Andrea Lee Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The talented black writer Andrea Lee was born into a prominent, highly educated, upper-class family and grew up in a privileged society. Although during her youth she was aware of the Civil Rights movement and of her father’s involvement in it, she was sheltered from all except the subtler forms of prejudice and racial bigotry. After receiving her B.A. and M.A. from Harvard University, Lee worked as a staff writer at The New Yorker. In 1978, however, when her husband won a fellowship to study for ten months in Moscow and Leningrad, Lee accompanied him. There Lee became acquainted with many young Russians, especially workers and university students. The fact that she had no political or ideological agenda enabled her to participate freely in the activities around her and to observe Russian life from an unbiased perspective.

Lee was meticulous about jotting down her impressions, and after her return to the United States she used her diary as the basis for her Russian Journal, a series of sketches about life in the Soviet Union. The response to the book was generally enthusiastic. Critics applauded Lee’s accuracy, her insight, and her style, though some of them were puzzled that she did not touch on racial issues, or make comparisons with her experiences as a black woman in the United States married to a white man. Russian Journal won the 1984 Jean Stein Award, presented by the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and it was nominated for a National Book Award.

If this autobiographical work was as readable as fiction, the fictional work that followed was not far from being an autobiography. Lee had published a number of short stories in The New...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Enomoto, Don M. “Irreconcilable Differences: ‘Creative Destruction’ and the Fashioning of a Self in Sarah Phillips.” MELUS 24, no. 1 (1999). Analyzes Lee’s novel in terms of late-twentieth century debates over issues of race, difference, and the construction of ethnic identity in American literature.

Hogue, W. Lawrence. “The Limits of Modernity: Andrea Lee’s Sarah Phillips.” MELUS 19, no. 4 (1994). Looks at Lee’s novel as a modernist text.

Irvin, Michael. Review of Russian Journal, by Andrea Lee. London Review of Books, September 16-October 6, 1982. Irvin praises Lee’s novelistic precision, though he notes a degree of superficiality.

Obolensky, Laura. The New Republic, November 19, 1984. Criticizes both Lee and her main character for evading issues of class and race.

Osnos, Peter. “Blue Jeans in Red Square: An American in Moscow.” Review of Russian Journal, by Andrea Lee. The Washington Post Book World, October 25, 1981. Among the most balanced reviews.

Smith, Valerie. “Black Feminist Theory and the Representation of ‘Other.’” In Changing Our Own Words: Essays on Criticism, Theory, and Writing by Black Women, edited by Cheryl A. Wall. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1989. This trenchant essay answers such criticisms as Lee’s evading issues of class and race, and it places Sarah Phillips within the broader context of fiction by black women.