Don Lee was born in 1959 in Tokyo, Japan, to parents that were second-generation Korean Americans. His father was a career diplomat for the U.S. State Department. Lee spent most of his childhood in Tokyo and Seoul. He originally majored in engineering at the University of California at Los Angeles but found it boring; an English teacher encouraged him to take a creative writing class, and doing so determined his career path. He graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in English literature then went to Emerson College in Boston for a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and literature.
After graduation, Lee taught a creative writing workshop at Emerson for three years and then took over as managing editor and assistant fiction editor of Ploughshares, a famous and highly respected literary magazine. He became the editor of Ploughshares in 1988. He also occasionally served as a writer-in-residence in Emerson’s M.F.A. writing program.
Yellow, the short story collection in which “The Price of Eggs in China” was published, was written over a long period of time, due to Lee’s slow writing process. Sometimes he completed only two stories a year. The book won the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction and the Asian American Writers’ Workshop Members’ Choice Award. Lee’s next work was a novel, Country of Origin, about a graduate student from Berkeley who goes to Japan to do research for her dissertation, ends up working in a nightclub and disappears into the seamy underworld of Tokyo nightlife: as in many of Lee’s stories, questions of mixed racial identity and mixed national background are brought into play.
Lee’s second novel, Wrack and Ruin, set in the fictional town of Rosarita Bay, which also serves as the setting for the stories of Yellow, was anticipated to appear in print in late 2007 or early 2008.