Posts Tagged ‘African American’


    Date: 2021.09.06 | Category: Poetry, Septuagenarian, The Art of Writing | Response: 0



    It’s been six months since my memoir in verse, Septuagenarian, debuted.  I think about this as another Minnesota poet, and another, and another has released another book of poems.  I think about how different our voices are. How different our techniques. I am less about craft and more about subject. Perhaps because I was told I didn’t learn how to write in graduate school, I didn’t want to prove them wrong.  Or, perhaps, because I was told that what I wrote about wasn’t trendy, I did want to prove them wrong. Trendy not why I write, but that what I write matters (if only to me).  As Deborah Keenan said about my book:


    Sherry Quan Lee writes with a purity of intention.  She has no interest in certain kinds of poetics that conceal, or only honor, adornment.  She has her gaze on the long sweep of her personal history.


    What matters to me is self-awareness and healing and to know and accept that I am strong—that I am okay. What matters to me is story. And knowing that mine is only one story, but stories intersect no matter how different they may seem, at least that’s been my experience.  Sometimes it’s a similar time and location, a tragedy, a celebration, gender, culture, sexuality, race, age—family.


    Yet, since publication, I have seldom opened my book to read what I had written.  Out of fear or out of closure I’m not sure which, maybe both.


    Recently I finally let go of dollars to find a streaming service where I could watch Queen Sugar.  I am on Season 4.  Every episode of the entire series has my emotions roller coasting as I come to it from my history and my experience. Nova is an activist, an artist.  She wrote a memoir telling family stories, divulging secrets.  Her family is unforgiving.


    Beginning seven years ago my sisters one by one turned from me.  If there was an excuse it was, to me, senseless; one sibling yelling she hoped my writing friends took care of me.  One sibling saying my highs and lows were too much for her.  And one sibling refused to come up with an excuse.  Were they afraid of my truth-telling?  Was I wrong to share our stories? Did my writing have nothing or everything to do with the separations? Two of my  three sisters gave me permission, the other sister I respectfully left out of my books.  I even changed my last name (another kind of separation).


    I hope Nova and her family can reconcile and forgive.  Yet for me, separation feels healthy, but sad—I can’t stop grieving.  Is truth-telling for a greater good if the truth be told continues a history of separation?   Does a writer/an artist have control over what they write? Are we born to disrupt?  Can our souls/our spirits handle the repercussions, the displacement?


    My most recent book struggles with the theme of separation.  The separations that have cursed my family. Black families/slave families were separated by the auction block, if not that assigned duties and  gender were other forms of separation.  A female slave assigned to house duties-including the duty of fulfilling the master’s sexual improprieties.  And from those liaisons, babies of various skin colors/mixed-race babies—my great-grandmother–added another dimension to the separation of families. Black men were lynched.


    Separation was created by laws that kept Chinese immigrants, who came to work in America as cheap labor, from bringing their wives.  West Coast Japanese were separated during WWII most in internment camps, some joined or were drafted into the armed services, others were able to attend college in Minnesota.  My Chinese father joined the Navy because he wanted to, leaving a wife and two young daughters’ home in Minneapolis while he fought the Japanese from a ship out at sea.


    My story is complex (as yours probably is too):  poverty, passing, fear, anger, divorce, addictions–separations.  Each poem, each book releases and sets aside who I was to create space for who I am.  Yet who I was has a way of creeping into who I am so I will never be free enough to be happy; but I am emotionally healthy which comes from years of learning, of therapy, of listening, of reading–of truth-telling. Minnesota is a choir of many voices, many songs; poetry. Colorful/diverse writers inform me, connect me, keep me from becoming idle, from being satisfied. Keep me alert.


    Maybe today I will open my book, Septuagenarian, and re-remember a life I have lived.  73 years-old.  I have no regrets.


    Sherry Quan Lee

    © September 6, 2021

  • Oh So Wild and Oh So Beautiful

    Date: 2018.12.27 | Category: The Art of Writing | Response: 0

    What’s it like to be seventy?  2018, for me, was a year of introspection.  Check out my thoughts on Midwest Mixed:


  • Not Good or Bad, better

    Date: 2016.01.11 | Category: Book in Progress 2016 | Response: 0

    Not Good or Bad, better

    Some of us, particularly American Blacks, grew up with the saying, you’ve got to work twice as hard.  Perhaps that was the only way those of us who have been invisible (looked away from) could be seen.  (I worked twice as hard in graduate school, I earned a 4.0 grade point average, but it didn’t earn me visibility; not even as I pointed fingers and called out.) If I don’t work twice as hard, am I twice as bad?  Writers, who have been taught as people we aren’t good, work twice as hard to prove to ourselves we are, so we can prove to others that our writing is good.  I tell my students not to think good or bad, just better.

