduces a shapeshifter and traditional snake goddess named Nu Wa, who moves agelessly through time from 19th century China to the Pacific Northwest in the walled, corporated-controlled nation-state of Serendipity, circa 2044, where a haunted, young girl named Miranda, conceived among durian, is tracing her mother's cabaret career. Reeking of durian, a large and stinky ('pepper-pissy') Southeast Asian fruit, Miranda shows symptons of the 'dreaming disease' and becomes involved with the salt fish smelling Evie Xin. Exiled to the outlying Unregulated Zone, her parents open a corner store where they sell durian. She told Rebecca Wigod of the Vancouver Sun, "Sometimes you just write the stuff and you're, like, 'I have no idea where this is coming from. This is what's comin' out. Let's just go with it.'"

In 2009, Lai released her first full-length solo poetry book entitled Automaton Biographies (Arsenal, 2009).

Her collaboration with Rita Wong, sybil unrest (New Star 2013), was originally published in 2008 by LineBooks. Sonnet L'Abbe described it as "A witty, often trenchantly funny repartee on maintaining a resistant spirit in an environment of aggressive globalized consumerism"; in her review for Canadian Literature. $18 9781554200696

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2013] "Chinese" "Fiction"