On Monday, Sept. 24, Central Lakes College will host award-winning poet Li-Young Lee as the first guest presenter of the Verse Like Water series produced by the English Department on the Brainerd campus of CLC. Instructor Jeff Johnson, who has coordinated similar national poet readings elsewhere, said the series intends to introduce visiting poets to bring literary life to the college and community. The Center for Lifelong Learning and CLC Foundation are co-sponsoring the event. The Chinese American Lee, who since1964 has lived in Chicago, will read some of his poems and meet with the public at a free event from noon to 1 p.m. in Chalberg Theatre. There will be a free-will offering. Lee will also lead a free poetry workshop for students and other writers in E363 from 1:35 to approximately 2:20 p.m., according to Johnson.
Lee is the author of four books of poetry: “Behind My Eyes” (2008); "Book of My Nights” (2001); “The City in Which I Love You” (1991); and “Rose” (1986). His autobiography, “The Winged Seed: A Remembrance” (1995), has been called “a literary event -- a work of memory and myth” (Phoenix Gazette).
Combining sensitivity and eloquence with a broad appeal, Lee walks in the footsteps of Stanley Kunitz and Billy Collins as one of the United States’ most beloved poets. Playful, erotic, at times mysterious, his work describes the immanent value of everyday experience.
“Li-Young Lee's poems are invitations to intimate conversations and moments,” said Matthew Fort, CLC English instructor who said he first read the poet’s work as a college student. “‘Behind My Eyes’ is a journey that transforms the reader. The relationship between father and son forms a lasting theme in his poetry, but his subjects are as varied and lasting as his use of imagery. I first read ‘The City in Which I Love You’ as an undergraduate. The images in those poems have stayed with me 15 years.”
Poet Gerald Stern has noted that “what characterizes [his] poetry is a certain humility... a willingness to let the sublime enter his field of concentration and take over, a devotion to language, a belief in its holiness.”
“Book of My Nights” was the winner of the Poetry Society of America’s William Carlos Williams Award.
Of “Behind My Eyes” Publishers Weekly said, “Lee’s ringing clarity and his compelling life story have brought him uncommonly loyal readers; this volume should swell their ranks….Every line bears the weight of long meditation, sometimes even of wisdom.” Booklist called it a “lithe and powerful new collection.”
Among Lee’s other awards are a 2003 Fellowship of the Academy of American Poets, an American Book Award for the memoir “The Winged Seed,” a Lamont Poetry Prize for “The City in Which I Love You,” and a Delmore Schwartz Award for “Rose.” He is also a recipient of the Lannan Literary Award, Whiting Writers awards, and three Pushcart Prizes.
He has received grants from the Illinois Arts Council, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship. In 1998, he received the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from State University of New York at Brockport.
Lee was born in 1957 in Jakarta, Indonesia, to Chinese parents who had been exiled from China. His father, who had been Mao Zedong’s personal physician, fled China to escape persecution for Christian beliefs.
After fleeing the regime of Indonesian President Sukarno in 1959 through Hong Kong, Macau and Japan, the family settled in the United States in 1964. Today he and wife Donna live with their two sons in Chicago.
His poetry collection, “The City in Which I Love You,” draws on his memories of childhood and his father to create a network of his various experiences with concise imagery and direct language. His autobiography, “The Winged Seed,” uses a lyrical style to recollect the years in which his family fled from country to country, weaving his memories together with dream-like imagery.
Altogether, Lee’s work carries on a conversation with the past to provide an enlightening image of the present world for his readers.
He has taught at several universities, including Northwestern and the University of Iowa.
His appearance is made possible with a grant from the Five Wings Arts Council and Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund authorized by the people of Minnesota.
To see and hear the poet reading samples of his work, go to