Cultural and Racial Identity Crisis Inspires Suicide Attempts, Then Essay

Share Article

Her father was Chinese. Her mother was Black. But as a child, she was told to pass herself off as white. No wonder she had an identity crisis and frequently contemplated suicide. Then she discovered writing and her life was saved.

Everyone wants love and acceptance. How one woman moved from fear, self-loathing, and being suicidal to loving herself is told in Sherry Quan Lee's "How to Write a Suicide Note: serial essays that saved a woman's life" (ISBN 9781932690637, Modern History Press, 2008).

Sherry Quan Lee was born in the northern U.S. to a Chinese father and a Black mother. Her family told her to pass herself off as white, and if she couldn't pull it off, to say she was Chinese. Her family wanted her to be accepted into society, but she was left confused. When her Chinese father left the family, Sherry grew up without a connection to her Chinese roots. Her mother did not want Sherry to adopt the Black side of her culture. But Sherry could never accept the pretense of being white.

Identity issues boiled to a crisis as Sherry's attempts to hide her background conflicted with her desire to love and celebrate herself. Her attempts at suicide were really cries to be heard. When she turned to writing, Sherry was able to express herself and thereby save her life. The essays collected in "How to Write a Suicide Note" are models to everyone, especially those of multicultural backgrounds, on how to explore and embrace one's identity.

Lee's suicide notes are written to put to death the negative experiences that tried to control and define her. Writing allowed her to name the historical trauma--the racist, sexist, classist experiences that screamed she was no good and unworthy of love. Through writing she has summoned the creative power to name these experiences appropriately and to kill them; the false white girl is forced to commit suicide so the real Sherry Quan Lee may live.

Lee writes about the importance of relationships and how a woman must be loved for who she is. Readers grow to understand the complexity of being a woman of color--particularly a biracial woman--and how race, gender, sexuality, and age intersect in multiple ways. Ultimately, it is this intersectionality, not cultural stereotypes, that accurately defines a person. "How to Write a Suicide Note" will make people rethink and embrace their own diverse backgrounds.

About the Author
Sherry Quan Lee approaches writing as a community resource and culturally based art with an everyday practical aesthetic. Quan Lee is the Program Associate for the Split Rock Arts Program summer workshops and the Online Mentoring for Writers Program at the University of Minnesota where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing. She is the also author of the recently reprinted "Chinese Blackbird" (ISBN 978-1932690682). Recently, she retired from teaching Creative Writing at Metropolitan State University, St. Paul, MN, to complete "How to Write a Suicide Note." She now teaches daylong workshops.

"How to Write a Suicide Note: serial essays that saved a woman's life," (ISBN 9781932690637, Modern History Press, 2008) can be purchased through local and online bookstores. For more information, visit Publicity contact: Review copies available upon request.


Share article on social media or email:

View article via:

Pdf Print

Contact Author


Email >