Lin was born in Athens, Ohio, to parents who encouraged her to explore
the arts. Maya’s father was an artist who made ceramic sculptures;
her mother was a professor of literature at Ohio State University.
Trying out various artistic endeavors came naturally to Maya.
When she was in grade school and high school,
Maya was a serious student who spent lots of time alone, reading
and hiking. She also experimented with different artistic forms,
including silver smithing and bronze casting.
graduating from high school, Maya Lin went to Yale University, where
she studied architecture.
While a senior at Yale, Maya entered a national
competition to create a memorial for veterans of the Vietnam War.
The war, which finally ended in 1975 after more than a decade of
conflict, had been very unpopular. Many people had protested the
United States government’s participation in it, and those who were
soldiers often felt angered and betrayed by the unpopularity back
home of the war they were fighting. It wasn’t a happy time for the
United States because opinions about the country’s actions were
After the war, it took a long time for the
bad feelings to heal. Veterans of the war wanted to create a monument
to those who had died in combat and established a competition to
see who would create it. The monument, the veterans felt, would
be a way to help bring the country back together.
In entering the competition, Maya was competing
with some of the best known and most highly regarded architects
and sculptors in the country. Remarkably, her design was chosen
from among 1,420 entries as the winner of the competition. Her idea
consisted of a black granite wall inscribed with the names of the
nearly 58,000 American servicemen and women who died fighting the
The monument has become one of the most
visited sights in Washington, D.C., and has earned a reputation
as a place of great emotion and healing. But at the time of her
selection as the winner of the design competition, some veterans
and their families expressed dissatisfaction with her ideas. They
felt the design’s simplicity and starkness recalled the controversy
over the war rather than the heroism of those who fought it. Protesters
petitioned for another design — they wanted a more traditional memorial
— and eventually a bronze sculpture of three servicemen with an
American flag by sculptor Frederick Hart was placed 120 feet away
from Maya Lin’s wall.
Maya Lin was only 21 years old when she
won the competition to create the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. After
she graduated with honors from Yale in 1981, she coordinated the
construction of the monument. But the negative publicity surrounding
her design — much of which was directed at her as well as at the
monument — had taken its toll. She dropped out of graduate school
and went to work at an architectural firm, where she would draw
Eventually, though, she returned to school
and received a master’s degree in architecture. She began working
on both sculpture and architecture and went on to create several
other outstanding public memorials and works of art.
with permission, from “Asian American Biography, Vol. 1” by Helen
Zia and Susan B. Gall (Gale?), eds. (New York: UXL/Gale Research Inc.),
1995, pages 180-183.