    A friend said, “We have to work twice as hard to be equal.”  And, yes, that’s been part of my life’s journey, my writing journey-working twice as hard.  But it’s time to dispel the myth.  Time to ease up on ourselves.  Stop letting this age-old adage convince us that we’re not equal. Time to let our self-esteem soar.  It’s time we are confident in ourselves and our writing ability.  It’s time for us to work less hard (don’t get me wrong, writing is hard work, but it shouldn’t be heart breaking), and to believe we are equal, even in a society that continues to treat us like we’re not, even as we continue to prove that we are.

    Our responsibility as writers, James Baldwin wrote (“The Creative Process, 1962):

    “Perhaps the primary distinction of the artist is that he must actively cultivate that state which most men, necessarily, must avoid; the state of being alone. That all men are, when the chips are down, alone, is a banality — a banality because it is very frequently stated, but very rarely, on the evidence, believed. Most of us are not compelled to linger with the knowledge of our aloneness, for it is a knowledge that can paralyze all action in this world. There are, forever, swamps to be drained, cities to be created, mines to be exploited, children to be fed. None of these things can be done alone. But the conquest of the physical world is not man’s only duty. He is also enjoined to conquer the great wilderness of himself. The precise role of the artist, then, is to illuminate that darkness, blaze roads through that vast forest, so that we will not, in all our doing, lose sight of its purpose, which is, after all, to make the world a more human dwelling place.”

    When we write we exist in our own small world, even as we contemplate the world at large.  We can shut out the naysayers and just write.  We can shut out the rule makers, and just write.  I tell my students there are no rules; there is craft, but it’s up to you to be creative. 

    Carole Maso wrote Break Every Rule (Counterpoint 2000):

    “If the creation of literary texts affords a kind of license, is a kind of freedom, dizzying, giddy—then why do we more often than not fall back on the old orthodoxy, the old ways of seeing and perceiving and recording that perception?”…

    “If we joyfully violate the language contract, might that not make us braver, stronger, more capable of breaking other oppressive contracts?”…

    “Might writing by women, by people of color, by gay men and lesbians be an active refusal of the dominant code, a subversion of meaning as it has been traditionally constructed…”

    I don’t write every morning before the sun rises. Not going to happen. I also don’t write every night before I go to bed.  Not going to happen.  But I am going to write, it is my responsibility, not my “luxury.”  Audrey Lorde wrote (“Sister Outsider: essays and speeches,” Crossing Press, 1985:

    “For women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action.”

    “We can train ourselves to respect our feelings, and to discipline (transpose) them into a language that matches those feelings so they can be shared. And where that language does not yet exist, it is our poetry which helps to fashion it. Poetry is not only dream or vision, it is the skeleton architecture of our lives.”

    For many of us we get up early because we have to-to get ready for work or get kids off to school.  For many of us, at night we’re too tired to write.  And for some of us, who have fewer obligations, morning or night we choose not to write.  Brushing my, teeth morning and night, is a struggle, but (usually) I do brush; routine, for me, is a challenge.  The healthier writing choice for me is to write when I write, not burden myself with expectations. (However, I am goal oriented; if I have a writing deadline, I kick butt.)

    Also, I don’t write in coffee shops.  Who started that movement, that trend? I’m not sure, and I don’t care.  For the amount of coffee I drink when writing, I’d be a fool to pay what I’d have to pay at a coffee shop to drink coffee shop coffee, and anyways, I don’t drink fancy coffee-cappuccinos, lattes (I’ll admit, an Americano once-in-awhile). I take it straight, like my whiskey.  Mostly, though, I can’t write in a coffee shop because the noise, the people, (the conversations), and the smell of coffee are distracting.  And then there’s the fact that I prefer my own bathroom; a nearby bathroom always a necessity for a serial coffee drinker.

    I prefer my own space, my own home where I can write in my jammies, if I want; where I can listen to my favorite music in the background as I write, if I want; where I can eat chocolate or drink red wine, if I want (actually, I don’t drink and write, but it’s a possibility).  I have a lap top computer because I thought I might write in the world of coffee shops; for the most part, however, my laptop only moves from my office desk to my dining room table and back again.  Occasionally it’s travelled with me to free rooms at Casinos, where, when my money ran out, I wrote in the privacy of what no longer could be considered a free room.

    I did earn an MFA in Creative Writing, but not to be a writer, not because I thought the only path to publication was to earn an MFA degree.  No, I went because I wanted to prove to myself, and my children, that I could.  I wanted to work twice as hard so I could feel equal, so I could feel smart. (Yet, I chose the MFA program above other graduate programs because I didn’t think I was smart enough-for math, for science; not that I thought a MFA degree would be less than, but I thought my experience as a writer would see me through).  I don’t regret my choice; if only because I learned that what didn’t work for me challenged me to learn and use what does.

    Writing Exercise:  answer the following questions: 

    1.      do you lack confidence in yourself as a writer? in your writing?  why?

