Muna Lee was born
January 29, 1895, in Raymond, Mississippi. When she was seven, her
family moved to Oklahoma, but she returned to Mississippi to attend
college at her mother's alma mater, Blue Mountain College, where
she fell under the tutelage of teacher and poet David
Guyton. She eventually graduated from the University of
Mississippi with a B.S. in 1913, at the age of 18. Over the course
of her career, she would write in a number of forms, including nonfiction,
translations, and even co-writing several mystery novels with a
collaborator, but she always thought of herself primarily as a poet,
despite publishing only a single collection, Sea-Change (1923),
during her lifetime. Most of her verse, written between 1912 and
1930, are simple lyrics done mostly in quatrains or Italian sonnets,
reflecting the prevailing mode of that time. Though technically
sound, her verse prompted one critic to criticize her single book
of poems as “nothing new; there is no unique personality developing
itself here.” Nevertheless, her verse was memorable enough
that another “failed poet” from Mississippi, William
Faulkner, recalled her poetry as late as 1954, when contacted
by Lee in her position as a cultural affairs specialist with the
U.S. State Department. Lee had requested that Faulkner attend an
international writers festival in Brazil; in a responding
letter, Faulkner wrote “Can there be more than one Muna Lee?
more than the one whose verse I have known since a long time?”
Muna Lee died on
April 3, 1965, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, just two months after retiring
from the State Department.
Article first posted May 2001
by “Newton Gayle” [Maurice Guiness and Muna Lee]:
- Death Follows a Formula. New York: Scribners,
- The Sentry Box Murder. New York: Scribners, 1935.
- Murder at 28:10. New York: Scribners, 1936.
- Death in the Glass. New York: Scribners, 1937.
- Sinister Crag. New York: Scribners, 1938.
Nonfiction and nonfiction translations:
- (translation) Four Years Beneath the Crescent. By Rafael de Nogales. New York: Scribner's, 1926.
- Art in Review: Reprints of Material Dealing with Art Exhibitions Directed by Walt Dehner and Acquisitions in the University of Puerto Rico, 1929-1938. Río Piedras: U of Puerto Rico, 1937.
- American Story: Historical Broadcast Series of the NBC Inter-American University of the Air. New York: Columbia UP, 1944.
- Pioneers of Puerto Rico. Boston: Heath, 1944.
- (translation) On Being Good Neighbors. By Mariano Picón Salas. Washington: Division of Intellectual Cooperation, Pan American Union, 1944.
- (With Ruth Emily McMurry) The Cultural Approach: Another Way in International Relations. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1947; Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat P, 1971.
- (translation) A History of Spain. By Rafael Altamira. New York: Van Nostrand, 1949.
Poetry and poetry translations:
- Sea-Change. New York: Macmillan, 1923.
- (translation) Secret Country. By Jorge Carrera Andrade. New York: Macmillan, 1946.
- Cohen, Jonathan. “The Glory of Muna Lee: Poet and Feminist of
the Americas (1895-1965).” State U of New York at Stony Brook.
Online at <www.uhmc.sunysb.edu/surgery/muna.html>.
- Hughes, Elaine. “Lee, Muna: 1895-1965.” Lives of Mississippi
Authors, 1817-1967. Ed. James B. Lloyd. Jackson: UP of Mississippi,
- Jiménez-Muñoz, Gladys. “Deconstructing Colonialist Discourse:
Links Between the Womens Suffrage Movement in the United States
and Puerto Rico.” Phoebe 5.1 (1993): 9-34.
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