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Muna Lee

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

Publications

Fiction by “Newton Gayle” [Maurice Guiness and Muna Lee]:

  • Death Follows a Formula. New York: Scribner’s, 1935.
  • The Sentry Box Murder. New York: Scribner’s, 1935.
  • Murder at 28:10. New York: Scribner’s, 1936.
  • Death in the Glass. New York: Scribner’s, 1937.
  • Sinister Crag. New York: Scribner’s, 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.

Bibliography

Articles:

  • 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, 1981. 291-93.
  • Jiménez-Muñoz, Gladys. “Deconstructing Colonialist Discourse: Links Between the Women’s Suffrage Movement in the United States and Puerto Rico.” Phoebe 5.1 (1993): 9-34.

Internet Resources

Publisher Web Site:

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