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Kim, Willyce

KIM, Willyce

KIM, Willyce (b. 18 February 1946), writer.

Willyce Kim, recognized as the first Asian lesbian to have her work published in the United States, is best known as a poet and writer who helped forge the emerging West Coast lesbian feminist movement and culture in the 1970s. Her participation in and contribution to the lesbian feminist movement counter the image of this movement as solely white and middle-class. Kim published three books of poetry, Curtains of Light (1970), Eating Artichokes (1972), and Under the Rolling Sky (1976), that depicted love and friendship between women, were frank in their description of sex and passion between women, and provided examples of a women-centered world.

Kim, who was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, to second-generation Korean American parents, was raised in a Catholic home with two younger siblings, a brother and a sister. From the age of seven to thirteen, Kim lived with her family in San Francisco's Richmond district, where her father attended the University of San Francisco and then Hastings Law School. The family eventually moved back to Hawaii so that her father could practice law in Honolulu.

She left Hawaii in 1964 to attend San Francisco College for Women, where she graduated with a BA in English in 1968. She attended college during the height of the hippie, flower power, and anti–Vietnam War era and lived about eight blocks from the Haight-Ashbury section of the city, which was then the epicenter for the counter-culture lifestyle. Kim describes this period as an amazing time during which she became intoxicated with the possibilities of change and believed that people's ideas about, perceptions of, and treatment of women would also change.

After college, Kim held several jobs but soon abandoned conventional employment to begin work primarily on women's issues. In the early 1970s she moved from San Francisco to Oakland and became part of the Women's Press Collective, founded by Judy Grahn and Wendy Cadden. At the Woman's Place bookstore, Kim befriended Grahn and Cadden, who took an interest in her self-published book of poems and invited Kim to work with the collective.

Through this collective, Kim learned much about the publication, printing, and distribution of books by and about women, particularly lesbians. One aspect of her work included trips across the country to distribute books at alternative and women's bookstores. Kim also participated in numerous readings with Grahn and Pat Parker in various states, including California, Washington, and Oregon, and in spaces such as colleges, bookstores, and lesbian bars. In a later interview with Kim (conducted by Alice Y. Hom), Kim recalled one event at which she had read her work standing atop a pool table, which was covered with a board to serve as a makeshift stage. Asked if she had observed other Asian American lesbians at these same events, Kim remembers seeing none in the spaces that she frequented in the early 1970s.

This notable absence of Asian American lesbians in public settings changed in the late 1970s when groups such as Unbound Feet, a collective of Asian American women writers that included lesbians Merle Woo, Canyon Sam, and Kitty Tsui, emerged. For quite a few Asian American lesbian authors who published in the early 1980s (including Woo and Tsui), Kim's visibility as a writer who was lesbian and Asian American made her an invaluable and affirming role model, precisely because there were few Asian Americans publishing or visible to others in the lesbian feminist movement of the 1970s.

Although the content and themes of Kim's work do not directly address the intersection of race and sexuality, or draw on the unique experiences of Asian American lesbians, her work is important because it clearly reflects the time period and historical context during which it was written. In the 1970s lesbian feminists created a woman-centered world, and Kim was very much a part of establishing lesbian culture and building its institutions. She has described her writing as open-ended in that a lesbian audience may interpret her work however it wishes to describe or define itself.

In the 1980s Kim began working at the University of California, Berkeley, where she remained through 2003 as the manager of the main stacks at Doe Library. During that decade she published two well-received novels, Dancer Dawkins and the California Kid (1985) and Dead Heat (1988). She continued to write, and in the early 2000s, she returned to short stories and poetry, with her work appearing in the Harrington Lesbian Fiction Quarterly. Just as she did in most of her earlier works, Kim remained steadfast to the goal of presenting lesbian characters with complexity and in all their contradictions.

Bibliography

Tsui, Kitty. "Willyce Kim." In Contemporary Lesbian Writers of the United States: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook. Edited by Sandra Pollack and Denise D. Knight. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1993, 283–286.

Alice Y. Hom

see alsoasian american lgbtq organizations and periodicals; grahn, judy; parker, pat.

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