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Fox Spirit on a Distant Cloud

By Lee Murray

Wellington, 1923, and a sixty-year-old woman hangs herself in a scullery; ten years later another woman 'falls' from the second floor of a Taranaki tobacconist; soon afterwards a young mother in Taumarunui slices the throat of her newborn with a cleaver. All are women of the Chinese diaspora, who came to Aotearoa for a new life and suffered isolation and prejudice in silence. Chinese Pakeha writer Lee Murray has taken the nine-tailed fox spirit huli jing as her narrator to inhabit the skulls of these women and others like them and tell their stories. Fox Spirit on a Distant Cloud is an audacious blend of biography, mythology, horror and poetry that transcends genre to illuminate lives in the shadowlands of our history.

The Cuba Press / Cover by Kim Lowe

Winner of the 2023 NZSA Laura Solomon Cuba Press Prize
Supported by the Grimshaw Sargeson Trust

Early Praise

“Reading Lee Murray’s Fox Spirit on a Distant Cloud is a full-body experience: your pulse races and your skin prickles in response to the searing and visceral imagery, and the heaviness of the injustices that Murray describes feels like weights wrapped around your ankles.” —New Zealand Poet Laureate Chris Tse for The Spinoff.


“Lee Murray’s Fox Spirit on a Distant Cloud is historical fantasy, vivid truth in myth, pain and redemption in the mournful song of a literary maestro. Though written to encapsulate the Asian female experience, it transcends to the very depths of suffering, beauty, and life where we all stand irrevocably human, irrevocably one.” —Jamal Hodge, writer, poet, director

“In this luminously transcendent page-turner, Murray proves herself a deftly magical storyteller, one equally adept at rendering savagery and revelation. This daring fusion of archival history, Chinese fantasy, and poetic invention will stun the reader like a divine revelation and haunt them like their own strange and unforgettable dream.” —Yi Izzy Yu, acclaimed author of The Shadow Book of Ji Yun

“Multi-award-winning author Lee Murray conveys a unique way of storytelling with her extraordinary ability to blend heart-wrenching facts with imagination, personal experience, family, and even the nine-tailed fox spirit. Murray’s flawless structuring weaves invisible threads to connect each piece. An important work of prose-poetry that I hope will empower Asian women who have remained quiet to come forward and be seen and heard.” —Cindy O’Quinn, four-time Bram Stoker-nominated writer, and an Elgin, Rhysling, and Dwarf Star-nominated poet.

“This collection masterfully combines prose and poetry to reveal the loneliness, the desperation, and the strength of Asian women through the ages. By peeling back the curtains of multiple lives, Murray not only enables the reader to have a deeper understanding of what it means to be a Chinese woman in New Zealand, but the way that Murray weaves each tale draws the reader into the story, so she isn’t simply experiencing a narrative: Murray’s prose enables a greater understanding of what it means to be an Asian woman. Each story layers on top of the previous one, resulting in a stunning work. Five out of five stars in complex, layered, and stellar works.” —Lisa Diane Kastner, author and publisher at Running Wild and RIZE Presses, nominated among Ten Women to Watch in 2021 by New York Weekly.

“Enter the realm of Lee Murray’s collection, Fox Spirit on a Distant Cloud, “where mountains are sculpted from dragonfly wings and the sky is smudged with plum petals.” In the shifting light of prose-poetry, a palace is filled with voices as stories materialize into these spacious rooms. Through the húli jīng, a nine-tailed fox spirit and our narrator, Murray binds the intimate with the expansive. This is a place where women, once silenced, arise. Articulated from the experiences of New Zealand’s Chinese diaspora, these connections and visions transcend their origins. An echoing refrain appears of “Some things you knew already. Some things you knew before you were born; they were revealed to you in the rhythm of your mother’s heartbeat and in the echoes of her sighs.” And wave on wave / fading to shallows, the soils we readers carry within us, the readers, are stirred. Where so many women have been told, “Girls have no business with silver dreams,” Murray fashions such expressions of feminine strength, as if…


through the mānuka bushes / a glint on the lake


Fox Spirit on a Distant Cloud is a triumph. The collection is an ancestral metaphor illuminating what it means to be a Chinese immigrant and a descendant of the diaspora. It is also a revelation of what it means to be adaptable creators, to be women whose voices are rising today with hope and agility.” —L. E. Daniels, awarded poet, editor and author

“Shards of history are mortared in myth to produce repeating patterns of isolation, deprivation and abuse. And yet, the whole is beautiful. Lee Murray has produced a deeply imaginative, empathic work of redress, giving voice to the voiceless Difficulties of a past not nearly distant enough.” —Kyla Lee Ward, award-winning author of The Macabre Modern and This Attraction Now Open Till Late.


Fox Spirit on a Distant Cloud speaks to the liminal spaces between mothers and daughters, the white noise the ancestor spirits leave in our heads, and how their ghosts embrace us decades after their bodies have crumbled to dust. With a deft hand, it crafts tales of triumph and trauma. In this series of emotionally touching prose poems, Lee Murray deftly intertwines the Chinese mythological figure of the nine-tailed celestial fox with real-life tales by Chinese women who have immigrated to New Zealand. These stories are both unique and enlightening cultural anecdotes and relatable tales rooted in the deeper pathos of the human condition.”—Sumiko Saulson, Bram Stoker-nominated author of The Rat King: A Book of Dark Prose and Poetry.


“Set within the recognisable beauty and savagery of New Zealand land-and-townscapes, inspired by tragic histories, Lee Murray weaves together shapeshifting fox mythology and darkly compelling tales of Chinese diasporic women of Aotearoa. ‘You don’t belong here, don’t belong, don’t belong, don’t belong…’ the atua whisper, and yet in Murray’s sumptuous prose, English, te reo and Chinese coalesce. Silenced voices – bloodied, broken – cry from the margins. Lest we forget.”—Alison Wong

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