Have you met Daniel Nieh? Allow us to introduce you to one of our many Thouron Award Alumni.

Daniel Nieh is a published novelist and writer as well as a translator and interpreter for global museums, nonprofits, and universities. Originally from Northern California, Daniel was raised mostly in Portland, Oregon. His ancestry and lineage can be traced back to Hunan aristocrats on his father’s side, and Ashkenazi Jews from the Pale on his mother’s side.

The Beginning of an Interest in Language

In 2006, Daniel graduated with a bachelor’s degree in East Asian Languages and Civilisations from the University of Pennsylvania. “I [also] spent a summer at Beijing Normal University — the famously rigorous Princeton in Beijing programme — and a semester at East China Normal University in Shanghai,” Daniel shares. With the help of the Thouron Award, he went on to study at The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London for his master’s degree in Chinese Studies. 

“I loved studying the language, literature, and history of China. At Penn, the folks at [The Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowship] (CURF) encouraged me to apply for everything — Rhodes, Marshall, Fulbright, Thouron — so I did. I didn’t know much about the Thouron Award until the interview phase,” Daniel recalls.

Daniel Nieh's novel Take No Names leans against a stack of other copies of that book and his other novel Beijing Payback

A Shift from Scholar to Writer, Linguist, and Translator

Following his time in the U.K., Daniel headed to Beijing for two years before returning to his home state, Oregon — though he has lived around the world in China, Japan, Singapore, Mexico, and other countries. As for his career, Daniel has focused on writing. “I write crime novels about international smugglers, assassins, grifters and fugitives; the people who live in the shadows of the modern, interconnected global economy. I also write book reviews, essays, Op-Eds and translations,” Daniel states. When Daniel isn’t writing fiction, he also writes non-fiction pieces for publications like Esquire, The Washington Post, and The New York Times

“If it were not for the [Thouron] Award, I planned to move directly to China after graduating from Penn. I might have started out teaching English. Instead, I found my first two jobs as a linguist through the SOAS Career Services Office — one was as an open source researcher on nuclear proliferation for a London based think tank [and] the other was as an interpreter and event host for McDonald’s executives at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing,” Daniel shares.

It was his freelancing as a Chinese-English translator and interpreter for decades that helped Daniel learn how to write novels. His first novel, “Beijing Payback,” was published with HarperCollins in 2019. From there, his novelist career was on a positive trajectory. “Once I signed a book deal, I began writing full-time. My second novel, “Take No Names,” came out in July 2022. Both were widely reviewed and distributed, and both were named Editor’s Choice selections by the New York Times Book Review,” Daniel proudly expresses. Thankfully, Daniel is currently working on his third novel. 

Daniel Nieh speaking on a panel at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at the University of Southern California

Sharing the Gift of Language with His Readers

Of his accomplishments thus far, one in particular has made him very proud of his career. “I received an unsigned email through my website shortly after the publication of my second novel. It said, simply, ‘thank you for reviving my interest in reading.’ Books have always been indispensable sources for solace and inspiration for me. The thought that I have provided that for anyone else makes me close-my-eyes, take-a-long-breath happy,” Daniel recalls.

Beyond his writing and translation achievements, Daniel also has a mixture of hobbies. “I like to walk around in the woods, make coffee in the best-smelling, most inefficient of methods, watch Jeopardy and do crossword puzzles with my beloved, and to play guitar and sing Johnny Cash songs when nobody’s around,” Daniel shares. 

Daniel Nieh holds up an open copy of Take No Names that shows a drawing of the scene in front of him

A Winding Path to a Beloved Career

Would he do anything differently or pursue another career? It is a solid “no” from Daniel. “I have taken a winding road to the present, with few shortcuts and many detours, and I am thrilled to have retained all twenty of my fingers and toes,” Daniel half-jokingly states. In the same semi-joking vein, he also has a message for readers of this blog: buy his books! 

“Anyone who buys my books and kindly reviews them on Amazon and Goodreads: I’ll buy you ice cream. Or pizza. You choose the snack, and you don’t have to read them to get it,” Daniel quips. And his hopes for the future of the Thouron Award?

Daniel Nieh stands at a podium during a bookstore event for his novel Take No Names

A Deep Love for the Thouron Award Community

“I’d love it if the Thouron Award were to evolve in such a way that there are more events and ways to stay connected, especially for alumni outside of New York, Philadelphia, and the United Kingdom. The uptick in online presence is lovely to see,” Daniel shares.

Are you interested in becoming a Thouron Scholar? Our application cycle for the 2024/2025 academic year is now open. Learn more about the Thouron Award — one of the most prestigious and generous academic scholarships in the world.

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