Li-Young Lee

Distinguished Poet

“What characterizes Lee’s poetry is a certain humility…a willingness to let the sublime enter his field of concentration and take over, a devotion to language, a belief in its holiness.” —Gerald Stern

Li-Young Lee is the author of four critically acclaimed books of poetry, his most recent being Behind My Eyes (W.W. Norton, 2008). His earlier collections are Book of My Nights (BOA Editions, 2001); Rose (BOA, 1986), winner of the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award from New York University; The City in Which I Love You (BOA, 1991), the 1990 Lamont Poetry Selection; and a memoir entitled The Winged Seed: A Remembrance (Simon and Schuster, 1995), which received an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation and will be reissued by BOA Editions in 2012. Lee's honors include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, The Lannan Foundation, and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, as well as grants from the Illinois Arts Council, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. In 1988 he received the Writer's Award from the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation. He is also featured in Katja Esson's documentary, Poetry of Resilience.

Born in 1957 of Chinese parents in Jakarta, Indonesia, Lee learned early about loss and exile. His great grandfather was China's first republican President; and his father, a deeply religious Christian, was physician to Communist leader Mao Tse-Tung. After the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, Lee's parents escaped to Indonesia. In 1959, his father, after spending a year as a political prisoner in President Sukarno's jails, fled Indonesia with his family to escape anti-Chinese sentiment. After a five-year trek through Hong Kong, Macau, and Japan, they settled in the United States in 1964.

Through the observation and translation of often unassuming and silent moments, the poetry of Li-Young Lee gives clear voice to the solemn and extraordinary beauty found within humanity. By employing hauntingly lyrical skill and astute poetic awareness, Lee allows silence, sound, form, and spirit to emerge brilliantly onto the page. His poetry reveals a dialogue between the eternal and the temporal, and accentuates the joys and sorrows of family, home, loss, exile, and love. In “The City In Which I love You,” the central long poem in his second collection, Li-Young Lee asks, “Is prayer, then, the proper attitude / for the mind that longs to be freely blown, / but which gets snagged on the barb / called world, that / tooth-ache, the actual?” Anyone who has seen him read will add that Lee is also one of the finest poetry readers alive.

He lives in Chicago with his wife Donna and their two sons.

Sun Magazine Interview

SHORT BIO
Li-Young Lee is the author of four books of poetry, including, most recent, Behind My Eye. His earlier collections are Book of My NightsRose, winner of the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award; The City in Which I Love You, the 1990 Lamont Poetry Selection; and a memoir entitled The Winged Seed: A Remembrance, which received an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation and will be reissued by BOA Editions in 2012. Lee's honors include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, The Lannan Foundation, and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, as well as grants from the Illinois Arts Council, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.

About BEHIND MY EYES (Poetry, 2008)
A highly anticipated collection from one of the most powerful voices at work in America today.Combining sensitivity and eloquence with a broad appeal, Li-Young Lee walks in the footsteps of Stanley Kunitz and Billy Collins as one of the most beloved poets in the US. Playful, erotic, at times mysterious, his work describes the immanent value of everyday experience. Straightforward language and simple narratives become gateways to the most powerful formulations of beauty, wisdom, and divine love.