Alexander Chee's father was from Korea, while his mother was from the United States.
Alexander Chee was born on September 21, 1967, in South Kingstown, Rhode Island, United States. He is a son of Jane, a schoolteacher, and Choung Tai Chee, engineer and oceanographer. The first three years he lived in Korea, in his grandfather's house in Seoul, before moving to Truk, Hawaii, Guam, then Maine. His father's family in Korea keeps traditions they brought with them from China in the 15th Century that the Chinese no longer keep; they use an archaic Chinese script in the keeping of the family's records. When Alexander Chee was a child, he became an inveterate bookworm: he read constantly, whether it was science fiction novels like Frank Herbert's Dune, or Cheever's The Wapshot Chronicle. As a kid, he wanted to be a fashion designer.