Chang, Diana 1934-
CHANG, Diana 1934-
Born 1934, in New York, NY. Education: Barnard College, graduated, 1955.
Novelist, poet, painter, and editor. Barnard College, New York, NY, creative writing teacher, until 1989. Exhibitions: Has exhibited her art in New York, NY.
John Hay Whitney Foundation fellowship.
The Frontiers of Live, Random House (New York, NY), 1956, new edition with introduction by Shirley Geok-lin Lim, University of Washington Press (Seattle, WA), 1994.
A Woman of Thirty, Random House (New York, NY), 1959.
A Passion for Life, Random House (New York, NY), 1961.
The Only Game in Town, New American Library (New York, NY), 1963.
Eye to Eye, Harper (New York, NY), 1974.
A Perfect Love, Harcourt (Boston, MA), 1978.
The Horizon Is Definitely Speaking, Backstreet Editions (Port Jefferson, NY), 1982.
What Matisse Is After, Contact II (New York, NY), 1984.
Earth Water Light: Landscape Poems Celebrating the East End of Long Island, Birnham Wood (North-port, NY), 1991.
Also author of the poetry collection The Mind's Amazement.
Also author of radio play Falling Free. Contributor of poems and short stories to magazines, including Poetry and Long Pond Review. Editor for American Pen magazine.
Poet, writer, and painter Diana Chang is best known for her six novels, written between 1956 and 1978. Her debut title, The Frontiers of Love, which has remained in print for almost half a century, deals in oblique terms with the rift between Chinese and Euro-Chinese. This motif played out in Chang's own life, as well. Born in New York City to a Eurasian mother and Chinese father, she spent her early years in China. She returned to the United States after World War II, attending high school and college in New York. While still an undergraduate at Barnard College, two of her poems were published in the prestigious magazine Poetry. At age twenty-two, she published her first novel, The Frontiers of Love.
In this initial novel, Chang sets the action in the International Settlement of Shanghai shortly before the surrender of the Japanese in 1945. As Joy M. Lynch noted in MELUS, the novel "offers an historical portrait of a society undergoing the crisis of an inter-regnum with an urban landscape fraught with division." Lynch further explained that the plot of the novel is "simple: waiting out the end of the war, three young Eurasian socialites take turns giving and going to parties, each attempting in his or her own way to resolve the inner confusion brought about by their identities as both white and Asian, as both part of and separate from the political conflict that surrounds." The Frontiers of Love earned critical acclaim. Writing in the Nation, Kenneth Rexroth praised the "reality" of Chang's writing, and prophesied that she "should be around in American literature for some time to come." In a MELUS overview of Chang's work, Amy Ling noted that Chang "focuses on the search for identity and love of three young Eurasians in Shanghai" with The Frontiers of Love, and further noted that the author "skillfully interweaves their experiences and contrasts their different reactions to their Eurasian identities."
Chang does not always draw on her ethnic background for her novels. In her 1974 book, Eye to Eye, for example, she tells the story of a New York businessman who is married yet attracted to another woman, a poet who is also married. Disturbed by these events, the businessman visits a psychiatrist whose wife, it turns out, is the poet in question. Joyce W. Smothers, writing in Library Journal, observed that the author turns her novel of coincidence into a "convincing first-person narrative of modern urban life," while a Publishers Weekly reviewer called the same book a "predictable, albeit satisfyingly ironic and amusing" tale. And Blanche H. Gelfant of the Hudson Review found it a "witty, urbane, and good-tempered confession."
Chang again explores the limits of love in A Perfect Love, the story of a successful designer whose marriage is less than she would want. Attracted to a younger man, the designer begins an affair that "spices their hitherto bland lives," according to Smothers in Library Journal. The same reviewer went on to praise Chang's "sharp and memorable" characterizations in this "subtle, juicy" novel. A critic for West Coast Review found A Perfect Love an "engrossing novel [that] never subjects the reader to anything but a truth in character and in situation." And a contributor for Publishers Weekly called the same work an "unabashedly emotional novel," and commended Chang for having the "wit of a misanthrope" to be able to do her characters "justice."
In addition to her novels, Chang has produced several well-received volumes of poetry, including The Horizon Is Definitely Speaking, What Matisse Is After, and Earth Water Light. Chang has noted that in her poetry, as opposed to her prose, she is more interested in the values of landscape. In her stories and novels, however, character and emotion come to the fore.
In her MELUS interview with Leo Hamalian, Chang summed up the effect of her ethnic background on the content of her novels: "I feel I'm an American writer whose background is Chinese. The source of my first and fourth novels was Chinese but exoticism can stand in the way of the universal that I strive for in my themes. Therefore, since I write fiction in English and am living my life in the United States of America, I've often subsumed aspects of my background in the interest of other truths and recognitions. I believe an abiding interest in character and emotion informs all my work."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Asian American Literature, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Bloom, Harold, editor, Asian-American Women Writers, Chelsea House (Philadelphia, PA), 1997.
Contemporary Women Poets, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1998.
Belle Lettres, spring, 1995, Patricia Harusame Leebove, review of The Frontiers of Love, pp. 65-67.
Explicator, spring, 1997, Thomas Fink, "Chang's 'Plunging into View,'" p. 175.
Hudson Review, summer, 1975, Blanche H. Gelfant, review of Eye to Eye, pp. 312-313.
Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 1974, review of Eye to Eye, p. 755.
Library Journal, September 1, 1974, Joyce W. Smothers, review of Eye to Eye, pp. 2088-2089; September 1, 1978, Joyce Smothers, review of A Perfect Love, pp. 1659-1660/
Los Angeles Times Book Review, August 7, 1994, Charles Solomon, review of The Frontiers of Love, p. 12.
MELUS, winter, 1980, Amy Ling, "Writer in the Hyphenated Condition: Diana Chang," pp. 69-83; winter, 1995, Leo Hamalian, interview with Chang, p. 29; fall, 2001, Joy M. Lynch, "'A Distinct Place in America Where All Mestizos Reside,'" p. 119.
Nation, September 29, 1956, Kenneth Rexroth, "World Ills in the Far East," pp. 271-273.
New York Times Book Review, March 25, 1979, review of A Perfect Love, p. 28.
Publishers Weekly, August 5, 1974, review of Eye to Eye, p. 52; July 3, 1978, review of A Perfect Love, p. 63.
West Coast Review of Books, September, 1978, review of A Perfect Love, p. 70.
Eurasian Literature Resources,http://www.lone-crow.com/ (September 15, 2002), "Diana C. Chang."*