Cathy Song was born in Honolulu, Hawai’i in 1955 of Chinese and Korean descent. She left the island to pursue her education, receiving her B.A. from Wellesley College in 1977 and an M.A. in creative writing from Boston University in 1981. She returned to Hawai’i after graduating.
In 1983, Song published her first collection of poetry, Picture Bride, which won the Yale Series of Younger Poets competition, a very prestigious national poetry award. Song has since published three other volumes of poetry, Frameless Windows, Squares of Light in 1988, School Figures in 1994, and The Land of Bliss in 2001.
The title poem, “Picture Bride,” from Song’s winning collection, captures a unique immigrant experience – that of a young woman leaving all that is familiar in Korea and coming to America to marry a man she has never met. Only through the exchange of pictures have the potential bride and groom even seen one another. The details in this poem places the Korean grandmother in Hawai’i, the bride of a sugar plantation owner and therefore most likely one of the very first Korean immigrants at the turn of the 20th century.
Due to laws that outlawed interracial marriage (which stayed in effect as late as 1967 in some parts of the United States), immigrant Asian men often married women from the home country through an official exchange of photographs. When new immigrant laws restricted the families of immigrants, barring even picture brides, from entering the country, entire communities of unmarried Asian “grandfathers” eventually died out alone.