Hualing Nieh Engle calls herself a tree, with roots in China, the trunk in Taiwan, and the many leaves in Iowa, USA. Born and raised in wartime China, she left Wuhan in 1949 for peace in Taipei, and then left for the United States in 1964, for love.
Now 86 years old, Nieh has authored 24 books. Her memoir The Images of Three Lives and her novels The Lost Golden Cicada (1960) and Mulberry Green and Peach Pink (1976) have been particularly influential.
Nieh also initiated the world-renowned International Writing Program in Iowa, USA, with her husband the poet Paul Engle, in 1967.
For almost three years, I filmed Nieh as she traveled the globe. Originally, the film was to feature both Nieh and her husband, but before I could start, Paul Engle died. His epitaph reads, “I cannot move mountains, but I can make light.”
And how both Nieh and Paul have created light. They brought writers together from all over the world to experience other literatures and languages and in 1979 enabled writers from Mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong to meet after three decades of virtual isolation. Nieh and Paul were nominated by more than 300 writers for the Nobel Peace Prize. I have known Nieh for more than forty years. I call her Auntie Nieh. I see charisma and understatement. I see a generous friend who is frugal with herself. I see a firm tree, but also a person who sees herself as an outsider everywhere – in Wuhan, Taipei and Iowa. I see a pacifist who loves to laugh.