Acclaim for Sherry Quan Lee’s Septuagenarian
In Septuagenarian, Sherry Quan Lee accepts her own invitation to look at life in retrospect, but with a new lens. Pulling from and expanding upon her previous body of work, she examines the version of herself that was writing at that time. Working as a therapist in racial identity development, I invite people to look at themselves in context. Seeing oneself in context decreases the judgment and shaming that comes from making lifetime decisions in childhood. Sherry’s self-assessment is curious, assertive, open and unapologetic. She holds many versions of past selves, looking plainly at her training to pass as White and to squeeze into the tight, traditional roles of woman, wife and mother. And then she lifts the veil, showing us the pain of this training, the rage that followed captivity in ill-fitting boxes and the forward movement that inevitably follows forgiveness. The dignity and fire of her seventy-three-year-old gaze taking in snapshots of those selves… straightens my spine and gives me a vision for myself traveling today into my future septuagenarian.
~ Lola Osunkoya, MA, LPCC
I’ve been reading Sherry Quan Lee’s work for almost thirty years and her voice keeps getting stronger, more urgent, deeper. InSeptuagenarian, she continues to write out of her past, “the Black/Chinese/girl passing for white,” but the range of her voice is wider now, both inward and outward and it’s anchored by a wisdom that can only be achieved through struggle and time. This is a significant, heartfelt work, one that will help readers to understand not only the author and her life, but also America itself–what we have been, what we are and, hopefully, what we might become.
~ David Mura, author of A Stranger’s Journey: Race, Identity & Narrative Craft in Writing
Septuagenarian by Sherry Quan Lee is a book that answers, in many different ways, the question posed in one of the poems contained within: “What does surrender look like?” Surrender looks like passion, like the banishment of shame, like truth telling. The narrator is not afraid of death, but embraces the inseparability and magnitude of opposing forces: “The world is a large body of terror where good and evil coexist, and each of us is responsible.” Quan Lee’s bold language makes space for living within impossibilities. It is a book that maps, often with aching beauty, many of the author’s passions, desires, grief and the circularity of life at seventy, “I have lost so many people over time, but at seventy long-term memory brings them back, both the wicked and the wise…story ends where it begins.”
~ 신 선 영 辛善英 Sun Yung Shin, author of Unbearable Splendor
Septuagenarian is a poignant retrospective covering seven decades of Sherry Quan Lee’s life, culminating in 2020, the year of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this collection, which blends new work with poems published in her previous books, Quan Lee reckons with invisibility—a mixed-race woman who was raised white/ “a gray-haired specter” “the critics ignore.” The pain and frustration caused by the pervasive, divisive effects of generational trauma on herself and her family are no longer obstacles, and love is no longer imagined—and the world at large explored. ~ Carolyn Holbrook, author of Tell Me Your Names and I Will Testify
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. She reflects on old wounds, key mistakes and certain joys. She pushes against clichéd thinking or feeling. She is hard on herself, in these poems, in ways few poets are. She honors the complicated narratives of race, of being female, of living a long life and works to discern the point of it all. I’ve read and taught Sherry Quan Lee’s work for a very long time now and am grateful for this new collection.
~ Deborah Keenan, author of ten collections of poetry and a book of writing ideas, from tiger to prayer
In Septuagenarian: love is what happens when I die, Sherry Quan Lee writes courageously to understand herself and the world. She uses rich language and her skills as a storyteller to focus her sharp lens on what it means to have a complex, sometimes complicated identity: becoming invisible as she ages, a history of passing unseen, love and sex, grieving and celebration. She ruminates on history, which repeats itself in the current moment and widens her lens to look at the bigger, global picture to tell truths in poems that tenderly hold memory, time, rituals, trauma, mother- ing, fear of death and love in many forms. Her poems offer deeply personal, intimate and perceptive insights and opportunities to reflect on what it means to truly live. It feels like I’ve taken the journey with her, and I’m wiser for it.
~Shay Youngblood, author of Soul Kiss and Black Girl in Paris
Muhammad Ali, the boxer, activist and poet, once said, “If you see the world at forty the same way you saw the world at twenty, you’ve wasted twenty years of your life.” This book is a living testimony to the fact that poet Sherry Quan Lee has been walking, crawling, swimming and dancing through the decades of her life wide awake, learning to face this world’s many terrors without flinching – learning to find and savor its many small moments of grace where others may miss them, hiding in plain sight. As much as anything, Septuagenarian chronicles the poet’s march, over a lifetime, toward self-knowledge, self-actualization and fearlessness. There are glimpses here of how, in her earlier years, it was an awkward dance…one step forward, two steps back. As a wiser, wilder, freer, white-haired krone, the march has become much more sure-footed and relentless. The book is a brave little chronicle of how life looks to her after seventy years on this earth. And no matter how many years you, yourself, have notched, you’ll find it to be a welcome and worthy companion on your own journey.
~ David Lawrence Grant, screen-writer, nonfiction writer and teacher; author of essays in Blues Vision: Writing from Black Americans and A Good Time for the Truth
In Septuagenarian, Sherry Quan Lee connects the dots of her existence, including life before her life began. As she says, “every dot matters.” She is an amalgam of all of the dots, including the loss of love, the father who was separated from his country and, eventually, separated from the family he made in America, including the mother who chose to separate from color, but who was still a descendent of enslaved Africans forced into the labor that powered American capitalism, including sexual violence, and the grief she “gently wraps in forgiveness.” As we experience in all of Lee’s work, we meet a fearless poet in these pages, precisely rendering associations that lead us to ultimate truths that are unexpected and fortuitous. As a Black and Chinese woman taught to pass for white as a child, racial identity and racial erasure have been looming themes. For a woman who turns seventy, other questions emerge. At the same time, she acknowledges the coales- cence of maturation and blessings. Longing, hunger, and youthful desperation lessen. She entitles the fourth section of the book, I Have No Regrets but Now. Instead of regrets, what exists now is deep knowing. There are no masks to wear. There is exquisite specificity of a daring heart. Lee brings you close enough to hear it beat and tells you a profound story in verse that can save a life. As Sherry Quan Lee suggests, even if we cannot save the world, we can learn to save our own lives.
~ Sherrie Fernandez-Williams, author of Soft: A Memoir
Acclaim for Sherry Quan Lee’s How to Write a Suicide Note: serial essays that saved a woman’s life
“In her raw, passionate and unflinching How to Write a Suicide Note, Sherry Quan Lee has committed a bold act of courage, naming ghosts and fears that can paralyze us, reminding us that sometimes we must die in order to really live, encouraging women and people of color to re-vision our lives as artists, in order to begin anew.”
—Shay Youngblood, author of Soul Kiss and Black Girl in Paris
“Sherry Quan Lee negotiates the difficult path of language between raw and educated, bare and poetic, to bring forth searing writing that is its own truth. Even if we don’t intentionally lie in our own work, How to Write a Suicide Note pushes us to reconsider a more honest way of speaking. It reminds us that writing is no less than an act of truth, although it holds our shame, our desire to cover, and that at every moment, with every word, we make a choice to go to truth if we are invested in our own lives.”
—Anya Achtenberg, author of The Stone of Language, The Stories of Devil-Girl, and creator of the Writing for Social Change: Re-Dream a Just World Workshops
“I love the female aspects, the sex, and the strong voice Sherry Quan Lee uses to share her private life in How to Write a Suicide Note. I love the wit, the tongue-in-cheek, the trippiness of it all. I love the metaphors, especially the lover and suicide ones. I love the free-associations, the ‘raving, ravenous, relentless’ back and forth. Quan Lee breaks the rules and finds her genius. This is a passionate, risk-taking, outrageous, life-affirming book and love letter.”
