Maya Lin is the world-renowned architect of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, and one of the most important public artists of this century. Her parents fled China just before the Communist takeover in 1949, eventually settling in Athens, Ohio, where both became professors at Ohio University. Her mother wrote poetry and taught literature; her father, a ceramic artist, became the Dean of Fine Arts.
As a 21-year-old architecture student at Yale, Lin designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial as a class project, then entered it in the largest design competition in American history. Her striking proposal, a V-shaped wall of black stone, etched with the names of 58,000 dead soldiers, beat out the submissions of 1,420 other entrants. She encountered ferocious criticism when her unconventional design was selected. Feelings were running so high that her name was not even mentioned at the dedication of the memorial in 1982. She coped with the painful controversy by returning to Yale as a graduate student. Her inspiring vision has since become the most-visited memorial in the nation’s capital. The families of the fallen leave mementos at the wall, and veterans maintain a constant vigil there.