Photograph: Marcelo Potosi

Nellie Wong has published four books: Dreams in Harrison Railroad ParkThe Death of Long Steam LadyStolen Moments, and Breakfast Lunch Dinner. Her poems and essays appear in numerous journals and anthologies, including This Bridge Called My Back: Writings By Radical Women of Color, and excerpts from two poems have been permanently installed at public sites at the San Francisco Municipal Railway. A building at Oakland High School is named after her, she is co-featured in the documentary film, Mitsuye and Nellie Asian American Poets, and a poem of hers was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She traveled to China in the First American Women Writers Tour with Alice Walker, Tillie Olsen, and Paule Marshall, among others. She taught poetry writing at Mills College and women’s studies at the University of Minnesota, and is the recipient of the 2022 PEN Oakland/Reginald Lockett Lifetime Achievement Award.


1934Born September 12, 1934 in Oakland, CA.
1943-1961Worked in her family’s Great China Restaurant in Oakland’s Chinatown.
1964-1982Employed as a secretary for Bethlehem Steel Corporation.
1973Begins to study creative writing with night classes at San Francisco State University, while still working at Bethlehem Steel during the day.
1975First organiser of the Women Writers Union that began at San Francisco State, which organized around issues of race, sex, and class. First published poem – “We Can Always” appears in Poetry from Violence: San Francisco Conference on Violence Against Women.
1976“Drums, Gongs” is published in East/West Chinese American Journal, Vol. 10, No. 8, San Francisco, California (February 18, 1976).
1977Publishes her first collection of poetry, Dreams in Harrison Railroad Park, and begins to write a play, A Marriage for Merilee.
1978Performs with Nancy Hom, Genny Lim, Kitty Tsui, Nanying Stella Wong, and Merle Woo in “6 Chinese-American Women Writers Read from Their Works” Nellie at the Chinese Culture Center.
1979Founding member of Unbound Feet, along with Nancy Hom, Genny Lim, Canyon Sam, Kitty Tsui, and Merle Woo. The group performed at colleges, universities, and community centers.
1980Nellie Wong, Merle Woo and Mitsuye Yamada are keynote speakers the January 26 forum sponsored by San Francisco Radical Women.
1981 Nellie and Mitsuye Yamada are featured in the film, Mitsuye and Nellie, Asian American Poets, directed by Irving Saraf and Allie Light. A scene from an Asian American Theater workshop reading of A Marriage for Merilee, performed by Nellie and Merle Woo, appears in the film.

Contributes a poem, “When I Was Growing Up,” and “In Search of the Self As Hero: Confetti of Voices on New Year’s Night,” an essay on writing to the first edition of This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, edited by Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, published by Persephone Press.

Breaking Ground Benefit reading by Unbound Feet Three – Nellie Wong, Kitty Tsui, Merle Woo, Women’s Building.
1982Delivers a speech, “Who We Are: The Asian American Community,” at the Left-write Conference: A Unity Conference of Writers on the Left.” 
1983Invited by writer Tillie Olsen to join the first US Women Writers Tour to China, with Alice Walker and Paule Marshall and others, the only Chinese American delegate. Visits her family’s village in Toisan, China.

Organizer for the Merle Woo Defense Committee.

Teaches poetry writing at Mills College, Oakland, CA, edits and producesan anthology of student poetry.
1984-1998Employed as administrative assistant, administrative analyst, and senior analyst (1990-1998) in the Office of Affirmative Action at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). Member of American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and University Professional & Technical Employees (UPTE), serving as UPTE delegate to the S.F. Labor Council from 1990-1998, reading poetry and speaking out on worker’s rights and Affirmative Action.
1985Teaches playwriting at the Asian American Theater Company in San Francisco.
Visiting professor, Women’s Studies, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
1986Publishes The Death of Long Steam Lady.
1988Recipient of San Francisco Women’s Foundation Woman of Words award (September 22, 1988).
1996“Song of Farewell” installed on F-Line Muni platform (Embarcadero near Greenwich Street for the Waterfront Transportation Project Historic and Interpretive Signage Program, San Francisco Arts Commission. Another poem is located at Market and Sanchez Muni stop.
1997Publishes Stolen Moments.

“A Poem of Solidarity for the Striking Liverpool Dockers and The Women on the Waterfront,” written especially for the International Labor Solidarity Rally at New College, 777 Valencia Street, San Francisco, California, May 1, 1997.

