News / Asia

Three Questions: China and Literature

Chinese-born writer Yiyun Li, who has just been awarded a prestigious fellowship from the MacArthur Foundation.
Chinese-born writer Yiyun Li, who has just been awarded a prestigious fellowship from the MacArthur Foundation.

For most people, it is only a dream to be called a genius and handed a big check. But in the United States, 23 people recently received a phone call announcing that dream had come true. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation hands out "genius" fellowships each year to assist people it determines are doing exceptional work. This year's recipients of the $500,000 "no strings attached" grant include a stone carver, a quantum astrophysicist, a jazz pianist and a high school physics teacher.

One of the winners is Chinese-born writer Yiyun Li, who grew up in Beijing and graduated from Peking University. She then headed to the University of Iowa in the United States to study science, but eventually enrolled in the school's prestigious creative writing program.  Li has written such critically acclaimed books as the short-story collections "Gold Boy, Emerald Girl" and "A Thousand Years of Good Prayers," as well as the novel "The Vagrants." Her fiction is set in both China and the United States.  VOA spoke to Yiyun Li in Oakland, California, where she lives with her husband and two sons.

Why did you pursue literature rather than science? And do you write in Mandarin, English or both?

I think that decision really came abruptly because just all of sudden I found that I just really loved writing and I wanted to give it a try. So I sort of just gave up my science career to try. And it worked out well. I only write in English, I never write in Chinese. I had never written in Chinese, and so when I started writing, I used English. So English actually is my first language in writing, so there's just that, I don't think I can write in Chinese, because I've never done that.

You write about China as well as the United States. Is it hard to write about a country in which you no longer live or perhaps easier.  And how has living in the United States impacted your writing?


I think it is easier. To many writers, or at least to me, I think that physical distance between me and my subject often times provides another layer where you can have more space to think and to process things.

I don't think living in America per se influenced my writing, although it is in America that I have become a writer. So in that case, America is where I became a writer. I like that in America I'm left alone more than in China, so I like that.

Has your writing changed over the years, and what do you hope to portray in your writing?

Writing is like you grow up, It's just how you grow up, or to become more mature. I do think my writing has of course matured a little over the past five years. [I hope to portray] human nature. Often times I forget my characters are Chinese or American because when you write about their inner world, it doesn't matter what ethnicity or which countries they belong to. Really, it's just how they feel about things and how they see the world. And often times, I think that comes with human nature, so that's my hope, just to portray human nature.

You May Like

Nigeria Incumbent in Tight Spot as Poll Nears

Muhammadu Buhari is running a strong challenge to Goodluck Jonathan, amid a faltering economy and Boko Haram security worries More

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo tells VOA that despite her fame, life is still a struggle as she waits for government's promise of support to arrive More

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

At least seven different indigenous groups in Ratanakiri depend mainly on forest products for their survival, say they face loss of their land, traditional way of life More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More