Marilyn Chin

American writer

Marilyn Chin (陈美玲) (born in 1955) is a prominent Chinese American poet, writer, activist, and feminist, as well as an editor and Professor of English. She is well-represented in major canonical anthologies and textbooks and her work is taught all over the world. Marilyn Chin's work is a frequent subject of academic research and literary criticism. Marilyn Chin has read her poetry at the Library of Congress.

Marilyn Chin in 2015


  • The Woman Warrior was a very important book in my life. I discovered it in 1977…in Amherst, Massachusetts. I was an undergraduate there...for a long time I was in despair. I thought, there was really no audience for my voice. And the narrator, the protagonist in The Woman Warrior, she was working hard to let her voice out. She had to wade through the contradictions of this dual culture, this heavy-duty heritage. If she had the power and the fortitude to continue her 'pressed duck' voice, to eke out that voice, I said, perhaps so must I continue my struggle.

Interview with Asian Review of Books (2020)Edit

  • I was raised by my grandmother who spoke Toisan, a very ancient language. I see myself as part of the minority tribe. I align myself more with people like Kafka, with his weird dialect. I see myself as an outsider on many levels even if we are Han.
  • When we were young, we have to memorize those texts from Tu Fu and others. And my grandmother used to carry me on my back and chant to me Chinese poems and sayings. The first kind of poetry I heard was Chinese poetry, and it ingrained in my ear, even though English is my main language. I can hardly read Chinese. The Chinese poem was ingrained in me when I was very young. You can hear the Cantonese language in my work. The Chineseness is in the DNA of my work. I can’t divorce it from my work. I can’t say I forget it. it’s there. Bei Dao’s generation was not trained in that tradition. They didn’t go to university to study wenyanwen or ancient poetry. They were imitating the West. I tried to read Chinese poetry every day, because I think it’s important for my aesthetics.
  • it has to do with Du Bois’s idea of double consciousness: you inherit a set of values at home, and have to embrace another set of values when you walk out of home. You are appreciated if you are more assertive at school. On the contrary, you are supposed to be obedient at home. It’s about balancing the two worlds. My poetry is about negotiating many worlds, the past and the present, as well as the East and the West. “Inner cultivation” and outer despair. The sublime and the ridiculous.
  • I am always fighting against the stereotype of the subservient female maiden. I want to shake up the assumptions about being a Chinese-American woman. We all must champion women’s and children’s rights in the world. The little brown girl is still the most vulnerable person in the room.
  • I believe that I am a poet of the body and of the mind and of the soul! to mimic Whitman.
  • Writers must always speak out against racism and injustice...In terms of the responsibility of a poet, it is important to engage in political and social issues, yes! This is a racist world! We must speak against all kinds of injustice.
  • Henry Louis Gates told me that I must assert that I am first and foremost a poet, not just an activist poet. My work encompasses activist poetry but also does a lot more than protest. I am reinventing bicultural forms. I am an innovator: the creator of the Chinese-American quatrain, of the lyric manifesto, of erotic haiku and remix sonnets!
  • The two main issues in American history are slavery and the destruction of native Americans, historical events that have left a profound mark on American history. On even a larger scale, I would say more than ever, now in the era of Trump. We must fight against demagogues all over the world. This open hatred against immigrants! Against dark-skinned peoples… The language of building a wall, “bad hombres”, China-shaming! The demagogues are manufacturing fear and hate, Islamophobia, and generally, phobia against anybody who is “different” and might take your job.
  • I echo Adrienne Rich’s idea that the personal is political. My poetics is rooted in my personal history, and from there I examine the world around me. I see myself not just as a Chinese-American, but as a global citizen. I care about America but also about what happens in the world.
  • Chinese history, Hong Kong history course through my blood.
  • I think it’s important to reinvent with poetry...I like to keep experimenting. It’s important to love your genre and the possibilities. There’s so much to explore for those poets with bilingual and multicultural backgrounds as well.
  • I belong to the American legacy and deserve a place in it.
  • It’s important to have a transnational readership. To not have borders, to have one’s poetry travel well. I celebrate my Americanness. I celebrate my Chinese-ness. I celebrate my transnational identity.
  • I retired from my tenured job early partly because I would like to devote more time to writing poetry. The ancients did that too, they retreated to the countryside and “cleanse from the mud” of the academy and “palace art”. They retreated into the woods to hear their own voice again. Of course, these were rich privileged aristocratic poets. Some were forced exiles like Du Fu, who wrote some of his best works in his later years. In angst, of course. He felt abandoned. However, as we all know, he became the greatest poet of China.
  • Adrienne Rich believes “the poem must serve” the people. Somehow, I don’t want my poems to be relevant to only a few readers in academia.
  • I hope my work will prompt someone to consider or study more about Chinese poetry.

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