    2.      what have you learned about being a writer, about writing that you need to set aside to move forward with what works for you?

    3.      what works for you?   

    ©Sherry Quan Lee, January 11, 2016

  • LOVE IMAGINED: synopsis read at two Book Award Events

    Date: 2015.04.01 | Category: LOVE IMAGINED | Response: 0



    HOSMER LIBRARY MARCH 23, 2015 (36th and 4th Avenue

    by Richard Green School, previously Central High School)

    (Aunt Lucille Wilson Shivers lived on 39th and 4th Avenue.

    Her husband, Spencer Shiver, owned the barber shop on the corner of 38th and 4th Avenue.)

    Doll Buggy

    Once upon a very long time ago there was a princess, Quan Lee, born 1948. Her kingdom was a house on a hill with a white picket fence in South Scandinavian Minneapolis.

    She was Cinderella awaiting her prince. She loved her shoes. She sang to them. Hugged them.

    Maybe she knew that beauty was bound in binding a young girl’s feet; that somehow history had whispered to her it’s always about finding the prince, no matter how painful the journey, no matter how many pairs of shoes it would take.

    Has anyone seen Cinderella’s other shoe?

    Is there a lover in the audience?

    I grew up in South Scandinavian Minneapolis, the Miles Standish neighborhood. Beginning in the 1900s mostly Norwegians and Swedes settled there.

    However, my father is Chinese, my mother is Negro;

    I grew up passing for white.

    My friend Carolyn challenged me on the use of South Scandinavian Minneapolis.   Carolyn was right. She too grew up in South Minneapolis!   She went to Central High School. My cousin Butch went to Central High School. Carolyn had a crush on my cousin. My friend Carolyn, my cousin Butch, my aunt Marion-Black folk- lived in South Minneapolis with other Black folk, unlike me who lived east of whatever line divided us (the line might have been Chicago Avenue or 4th Avenue, or Portland Avenue).

    However, my mother’s relatives could only visit us at night,

    when it was dark and the neighbors couldn’t see them.

    Another frog and another frog. I could only imagine love because…do you remember the saying love sees no color? Well I bought those t-shirts, lots of them, until one day I realized the saying is a sham. Love does see color! If you don’t see me and understand and respect the color that I am, well then, you can’t possibly love me. I am not the white woman, the invisible woman, the exotic woman, the domestic you might need me to be—that my mother needed me to be to protect me and keep me safe.

    I didn’t know about the lack of civil rights: Jim Crow,

    the Klu Klux Klan, race riots in Minneapolis.

    I knew chow mein, white rice, and maj jong.

    I have four siblings.

    Between us there have been 14 divorces.

    Well, what do you know? I have the other shoe. It’s been hidden in my closet for 67 years. I am the prince I was searching for. I am the love imagined. The last therapist I needed to see explained to me that of course I didn’t have any self-esteem, any self-love! How could I love the person I was told wasn’t good enough to be visible—the Black/Chinese girl that had to pretend she was white

    Over the past thirty seven years I have written myself into existence with the help of communities and writers and friends. The Asian American Renaissance. David Mura. Marlina Gonzalez. Elsa Battica. Sun Yung Shin. Ed Bok Lee. Rose Chu. Sase the Write Place: Carolyn Holbrook and Carolyn Holbrook and Carolyn Holbrook. The Loft Literary Center: Bao Phi. Sherrie Fernandez-Williams. AND: Lori Young-Williams. Sandee Newbauer. Barb Bergeron.   Eden Torres. My cousin Jay, his daughter Terri and his wife Shirlee. And the list goes on and on.

    Of course, culturally, I was raised white: I grew up in a Scandinavian neighborhood, went to a white church, went to a white school/I had only white friends. I am learning to embrace being white too.

    With much appreciation, thanks to the Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library!

Artist Statement

Sherry Quan Lee approaches writing as a community resource and as culturally based art of an ordinary everyday practical aesthetic. Lee is a Community Instructor at Metropolitan State University (Intro to Creative Writing, Advanced Creative Writing), and has taught at Intermedia Arts, and the Loft Literary Center. She is the author of A Little Mixed Up, Guild Press, 1982 (second printing), Chinese Blackbird, a memoir in verse, published 2002 by the Asian American Renaissance, republished 2008 by Loving Healing Press, and How to Write a Suicide Note: serial essays that saved a woman’s life, Loving Healing Press, 2008.





Septuagenarian by Sherry Quan Lee


Goodreads Book Giveaway

How Dare We! Write by Sherry Quan Lee

How Dare We! Write

by Sherry Quan Lee

Giveaway ends June 09, 2021.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway



Love Imagined book by Sherry Quan Lee


Chinese Blackbird Book by Sherry Quan Lee


How to Write a Suicide Note by Sherry Quan Lee

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