(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Li-Young Lee, one of the most widely acclaimed American poets at the turn of the twenty-first century, was born in 1957 to Chinese parents in Jakarta, Indonesia; Lee’s family emigrated to the United States in 1964. He grew up in Pennsylvania, attended the University of Pittsburgh, and pursued graduate studies at the University of Arizona and the State University of New York, Brockport (which awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1998). Although Lee has taught at prestigious universities (Stanford, Northwestern, University of Iowa), he has preferred to work at a warehouse in Chicago where he, his wife, and their children live with other members of the Lee family.

Family and family members loom large in Rose, and no one larger than Lee’s father. In fact, this father figure takes on near mythic qualities. He had been physician to Chairman Mao Zedong in Communist China. When he could, he left for Indonesia to become cofounder and vice president of the Christian-oriented University of Gamaliel (Hebrew for “God is my reward”). Unfortunately, Muslim Indonesia was then led by sinophobic president Achmad Sukarno, who unleashed an anti-Chinese pogrom that swept Lee’s father into prison in 1959, where he sustained kidney damage. Throughout his year of incarceration, Lee’s father proselytized his fellow inmates and his jailers. After bribing his way to freedom, Lee’s father became involved in the leadership of an evangelical Christian movement in Hong Kong, preaching to throngs numbering thousands. However, a financial dispute prompted him to migrate to America in 1964, where, in his forties, he enrolled in a Pittsburgh theological seminary. Eventually Lee’s father became the Presbyterian pastor of Vandergrift, Pennsylvania. He died in 1980.

Lee’s poems show that, in life, his father taught him invaluable lessons in living. He gave his son indelible...

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(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Moyers, Bill. The Language of Life. New York: Doubleday, 1995. Contains a television interview of Lee, who talks about the influence of his minister father and the Bible on his writing.

Pence, Amy. “Poems from God: A Conversation with Li-Young Lee.” Poets and Writers 29 (November/December, 2001): 22-27. A serviceable and revealing interview.

Underhill, Evelyn. Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Man’s Spiritual Consciousness. 1911. Reprint. London: Methuen, 1967. The authority on this subject; first published in 1911, it has been reprinted more than a dozen times.

Zhou Xiaojing. “Inheritance and Invention in Li-Young Lee’s Poetry.” MELUS 21, no. 1 (Spring, 1996): 113-133. Argues convincingly for a reading of Lee that extends beyond his Chinese identity to include consideration of his Americanized self, Christianity, and so forth.