Theresa Hak Kyung Cha was born on March 4, 1951, in Busan, South Korea. A poet, performance, and multimedia artist, Cha was one of five children. Her family fled four invasions—first to Manchuria, then Seoul, and then to Busan, where Cha was born. They moved to San Francisco in 1963, when Cha was twelve. At age fourteen, she won a school poetry contest. Cha received her BA and MA in comparative literature and an MFA from the University of California, Berkeley, where she studied French, film theory, performance, and multimedia art.
Cha worked in many mediums—film, sculpture, photography, performance, and poetry among them. She was fluent in French, Korean, and English, and was heavily influenced by Marguerite Duras, Stéphane Mallarmé, Jean-Luc Godard, Samuel Beckett, and Carl Dreyer. She was the author of numerous art books and performances, as well as the poetry collection Dictee (Tanem Press, 1982) and the 1976 films Vidéoème and Permutations. She also edited the essay collection Apparatus: Cinematographic Apparatus: Selected Writings (Tanam Press, 1980).
Of her work, poet Timothy Yu says, “Dictee’s mix of narrative, poetry, and images destabilizes historical and biographical narratives in favor of a concentration on the workings of language.”
Cha moved to New York City in 1980, where she worked as an artist, editor, and writer. She was assaulted and murdered on November 5, 1982, one week after the publication of Dictee. Her work has been shown and studied as a cornerstone of contemporary literature and performance.