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If you like Maya Lin's story, you might also like:
J. Carter Brown,
Dale Chihuly,
Frank Gehry,
Philip Johnson,
James Rosenquist,
Fritz Scholder,
Vincent Scully,
Amy Tan and
Wayne Thiebaud

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Maya Lin in the Achievement Curriculum section:
A Passion For Music
Meet the Architects

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Maya Lin Studio

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Maya Lin
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Maya Lin Interview

Artist and Architect

June 16, 2000
Scottsdale, Arizona

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  Maya Lin

What was your childhood like, growing up in a small town in Ohio as the daughter of Chinese immigrants?

Maya Lin: It's funny, as you live through something you're not aware of it. It's only in hindsight that you realize what indeed your childhood was really like. Growing up, I thought I was white. It didn't occur to me that I wasn't white. It probably didn't occur to me I was Asian-American until I was studying abroad in Denmark actually and there was a little bit of prejudice -- racial discrimination -- because as I get a suntan I look like a Greenlander. And as the U.S. had a certain prejudice against Native Americans, the Danes had a similar read towards the Greenlanders, and all of a sudden they would be moving away from me on the bus. They wouldn't sit next to me. There would be these weird comments.

Growing up, I think I was very naive about fitting in. In reality, I was not a participant in many school functions. Our home life was very close knit. It was my mother, my father, my brother and me. I never knew my grandparents on either side. When I was very little, we would get letters from China, in Chinese, and they' be censored. We were a very insular little family. I really didn't socialize that much. I loved school. I studied like crazy. I was a Class A nerd. My dad was dean of fine arts at the university, and when I wasn't in school studying, I was taking a lot of independent courses at the university. And if I wasn't doing that, I was casting bronzes in the school foundry. I was basically using the university as a playground.

I didn't fit in in high school at all. And I don't know if it was because I was different. I think it was my age. I looked much younger than most of my classmates, and in a way they were really nice to me, but almost as a baby sister. I think as a little girl there was a bit of a China doll sort of syndrome. They were friends and they were friendly, but I didn't date. I didn't really even begin to understand. I was really naive. So I studied and I loved getting A's. I think I had the highest grade point average in my high school. And I loved to study, but I had no extracurricular activities. My activities were absolutely isolated. I would make anything artistic at home. And I think creativity and my artistic drive emanates from that childhood. In a way I didn't have anyone to play with so I made up my own world.

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Were you the oldest or the youngest?

Maya Lin: I'm the youngest. I have one older brother.

How did that affect you? Did it matter?

Maya Lin Interview Photo
Maya Lin: Always tried to impress the older sibling. What does the older sibling do? Always try to humiliate the younger sibling. We had a very healthy sibling rivalry and fought a lot, and are best friends. We're very different and yet we're very close, in fact we collaborated on an art work of mine. He's an English professor and a poet. We did a piece for the Cleveland Public Library called "Reading A Garden." The centerpiece is a pool of water, and the title of the piece, "Reading A Garden" is spelled backwards but reflects forward in the water, which clues you in that this is a poetry garden. It's a poem laid out three dimensionally. It's all about words and the directionality and weight of reading. So we didn't fight the whole time. Collaborating on a work of art -- when you have two artists -- is very tricky. It took us 30 or 40 years to get to that point!

Do you think your experience in school was a social circumstance or do you think you were really different? Even in high school you were a kind of super achiever taking college courses.

Maya Lin: I had very few friends. I think my brother had a few more friends than me, but we stayed close to home, and I think we always ate dinner with our parents. We didn't want to go out. I think the whole American adolescence was a lot wilder than I would have felt comfortable with. We stayed very close to home. I think it wasn't just me. I think that's Chinese.

We weren't going to the proms or going to the football games, or doing anything of that nature at all. I don't think I ever went to a football game, which at Athens High School was, you know, the Bulldogs were the Bulldogs! So there was a part of me that was like, "Oh, how many days do I have before I can get out of this town?" I mean, at one hand, you had a university there, so I could sneak out and take courses. But at the other hand, it's Athens High, and it was tough to fit in, and I was aware of that by the time I hit my senior year. I basically was taking almost all of my courses independent study, and taking many of my courses at the university, and counting the days, 'cause I knew I didn't quite fit in at that point and I was desperate to kind of get out of there, and you know, it was almost more instinct.

How do you think that experience affected you?

Maya Lin: I probably have fundamentally antisocial tendencies, let's face it. I never took one extracurricular activity. I just failed utterly at that level. Part of me still rebels against that. You couldn't put me in a social group setting. It's different with a group of friends, but as far as clubs go -- I'm probably a terrible anarchist deep down. My parents are both college professors, and it made me want to question authority, question standards and traditions.

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