Travels to the Cuba solidarity conference with The International Feminist Brigade, which was attended by 50+ delegates from around the world, reads her poetry in Havana and meets with revolutionary feminist Assata Shakur.
2001Recites her poem “The Tap Dance Kid, In memory of Victor Keung Wong, July 31, 1927 – September 12, 2001” for the Shenson Faculty Concert Series.
2002Kearny Street Workshop Honors the Wong Family, Asian American Arts Foundation and Galería de la Raza at its 30th Anniversary.
2004Featured in the short film, Just Say It: A Revolution in the Making, Jessica Dorfman & Jen Gilomen, co-directors.
2005“Sailing with Memories of Li Hong,” receives a Pushcart Prize nomination.
2008“Women & revolution — alive and inseparable!” Speech delivered at Radical Women’s 41st Anniversary Conference (October 3, 2008).
2009Visits Australia for five weeks as a representative of US National Radical Women and FSP, reading poetry and speaking at anti-war, people of color/indigenous and feminist events. 

Featured speaker at “Justice for the San Francisco Eight! Black Panthers Fight Government Persecution…Again” Black History Month Celebration, with Richard Brown, San Francisco Eight defendant and longtime Western Addition community organizer.
2010Reading of immigrant poems at the Celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the Angel Island Immigration Station with Janice Mirikitani.
2011Writes “The Building Song” for the Oakland High School dedication ceremony when students from Oakland High School, Wong’s alma mater, vote to name a campus building in her honor.
2012Publishes Breakfast Lunch Dinner.
2016Reads “It’s in the Blood” in “Oakland Chinatown,” a multi-media performance with original music by Anthony Brown’s Asian American Orchestra and stories by William Wong, Nellie Wong and Li Keng Wong.
2017Reads “Sounds in the Night,” in her first program at San Francisco State University’s The Poetry Center, Poetry + Conversation with poet Genny Lim.
2019“Words On Fire: The Work of Nellie Wong, Kitty Tsui & Canyon Sam” at Chinese Historical Society of America. Three members of “Unbound Feet accompanied by Jex Ponce Nguyen on guitar (March 30, 2019).

Founding member of The Last Hoisan Poets with Genny Lim & Flo Oy Wong. The poets who trace their roots to China’s Toisan villages, home of the Hoisan-wa (a.k.a. Toisanese/Taishanese) Chinese dialect, conduct special poetry readings in English and Hoisan-wa, to pay homage to their mother language which is at risk of fading from collective memory.
2021Writes her poem, “Women of the World,” for the “Remember Rosie Jiménez National Mobilization for Reproductive Justice and recites at the Bay Area rally and speakout.

Reads “It’s in the Blood” and performs excepts from Angel Island: Oratorio for Voices and Strings by Huang Ruo for Angel Island Insights, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at SF State.

Reads “The Seascape,” an Angel Island immigrant poems for the world premiere of Huang Ruo’s Angel Island: Oratorio for Voices and String Quartet at the Presidio Theatre (10/22) and on Angel Island on (10/23).
2022Recipient of the 2022 Reginald Lockett Lifetime Achievement Award, PEN Oakland.

Receives an invitation to present a talk at the “Intimate Lectures” series for the 2023 Asian American Literature Festival, hosted from Aug 4-6 in Washington, DC. On July 5th, AALF2023 was cancelled by the Smithsonian APA Center, resulting in an Open Letter to the Smithsonian, signed by thousands condemning the Smithsonian APAC’s decision to cancel the event, calling it “unprofessional and unacceptable.”
2023Reads her poem, “Blue,” which is included in The Revolutionary Poets Brigade anthology, Healing a Fractured World at the Beat Museum (Sept. 22)

“Being pregnant is a dream” is the featured poem for September 26, 2023 the Academy of American Poets Poem-A-Day.

Featured in Drawn From Life: The Creative Legacy of Flo Oy Wong, shortfilm, produced by Contemporary Asian Theatre Scene.

Participates in Zoom reading for Mitsuye Yamada’s 100th Birthday, hosted by San Francisco State University’s The Poetry Center and American Poetry Archives.
2024The Last Hoisan Poets conduct a special reading in the gallery of the Berkeley Art Center, for the opening reception of “In the Presence of: Collective Histories of the Asian American Women Artists Association,” curated by Christina Hiromi Hobbs, in celebration of AAWAA’s 35th anniversary.