Writer and former Alhambra resident CY Lee was featured in this weekend’s Los Angeles Times Sunday edition. The article, written by former Source editor Daniela Gerson, made the front page of the Arts and Books section.
Lee wrote the 1957 novel “The Flower Drum Song.” It was turned into a Broadway musical in 1958, and later a film adaptation in 1961. The movie starred Nancy Kwan, who the Source interviewed in 2011. Lee's novel was a refreshing take on minority life in America. Despite the book’s success, activists would later regard the work as oversimplified, and said that it pandered to a mostly white audience.
“Many student leaders and intellectuals rejected Lee's work as stereotypical, too upbeat and with a goal of losing ethnic culture to blend into the mainstream,“ wrote Gerson. “Lee wanted a success, and to have one he needed to appeal to white Americans.”
His work has been re-evaluated by contemporary writers. Playwright David Henry Hwang re-wrote it for the stage in 2001 in Los Angeles, then brought it back to Broadway for a run in New York.
Lee lived in Alhambra for a period, beginning in 1997. In the article he recalls the first time he’d visited the San Gabriel Valley.
"He took me to a city. I'd never known such a city," Lee says, eyes glowing at the memory. "Suddenly Chinese sign boards, neon lights. And the people: Asian faces everywhere. All the cars going by had Asian faces."
In 2002 Lee released “Manchu Gown Lady" through a Taiwanese publisher in 2002. The book is a collection of stories set in the San Gabriel Valley.