Nellie Wong

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Nellie Wong
Born (1934-09-12) September 12, 1934 (age 89)
Occupation(s)Poet, activist
Political partyFreedom Socialist Party

Nellie Wong (born 12 September 1934) is an American poet and activist for feminist and socialist causes.[1][2] Wong is also an active member of the Freedom Socialist Party and Radical Women.


Wong was born in Oakland, California to Chinese immigrants.[3] Her father had immigrated to Oakland in 1912. Wong is a Chinese American poet, feminist, and socialist who has organized and participated in activist groups working to create better conditions for women, workers, and minorities.[4]

During World War II, the Wong family worked in a grocery store in Berkeley.[5] The internment of her Japanese American neighbors left a profound impact on her intellectual development, sensitizing her to issues of racism and the concerns of Asian Americans. The family borrowed $2,000 to start a restaurant, The Great China, in Oakland's Chinatown, where Wong worked as a waitress during her youth.[6][7] She attended public school, graduating from Oakland High School, and started bull work as a secretary for the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, a position she held until 1982. She later served as senior analyst in affirmative action at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).

While in her mid-30s, Wong began studying creative writing at San Francisco State University (SFSU) and began to write and publish her poetry. Wong credits her feminist classmates at SFSU with encouraging her writing. A male professor had once told her to throw away an angry poem she had written. One classmate told her, "You don't have to listen to him!"[1]

While a student at San Francisco State University, Wong was involved with the campus Women Writers Union, which organized around issues of race, sex, and class. In the late 1970s, alongside lesbian activist and writer Merle Woo, Wong organized the feminist literary and performance group Unbound Feet.[8] The group performed at colleges, universities, and community centers. During this time she encountered members of two affiliated socialist feminist organizations, Radical Women and the Freedom Socialist Party, and within a few years had joined their ranks.

In 1983, Wong traveled to China on the first U.S. Women Writers Tour to China sponsored by the US–China Peoples Friendship Association with Tillie Olsen, Alice Walker, Paule Marshall.[1] Also in 1983 she was a major organizer of the Merle Woo Defense Committee. Woo, a lesbian Korean-Chinese American feminist, had filed a complaint against their former employer alleging wrongful termination based on discrimination. Working with other Freedom Socialist Party and Radical Women members, Wong raised funds and awareness of the case.[4] Two legal cases were won against the defendant.

From 1983 to 1985 Wong taught poetry writing at Mills College in Oakland and playwriting at the Asian American Theater Company in San Francisco.[9]

During the 1980s and 1990s, Wong was keynote speaker at many national and regional conferences, including Third World Women and Feminist Perspectives, Women Against Racism, and the National Women's Studies Association. She has recited her poetry in China, Cuba, and throughout the U.S. She has also participated on panels concerning labor, Asian American literature, and poetry. Furthermore, Wong has taught Women's studies at the University of Minnesota and poetry writing at Mills College in Oakland, California.

Excerpts from two of her poems have been permanently installed as plaques at public sites at the San Francisco Municipal Railway. She has received awards from the Women's Foundation (San Francisco), University of California, Santa Barbara's Asian American Faculty and Staff Association, and the San Francisco-based Kearny Street Workshop, a multidisciplinary art collective. She served many years as the Bay Area organizer of the Freedom Socialist Party, and is still active with the party, Radical Women, and Bay Area United Against War. She currently resides in San Francisco.


Wong's first collection of poetry, Dreams in Harrison Railroad Park (1977), was published by Kelsey Street Press. This book went through four printings and was the most successful release in the history of Kelsey Street Press. Her other titles are The Death of Long Steam Lady (1986), published by West End Press and Stolen Moments (1997). Her work has appeared in approximately 200 anthologies and publications.[10]

Wong writes directly from her working life; she states "A lot of my poems come from the workplace; that's where I've experienced a great deal of sexism and racism." Other themes include her family history and Asian American identity, about which she has said, "I care about the roots of Asian American culture and how and why they came here [...] It's something every Asian family has experienced." Her poetry spans issues of feminism, the fight against racism, workplace injustice, and finding identity as a writer and activist.[2]

