Hualing Nieh Engle (1925) was born in Hubei, China, and grew up in the shadows of the Sino-Japanese and Chinese civil wars. At the age of nine, she experienced the death of her father, who was executed as an official of Chiang Kai-shek's government. Hualing Nieh Engle graduated with a degree in English from the western languages department of the National Central University in 1948.
Following the Communist takeover, her family relocated to Taiwan, where she became a literary editor and member of the editorial board of the Free China Fortnightly, a liberal intellectual magazine. She also taught creative writing courses at Taipei's two major universities, National Taiwan and Tung-hai, where she was the first faculty member to teach creative writing in Chinese.
There she published a novel and several short story collections, translated Henry James and William Faulkner into Chinese, and in 1963 met her future husband, Paul Engle, then director of the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. Paul Engle, who was on a trip to research the contemporary literary scene in Asia, invited her to attend the Writers' Workshop, and she came to Iowa City in 1964 as the first Chinese writer to attend the program. Two years later she earned her MFA while teaching Chinese Literature in the Program for Asian Studies at the University of Iowa.
Hualing Nieh Engle retired in 1988. She is since an emeritus professor at the University of Iowa’s Department of English, and serves as a member of the IWP Advisory Board. In 2008, she was inducted into the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame.