This collection of poetry by the 1970 Discovery Award winner speaks of the author’s Chinese American heritage: his ancestors in China, his family in Hawaiʻi, and forging a Chinese American identity. He also speaks of racial discrimination and the obscenity of ethnic stereotypes with astute and unforgiving clarity.
“Lum’s style is an unembellished line of measured prose, setting out a message in direct declarations . . . his straight forward descriptions take their impact from that very detachment.” — The New Paper
Winner of the 1988 Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award and the 1988 Association for Asian American Studies National Book Award.
From HONOLULU Magazine’s 50 Essential Hawai‘i Books You Should Read in Your Lifetime:
“Writing about the everyday world, without fanfare,” goes a line in the title poem, taken from 11th-century poet Mei Yao’chen and cited as a model. But we should all be so lucky as to experience Lum’s everyday: the wonder a son feels about his mother’s missing breast after surgery, his anger at hearing of a new Charlie Chan movie, a visit to a cousin who stayed behind in China and labors in the fields. From death to babies to politics, the book is a complete experience of a Hawai‘i life and a unique mind.
The youngest of three sons, Wing Tek Lum was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, on 11 November 1946 to second-generation Chinese American parents. His mother’s early death while Lum was still in high school is the subject of some of his most emotionally challenging poetry. Lum continued on to Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, where he majored in engineering. His first attempts at poetry writing led him to creative-writing courses at Brown and, eventually, the editorship of the university’s literary magazine. He received his bachelor’s degree in 1969 and moved from Providence to New York City.
One year later, Lum received the prestigious Poetry Center Award (now known as the Discovery/The Nation Award), given every year to four promising poets who have not yet published a collection. Lum spent three years in New York, where he studied at the Union Theological Seminary, eventually taking a master’s degree in divinity in 1973. During this time, he also worked for the Chinese Youth Council in Manhattan’s Chinatown as a social worker. Lum’s years in New York brought him into contact with Frank Chin, an Asian American writer whose outspoken opinions on Asian American literature would influence Lum’s literary work profoundly.
Although Lum’s parents had spoken some Cantonese at home, he had never learned it; this, in turn, limited both his work and his cultural interactions. In 1973, Lum moved from New York to Hong Kong to learn Cantonese. He also continued his community work, this time for the Hong Kong Society for the Deaf. In Hong Kong, Lum found new perspectives on old themes: language,