Marilyn Mei-Ling Chin was born in Hong Kong but grew up in Portland, Oregon, and San Francisco, the daughter of George Chin and Rose (Yuet Kuen Wong) Chin. Her father was a Chinese restaurateur who abandoned his family for a blond woman. Chin earned a B.A. in Chinese literature from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, in 1977. She became a translator for the international writing program at the University of Iowa, working with the Chinese poet Ai Qing, and received an M.F.A. in poetry from the University of Iowa in 1981. She joined the faculty of the master of fine arts program at San Diego State University in 1988. She has traveled extensively in Asia and held visiting teaching positions in Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China.
Chin’s issues of familial discord—the abandonment by her father, her mother’s grief, and her own need to connect with her ancestry—have had a profound impact on her poetry. In an interview with Bill Moyers, Chin recalled her family’s dissolution as “the fragmentation that I write about over and over again, hoping to resolve this pain; . . . I was raised by a matriarchy.”