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

Video VOA ‘Town Hall’ Shines Light on Ebola Crisis

Experts call for greater speed in identification and treatment of deadly disease More

UN Rights Commission Investigates Eritrea

Three-member commission will start collecting first-hand information from victims and other witnesses in Switzerland and Italy next week More

Funding Program Helps Extremely Poor in Ghana

Broad objective for Ghana's social cash transfer program is to lessen the impact of poverty on the most vulnerable people, elderly, orphans, those with disabilities 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.
Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concernsi
X
November 19, 2014 11:39 PM
The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.
Video

Video What Jon Stewart Learned About Iran From 'Rosewater'

Jon Stewart, host of the satirical news program "The Daily Show" talks with Saman Arbabi of Voice of America's Persian service about Stewart's directorial debut, "Rosewater."
Video

Video Lebanese Winemakers Thrive Despite War Next Door

In some of the most volatile parts of Lebanon, where a constant flow of refugees crosses the border from Syria, one industry continues to flourish against the odds. Lebanese winemakers say after surviving a brutal civil war in the 1970s and 80s, they can survive anything. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon.
Video

Video China's Rise Closely Watched

China’s role as APEC host this week allowed a rare opportunity for Beijing to showcase its vision for the global economy and the region. But as China’s stature grows, so have tensions with other countries, including the United States. VOA’s Bill Ide in Beijing reports on how China’s rise as a global power is seen among Chinese and Americans.

All About America

AppleAndroid