—Sharon Doubiago, author of Body and Soul, Hard Country; and other works
integrates her bi-racial identity into all that she is. Through her raw honesty and vulnerability, Sherry captures a range of emotions most people are afraid to confront, or even share. Her work is a gift to the mental health community.”
—Beth Kyong Lo, M.A., Psychotherapist
Acclaim for Sherry Quan Lee’s Chinese Blackbird
“Who am I? Where do I fit in? From where will I draw my strength? By turns lyrical and fierce, the poems in Chinese Blackbird ask some of the essential questions of identity. Sherry Lee writes soulfully of the joy and pain of an examined life.” —Alison McGhee, Associate Professor, Metropolitan State University Author of novels, poetry and picture books for all ages
“Sherry’s Chinese Blackbird is a double phoenix triumph. It’s a triumph over the stories we hide about ourselves or the stories we’re told we have to hide.”—Marlina Gonzalez, Programs Manager, Intermedia Arts
“Sherry Quan Lee’s books, Chinese Blackbird and How to Write a Suicide Note are evidence that writing helps to acknowledge and work through issues that affect women of color, especially biracial women. They are handbooks for writers who want guidance in the craft of writing; but, mostly they are books of hope.”
—Lori Young-Williams, student in Quan Lee’s workshop, Stories that Save Lives
“Sherry Lee is a bold writer. Her work shines on the page. The way she tells her truths, her sharp eye for cultural details, for where passion and longing reside, her wit–all are in evidence on every page of Chinese Blackbird. I love the way her mind works, and her willingness to travel off expected paths in order to find the forms and the images she must have to make her art.”
—Deborah Keenan, poet, professor, Hamline University MFA program
“In Chinese Blackbird, Sherry Quan Lee renders stories of her complex cultural heritage with the lyrical touch of a poet coming into self-possession. In revealing herself in her poetry, Lee exhibits in no uncertain terms the following motto: “I write myself, therefore I am.” As, Dr. Henry Louis Gates asserts in Bearing Witness: Selections from African-American Autobiography in the Twentieth Century, such a saying, “…could be taken as the motto of [African-African people] in this country.” Lee, both African-American and Chinese, creates a work representing the U.S. Black literary tradition replete with autobiographies of Black writers, who birth, name and claim the self that has often been denied, stemming from the antebellum period of slavery to the postmodern era of the new millennium. Through the generative power of language, Lee creates an inspirational and a multifarious self. This self blows breath unto the page and into the reader, who may have felt quiescent or invisible, often feeling forced to choose among various enriching worlds, until she experiences the truth that only good literature can unveil about the joys and struggles of defining oneself on one’s terms.”
—Pamela R. Fletcher, Associate Professor of English Co-Director of Critical Studies in Race and Ethnicity, College of St. Catherine
“It’s been a long time since I’ve been treated to a voice so full of honesty about one’s struggle to come to terms with her identity. Through elegant poetry, full of exquisite imagery and detail, Quan Lee takes the reader on her personal, transformative journey, in which she explores how race, class, gender, and sexual identity inform who she is.”
—Carolyn Holbrook, Artistic Executive Director, SASE: The Write Place
“Quan Lee eloquently expresses how painful and confusing it can be to embrace the many complex identities that one body can contain. With evocative imagery and words that cut straight to the heart, Quan Lee details her lifelong struggles with both the vagaries and concreteness of race, class, gender and sexual identity. Her guilt and shame are palpable. But so too are her emotional and intellectual triumphs. Like a favorite sad song when we have been dumped by the love of our lives, this volume will be oddly comforting to anyone who has ever been overcome by that sorrow which seems insurmountable.”
—Eden Torres, Assistant Professor Women’s Studies, Chicano Studies, University of Minnesota
“And after you finish this book you will say to yourself, if you have any sense at all, this woman is a hero. This book is a gift. This book is a small and powerful miracle. If you read it with an open mind and heart, it will tell you much about America; it will tell you truths that are not there in our culture of mass media or in our canonized literature.”
—David Mura (from preface to CHINESE BLACKBIRD)