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Li-Young Lee Portrait

Li-Young Lee was born to Chinese parents in Jakarta, Indonesia. His maternal grandfather was Yuan Shikai, China's first Republican President, who sought to make himself emperor. Lee's father was a personal physician to Mao Zedong, then relocated his family to Indonesia. His father spent 19 months in an Indonesian prison camp in Macau. In 1959, the Lee family fled Indonesia to escape anti-Chinese sentiment and after a five year journey through Hong Kong and Japan, they settled in the United States. Lee attended the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Arizona, and the State University of New York at Brockport. This narrative gives material weight to Lee’s status as a poet of the East Asian diaspora. He has taught at a number of universities and now lives in Chicago. “Persimmons,” often taken as Lee’s signature poem, registers the strain of growing up in multiple worlds through linguistic conflict. “Little Father” embodies a new phase of his career, in which personal reflection becomes at once more haunting and more lyrical.