Marilyn Chin 1955-
(Full name Marilyn Mei Ling Chin) Chinese-born American poet.
Chin is known for producing spare, often confrontational, poetry that explores her experience as a first-generation Chinese-American and a woman of color in the United States, as well as social and political injustices in her native China.
Chin was born in Hong Kong in 1955 to George and Rose Chin, who emigrated to the American Northwest shortly after her birth. In a well-known poem, “How I Got That Name: An Essay on Assimilation,” Chin meditated on the fact that her father, a restaurant proprietor in Oregon, incongruously named her after the American film and cultural icon Marilyn Monroe—an occurrence that helped form Chin's thoughts on the experience of assimilation in America. Chin received her B.A. at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 1977 and her M.F.A. at the University of Iowa in 1981. She worked as a translator and editor in the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa from 1978 to 1982. In 1988 Chin took a position as an assistant professor of creative writing at San Diego State University, becoming a full professor of English and Asian-American studies in 1996. Chin has won numerous fellowships and awards for her writing, including a National Endowment for the Arts grant in 1984-1985 and 1991; the Josephine Miles Award from PEN in 1994; and the Pushcart Prize in 1994, 1995, and 1997.
Chin's first collection of verse, Dwarf Bamboo (1987), which she dedicated to the Communist poet and revolutionary Ai Qing, contains many poems that focus on the immigrant experience in the United States. Chin continued this theme in her second collection, The Phoenix Gone, The Terrace Empty (1994). In this volume Chin began to explore more deeply the damaging effects of Western standards on women of color, notably in the autobiographical poem “How I Got That Name: An Essay on Assimilation,” in which Chin bluntly describes her father's naming her after “some tragic white woman / swollen with gin and Nembutal.” The Phoenix Gone also contains a section entitled “Beijing Spring,” a group of poems dealing with the 1989 student uprising in China's Tiananmen Square. Rhapsody in Plain Yellow (2001), Chin's third volume of poetry, again examines the struggle between heritage and the new world, mostly in poems exploring her relationship with her parents and grandparents. In this collection Chin drew inspiration for the forms and rhythms of her poems from Chinese music as well as Persian ghazals and American blues music.
Critics have praised Chin's poetry for its unflinching examination of the contradictory feelings brought on by immigration in general and for Asian Americans specifically. Chin's openness about female sexuality and the social roles of women of color—in particular the image of Asian women as exotic and doll-like—and her frequent references to the revolutionary movement in China have earned her a reputation as an important political feminist poet.