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Author Profile: Gus Lee [in Notable Asian Americans]

Gus LeeGus Lee, one-time attorney, now full-time writer, began his first book in 1989 as a private memoir. “My daughter asked me to write a family journal and it turned out to be China Boy,” he explained in an interview with Terry Hong. Not only was the work Lee’s first novel, but it was also the first time he had ever attempted fiction writing. “I just wrote this book. For me, it was a miracle,” he recalled. Using a favorite analogy, Lee compared his literary success to baseball: “Say you always wanted to bat .300, but had never played a game before. You’re at the ballpark and they let you hit. Everything they pitch, you hit, and you didn’t even know you could hit before. That’s the way I feel about writing. I never had any literary training, did any workshops. China Boy just happened.”

The semi-autobiographical China Boy introduced audiences to Kai Ting, the American-born son of transplanted Chinese parents, who grows up in the predominantly African American Panhandle neighborhood of San Francisco, California. The book was widely heralded: the New York Times Book Review compared the novel to Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club and Gunter Grass’ The Tin Drum; Publishers Weekly referred to it as “the Chinese American experience as Dickens might have described it”; the Washington Post Book World praised it as “marvelous”; and Time magazine called it “delightful.” China Boy proved to be a six-month bestseller, a Literary Guild selection, a Random House AudioBook and one of the New York Times Best 100 for 1991.

In 1994, Lee produced the second installment in the life and times of young Kai Ting, following him through his training at West Point where Lee himself was educated. Honor and Duty also received glowing praise from the New York Times Book Review, Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and numerous other major publications. It, too, has proved to be a bestseller, and was chosen as a Book of the Month Club selection and a Random House AudioBook.

Growing up Asian American
Born August 8, 1946, in San Francisco, Gus Lee was the only child born in the United States to parents Tsung-Chi and Da-Tsien (née Tsu) Lee. Lee’s four older sisters (including one who died in infancy) were all born in China. “My family was very lucky to get out,” said Lee. The once wealthy and aristocratic Lee family fled China during the Japanese invasion and arrived in the United States in 1945 to settle in the poor and mostly African American Panhandle district of San Francisco. …[click here for more]

Profile: “Gus Lee (1946 – ), Writer,” Notable Asian Americans, edited by Helen Zia and Susan B. Gall, Detroit: Gale Research, 1995

Readers: Adult


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