- Presidential Address
President of the Society of Biblical Literature 2019
Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature
23 November 2019
San Diego, California
Introduction given by Adele Reinhartz
Vice President, Society of Biblical Literature
As you will all have noticed, Gale’s first name is not spelled in the conventional way—GAIL—but GALE. This was not an error on her parents’ part but rather a tribute to the 1950s TV actor Josephine Owaissa Cottle, whose stage name was Gale Storm. I was reminded of this association in reading some of Gale’s recent and forthcoming publications, in which she refers to herself delightfully as an Asian American Woman Warrior from the slums.1 “Gale Storm” and “Warrior” are apt metaphors for Gale Yee’s palpable impact on the field of biblical studies. At the same time, anyone who knows Gale will agree that her warrior activities are undertaken not with violence but with gentle persuasion, kindness, humor, humility, and generosity both material and spiritual.
First, a quick summary of Gale’s career trajectory. After completing a BA in English literature and an MA in New Testament at Loyola University of Chicago, Gale moved to Toronto for doctoral studies in Hebrew Bible at St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto. Even before graduation, she began a full-time teaching position in the Department of Theology at the University of St. Thomas, in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where she taught for about fourteen years. In 1998, she moved to Episcopal Divinity School, where she held the title of Nancy W. King Professor of Biblical Studies and taught until her retirement in 2017. Throughout she has held [End Page 3] numerous volunteer leadership positions in the Catholic Biblical Association and, especially, in the Society of Biblical Literature. In addition to serving on the steering committees of several SBL program units and on the editorial boards of Semeia and other SBL publications, Gale was among the founding members and active leaders in two important SBL committees: the Committee for Underrepresented Racial and Ethnic Minorities in the Profession and the Committee for the Status of Women in the Profession. Outside of the SBL, she is active in the Ethnic Chinese Bible Colloquium; the Pacific, Asian and North American Asian Women in Theology and Ministry; and a range of community committees as well. At the same time, Gale has carried on an active research and publication career, with countless conference presentations and invited lectures, journal articles, book chapters, and editorial projects, as well as three monographs and nine edited or coedited volumes. Gale has a long list of grants, fellowships, and honors, including—just last night—when Gale was celebrated by the Association of Asian North American Theological Educators, and, of course, this evening, as our president, and, I might add, the first Asian American woman and the first woman of color to be the SBL president. It’s about time!
In recent publications, Gale has reflected on the ways in which her academic career and commitments emerged from and feed back into her own upbringing and identities. Gale is a third-generation Asian American, the oldest in a family of twelve children raised in the slums of Chicago in what she describes as a patriarchal Chinese household. Gale was the first in her family to graduate from college and also the first to earn a doctorate. In her own words, the holy trinity of gender, race, and class put her outside the mainstream of American society. Gale’s compelling contribution to the volume on women in the SBL, edited by Nicole Tilford, describes her gradual integration of these three elements through her academic work. Gale’s involvement with feminist and rhetorical biblical criticism came through the work of Phyllis Trible and was sharpened by the experience of being the only woman on the faculty at a traditional Roman Catholic college. More recently she has turned her attention to matters of race and class, commitments that are evident both in her scholarship and in her professional and personal activities especially with Asian and Asian American groups and committees. Gale’s current...