Merle Woo

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Merle Woo
Born (1941-10-24) October 24, 1941 (age 79)
Occupationacademic, poet and activist

Merle Woo is a Chinese-American academic, poet and activist who has been described as "a leading member of the Radical Women and the Freedom Socialist Party".[1][2] Her essay "Letter to Ma" was selected for inclusion in the 1981 feminist anthology This Bridge Called My Back.[3]

Early life[edit]

Woo was born in San Francisco, California on October 24, 1941 to Richard and Helene Woo. Woo attended Catholic schools, as her parents believed them to be better than public schools.


In 1965, Woo received a B.A. in English from San Francisco State University. In 1969, Woo received a M.A. in English literature from San Francisco State University. While in college Woo met and married her husband, with whom she had two children. It was while she was studying for her M.A. that Woo witnessed the 1968–69 Third World Student Strikes at the University, which had a huge impact on her becoming an activist. Woo also believes that these strikes had a positive impact on her ability to later find work.[4]

By the late 1970s Woo had come out as a lesbian.[5]


After completing her degree in 1969 Woo began working at San Francisco State University with their Equal Opportunity Program, where she taught Lesbian Literature, among other classes.[6] She was later given a job offer by the University of California, Berkeley, where she began teaching in 1978 until she was fired in 1982 due to openly criticizing the way the Ethnic Studies Department was run and stating that they were a result of right wing activities.[7][8] She fought against the dismissal and was briefly reinstated in 1984, upon which point she formed the Merle Woo Defense Committee to ensure that all issues would be heard.[9] In 1986 Berkeley declined to renew Woo's teaching contract, a move she believed to be discrimination and retaliation.[10] Woo once again successfully fought against the dismissal, winning a union arbitration against the university in 1989.[11][12] She went on to teach at San Francisco State University and San Jose State University.[11]

In 1977 Woo performed in Lonny Kaneko's play Lady is Dying. She also participated in a performance group named Unbound Feet with Nellie Wong and Kitty Tsui, which dispersed in 1981.[7] Woo has also published a play, Home Movies: A Dramatic Monologue, which has been described as an "outcry against both sexism and racism".[7]


  • Yellow Woman Speaks: Selected Poems (1986, Radical Women Publishing)


  1. ^ Oh, Seiwoong (2010-05-12). Encyclopedia of Asian-American Literature. Infobase Publishing. p. 323. ISBN 9781438120881.
  2. ^ Ritchie, Joy; Ronald, Kate (2001-07-12). Available Means: An Anthology Of Women'S Rhetoric(s). University of Pittsburgh Press. p. 306. ISBN 9780822979753.
  3. ^ Keetley, Dawn (2005-02-22). Public Women, Public Words: A Documentary History of American Feminism. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 303. ISBN 9780742522367.
  4. ^ Huang, Guiyou (2002). "Merle Woo (1941 - )". Asian-American Poets: A Bio-bibliographical Critical Sourcebook. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 323–330. ISBN 9780313318092.
  5. ^ "Lesbian Photography - III Ovulars and The Blatant Image". Women Lesbians of the American West (Purdue University). Retrieved 2018-01-08.
  6. ^ Laughlin, Kathleen A.; Castledine, Jacqueline (2012-12-06). Breaking the Wave: Women, Their Organizations, and Feminism, 1945–1985. Routledge. p. 240. ISBN 9781136909221.
  7. ^ a b c Huang, Guiyou (2006-08-08). The Columbia Guide to Asian American Literature Since 1945. Columbia University Press. pp. 107–108. ISBN 9780231501033.
  8. ^ Ridinger, Robert B. (2014-02-25). Speaking for Our Lives: Historic Speeches and Rhetoric for Gay and Lesbian Rights (1892-2000). Routledge. p. 436. ISBN 9781317766346.
  9. ^ Hennessy, Rosemary; Ingraham, Chrys (1997). Materialist Feminism: A Reader in Class, Difference, and Women's Lives. Psychology Press. p. 211. ISBN 9780415916332.
  10. ^ Tyrkus, Michael J. (January 1997). Gay & Lesbian Biography. St. James Press. p. 465. ISBN 9781558622371.
  11. ^ a b "The Merle Woo Project Prize" (PDF). Asian American Studies at the Claremont College. 2012.
  12. ^ Women's Rights Law Reporter. Women's Rights Law Reporter, Incorporated. 1990. p. 7.