Kitty Tsui was born in Hong Kong in 1952 and spent her childhood there and in London before moving with her family to San Francisco in 1968.
Kitty got her first writing byline as a young teen in the South China Morning Post. Her activism also began young. At 17 years old, she made the decision to attend San Francisco State instead of the more overtly prestigious UC Berkeley after watching students there go toe-to-toe with mounted cops in their battle for an ethnic studies department. While studying creative writing at SF State, Kitty established the Third World Poetry Series featuring poets like Roberto Vargas, Victor Hernandez Cruz, and Jessica Hagedorn, and studied with feminist and activist Sally Gearhart. It was around that time that Kitty came out as a lesbian.
In 1981, Kitty was a founding member of Unbound Feet, a female performance group challenging stereotypes about Asian women. It was widely recognized as a catalyst for the Asian-Pacific Islander feminist and lesbian movements in San Francisco.
In 1983, Kitty published her first book of poetry and prose, The Words of a Woman Who Breathes Fire. It was the first book ever published by a Chinese-American lesbian. Kitty’s second book, Breathless: Erotica came out in 1996 and won a Firecracker Alternative Book Award. Her third book, Sparks Fly, was written by her alter ego Eric Norton, a gay leatherman living in pre-AIDS San Francisco.
Kitty has also been a bodybuilder. In 1986, she won a bronze medal for women’s physique at the second Gay Games, held in San Francisco. Four years later, at the Gay Games in Vancouver, she brought home the gold medal at the age of 38. Bringing together her physical and literary prowess, Kitty became the first Asian-American woman to appear on the cover of the lesbian erotica magazine On Our Backs.
Through the years, Kitty’s poetry and prose has been collected in dozens of anthologies. In 2016, she received the Phoenix Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Asian Pacific Islander Queer Women and Transgender Community.
Today, Kitty lives in Long Beach, California with her German shorthaired pointer Beaux. We had to schedule her OUTWORDS interview in April 2017 around the Long Beach Grand Prix, which roars past her windows every spring. Fortunately, the rest of the time, the neighborhood is quiet, a good place for an introspective poet who has relentlessly redefined what Chinese women do and don’t do.