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Great Immigrants

Young Jean Lee
Playwright and Professor of Theater and Performance Studies, Stanford University | Guggenheim Fellow
Born in:
South Korea

Young Jean Lee has been called “the most adventurous downtown playwright of her generation” by the New York Times, but her path to achieving that reputation was not easy. As she recalled in Time, when she tried to join her school’s drama club in her small town in Washington state, the teacher told her, “Well, we’re doing Oklahoma! And there are no Asians in Oklahoma!” It wouldn’t be until her late twenties that Lee truly began to pursue her passion. Her experience of arriving in the United States from South Korea at the age of two and feeling like an outsider has profoundly shaped Lee’s work, which often centers on issues of identity — from Korean American (Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven) to African American (The Shipment). With the 2018 Broadway debut of Straight White Men, in which a father and his three sons tackle the issue of privilege over takeout Chinese food, Lee became the first Asian American woman to write a play produced on Broadway. From 2003 to 2016 her nonprofit Young Jean Lee’s Theater Company brought her work to more than 30 cities around the world. A recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Windham-Campbell Literature Prize in Drama, and two Obie awards, Lee is an associate professor of theater and performance studies at Stanford University.