Essays and Criticism
Don Lee Overview
Don Lee, a third-generation Korean American, began his education at the University of California Los Angeles as an engineering major during which time, he told Jessica Brilliant Keener of Poets & Writers he was ‘‘bored to tears.’’ After encouragement from an English composition instructor to take some creative-writing courses, he was ‘‘hooked.’’ Thus began his career in the writing field. His book of short stories, Yellow, won the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and individual stories in the book won an O. Henry Award and a Pushcart Prize.
Yellow is a collection of six interwoven stories and a novella all with Asian-American protagonists and all set in a fictional coastal town in California. Janice Bees wrote in Kliatt that the stories are ‘‘compact, complicated, energetic, and sharply written.’’ Reviewing the book for the Los Angeles Times, Tim Rutten commented: ‘‘Lee is unafraid of flirting with the perils of melodrama and even sentimentality—if it is the service of narrative. His prose is spare and free of literary allusions, and he is unafraid to take narrative chances, including what some might consider Hollywood action set pieces.’’ Rutten called Yellow a ‘‘triumph of the artful over the didactic,’’ and stated that the characters filling its pages ‘‘constitute a rich and unusually complete portrait of contemporary Asian America.’’
Lee’s book was a long time in the making, with some stories dating back thirteen years before their publication. The author told Keener that, due to the long process, people might assume he was having difficulty selling the manuscript. Not so, he contended: ‘‘I just wasn’t writing. I wrote one story every year or two and published in literary journals. I was a hobbyist.’’ He noted that his job as editor of Ploughshares is demanding and his days are filled with programming computers, writing grant applications,...
(The entire section is 829 words.)