A feminist professor and prolific poet, short-fiction writer, novelist, and literary critic, Shirley Geok-lin Lim researches and writes from the margins as a woman, an English-speaking Malaysian Chinese/Peranakan, and an immigrant Asian American. Her work on language, gender, nation, and ethnicity as engines of cultural production is particularly valuable for an understanding of the identity creation of immigrants.
Shirley Geok-lin Lim was born during World War II at a time when the Japanese army forces had overpowered the British colonial rulers for control of Malaya. Her Chinese father was fluent in Hokkien (a Chinese dialect), Malay, and English. His father had emigrated from Fujian Province, China, to Malaya for work. Lim’s Peranakan (Malayan-native Chinese who adopted Malay and Western cultures) mother was fluent in Teochew (another Chinese dialect), Malay, and English. Lim, whose first language was the Malay of her mother, quickly became a predominantly English speaker both at home and at school by the age of six, when she went to a convent school run by Roman Catholic nuns. As a child in Malacca, Lim suffered abuse, poverty, and abandonment–her mother left Lim’s father and her five brothers when she was eight years old. She comes from a family of eight brothers (three half brothers) and one half sister.
Lim moved away from her family to Kuala Lumpur to attend the University of Malaya, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 1967 and a master’s degree in 1969, both in English literature. In 1969, she moved to the United States to attend Brandeis University on Fulbright and Wien International scholarships. As a new international student from a tropical country, she initially suffered both loneliness and culture shock. Nevertheless, she completed a master’s degree (1971) and a doctorate (1973) in English and American literature. In November, 1972, she married Charles Bazerman, a Jewish New Yorker who also had a doctorate in English and American literature from Brandeis, and they had a son. While pregnant, Lim became a U.S. citizen on February 14, 1980. Her son’s American identity solidified her connection to the United States, although she struggled as an immigrant mother to be a part of her local community. Lim has taught at Hostos Community College, City University of New York (1973-1976); Westchester College, State University of New York (1976-1990); and the University of California, Santa Barbara (1990- ).
Lim’s major areas of teaching and research are women’s studies, Asian American literature, and Southeast Asian literature. Her poetry and fiction are populated by characters who live in the multilingual, multicultural, multireligious, and multiracial society of her country of origin. Her novels Joss and Gold (2001) and Sister Swing (2006) deal with characters who have moved from one country to another: Malaysia to
Lim, Shirley Geok-lin. Among the White Moon Faces: An Asian-American Memoir of Homelands. New York: Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 1996. _______. Sister Swing. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish, 2006. Newton, Pauline T. Transcultural Women of Late Twentieth-Century U.S. American Literature: First Generation Migrants from Islands and Peninsulas. Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2005.
Asian American literature