In 1981, Wong participated with Mitsuye Yamada in the documentary film Mitsuye & Nellie, Asian American Poets, produced by Allie Light and Irving Saraf. The film recounts the experiences and hardships that affected the writers and their families. Significant to the film's focus is how World War II and the bombing of Pearl Harbor encouraged divisive perceptions of Japanese as "bad" Asians, while the Chinese were seen as "good" Asians. "Can't Tell," one of the poems Wong recites in the film, highlights the author's attempt to understand why her Japanese neighbors were being sent to internment camps when she and her family, as Chinese Americans, were considered patriotic citizens.

The film also shows lively exchanges between Wong and her siblings, highlighting the feistiness of her older sister, Li Keng, also an author,[6] and her youngest sister, Flo Oy Wong, an installation artist. Her brother, William Wong, is a journalist and the author of Yellow Journalist: Dispatches from Asian America.

Her papers are housed at the California Ethnic and Multicultural Archives.[11] In 2022, she received a Reginald Lockett Lifetime Achievement Award from PEN Oakland.



  • Wong, Nellie. Breakfast Lunch Dinner: Poems. Meridien Press Works, 2012.
  • Wong, Nellie; Merle Woo; Mitsuye Yamada (2003). Three Asian American Writers Speak Out on Feminism. Seattle, Washington: Red Letter Press. p. 48. ISBN 0-9725403-5-0.
  • Alaniz, Yolanda; Wong, Nellie, eds. (1999). Voices of Color: Reports from the Front Lines of Resistance by Radicals of Color. Seattle, Washington: Red Letter Press. pp. 160. ISBN 0-932323-05-7.
  • Wong, Nellie (1997). Stolen Moments. Goshen, Connecticut: Chicory Blue Press. p. 43. ISBN 1887344039.
  • Wong, Nellie (1986). The Death of Long Steam Lady. Los Angeles, California: West End Press. p. 67. ISBN 0-931122-42-2.
  • Wong, Nellie (1977). Dreams in Harrison Railroad Park: Poems. Berkeley, California: Kelsey St. Press. p. 45. ISBN 0-932716-14-8.


  • When I Was Growing Up, autobiographical poem
  • In search of the self as hero: confetti of voices on New Year's night, Cherríe Moraga; Gloria Anzaldúa, eds. (1983). This Bridge called my back : writings by radical women of color (First ed.). Watertown, Massachusetts: Persephone Press. pp. 177–181. ISBN 9780930436100.
  • For an Asian woman who says my poetry gives her a stomachache, Geok-lin Lim; Mayumi Tsutakawa; Margarita Donnelly, eds. (1988). The forbidden stitch: an Asian American women's anthology. Corvalis, Oregon: Calyx. pp. 86–87.
  • Broad shoulders, Asian Women of California, ed. (1989). Making waves: an anthology of writings by and about Asian American Women. Boston: Beacon. pp. 260–265.
  • Moving to her new house, and We go as American tourists, Marie Harris; Kathleen Aguerro, eds. (1988). An ear to the ground: an anthology of contemporary American poets. Athens: University of Georgia Press. pp. 303–304.
  • A woman at the window, Mary Anne Ferguson, ed. (1991). Images of women in literature (Fifth ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin. pp. 556–557.
  • So near, so far, My Chinese love, Unwritten letter, Reverberations, Give me no flowers, Where is my country, When I was growing up, and Away from the blue swans, L. Ling-chi Wang; Henry Yiheng Zhao, eds. (1991). Chinese American powerty: an anthology. Santa Barbara, California: Asian American Voices. pp. 202–214.
  • Socialist Feminism, Chandra Talpade Mohanty; Ann Russo; Lourdes Torres, eds. (1991). Third world women and the politics of feminism. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. pp. 288–296.
  • Dreams in Harrison Railroad Park, Can't tell, On thinking of photographing my fantasies, On Plaza Garibaldi, and Picnic, Garrett Hongo, ed. (1993). The open boat: poems from Asian America. New York: Doubleday. pp. 268–278.
  • Relining shelves and Toward a 44th birthday, Florence Howe, ed. (1993). No more masks! An anthology of twentieth-century American women poets, newly revised and expanded. New York: HarperPerennial. pp. 245–247.
  • Wong, Nellie. "Praise Song for a Dead Girl." Seeds of Fire: Contemporary Poetry of the Other U. S. A., edited by Jonathan Andersen. Smokestack Books, 2008. p. 155.
  • A poem of solidarity for the striking Liverpool dockers and the women and the waterfront, "LouberNet UK". LabourNet UK. Retrieved 6 March 2019.
  • Exploring common differences, Miss Saigon: money calls a racist tune, and You were born, Nellie Wong; Yolanda Alanniz, eds. (1999). Voices of Color. Seattle: Red Letter Press. pp. 25–29, 73–75, 154–155.
  • Can't tell, Lawson Fusao Inada, ed. (2000). Only what we could carry: the Japanese American internment experience. Berkeley ; San Francisco: Heyday ; California Historical Society. pp. 51–52.


