A third-generation Korean American and son of an officer who served the U.S. State Department for thirty-eight years, Don Lee was born in 1959 and spent most of his childhood in Seoul and Tokyo. In the first two years at the University of California, Los Angeles, he majored in engineering while occasionally taking English and creative writing classes. Finding these occasional English courses fulfilling his need for a “verbal outlet, ” he “frightened” his parents by switching to an English major in his junior year (Rutten 2). After graduating in 1982 with a B.A. in English from UCLA, he went on to study creative writing and literature at Emerson College and received his M.F.A. degree in 1986. After a brief career as an adjunct faculty member at Emerson College, he has worked since 1988 as the editor of Ploughshares, a literary journal. Lee has occasionally published his short stories in GQ, New England Review, American Short Fiction, and other periodicals.
After resisting the idea of a book for fear of failure, Lee, approaching forty, decided to put together his stories into a volume. Interestingly, “The Lone Night Cantina, ” “Widowers, ” and “Casual Water” were originally written with white characters but were revised to render a sense of community in his fictional town. Lee says the revision made him understand “more of why the characters behaved as they did in the stories” (qtd. in Rutten 3). According to an interview, Lee had two contradictory agendas within the collection: to make Asian American characters “just as sexy, artsy and screwed up as everyone else in America, ” but also to “educate people about the kind of prejudice Asian Americans face everyday” (Rutten 2).
Many of the stories in the collection Yellow contain autobiographical ele-