  1. ^ a b c "Nellie Wong". Voices from the Gaps. University of Minnesota. 2005-05-14. Retrieved 2007-04-18.
  2. ^ a b Güereña, Salvador (2002-10-22). "BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH". Guide to the Nellie Wong Papers. California Ethnic and Multicultural Archives. Retrieved 2007-04-18.
  3. ^ "Nellie Wong". UCSB Library. 2011-08-19. Retrieved 2024-01-17.
  4. ^ a b Madsen, Deborah L. (2005). Asian American writers. Detroit: Thomson Gale. p. 318. ISBN 078768130X
  5. ^ "Nellie Wong". UCSB Library. 2011-08-19. Retrieved 2024-01-17.
  6. ^ a b
  7. ^ "Nellie Wong". UCSB Library. 2011-08-19. Retrieved 2024-01-17.
  8. ^ "Kelsey St. Press- Poetry by Women". Retrieved 2020-04-28.
  9. ^ Madsen, Deborah L. (2005). Asian American writers. Detroit: Thomson Gale. p. 318. ISBN 078768130X.
  10. ^ "Nellie Wong." Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2007. Biography in Context. Web. 17 Jan. 2016.
  11. ^ Nellie Wong Papers at UCSB

Further reading[edit]

  • Moraga, Cherríe, and Anzalduá Gloria. This Bridge Called my Back Writings by Radical Women of Color. SUNY Press, 2015.
  • The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms. Edited by Mark Strand and Eavan Boland (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2000).
  • Review of Stolen Moments. Reviewed by Cindy Lum. Hawaii Pacific Review. Volume 13 (1999), Hawaii Pacific University, Honolulu, HI.
  • Revolutionary Spirits: Profiles of Asian Pacific American Activists, by Dana Kawaoka, American Studies Senior Thesis, June 1, 1998.
  • Mitsuye & Nellie, Asian American Poets. Allie Light & Irving Saraf. Women Make Movies. 1981. 58 min.
  • On Women Turning 60: Embracing the Age of Fulfillment. Interviews and photography by Cathleen Rountree (New York: Harmony Books, 1997).
  • Women: Images and Realities, A Multicultural Anthology. Edited by Amy Kesselman, Lily D. McNair, Nancy Schniedewind (Mountain View, CA:, Mayfield Publishing Company, 1995).
  • A Formal Feeling Comes. Edited by Annie Finch (Brownsville, OR: Story Line Press, 1994).
  • Asian American Literature: An Annotated Bibliography. Edited by King-kok Cheung and Stan Yogi. (New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1988).
  • Guide to Women's Literature throughout the World. Edited by Claire Buck (Bloomsbury Publishing, 1994).
  • Feminists Who Changed America, 1963-1975. Edited by Barbara J. Love (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2006).

External links[edit]