October 31, 2014

Author Yiyun Li: Conversations from the Sun Valley Writers’ Conference

Yiyun Li

Marcia Franklin talks with award-winning Chinese-American author Yiyun Li about her works, the most recent of which is Kinder Than Solitude. The novel follows three former friends whose lives are forever entangled by a fatal poisoning one of them may have committed.

Li is also the author of another novel, The Vagrants, and two collections of short stories: Gold Boy, Emerald Girl, and A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, which won a PEN/Hemingway Award, the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, and the Guardian First Book Award. Two of the stories in A Thousand Years of Good Prayers were adapted into films directed by Wayne Wang.

Li, who came to the U.S. in 1996, was originally studying to be an immunologist, but fell in love with creative writing when she was getting her Ph.D. at the University of Iowa. She went on to receive an MFA in creative nonfiction from that institution, and an MFA in fiction from the Iowa Writers' Workshop.

Her spare, beautiful and often dark prose has earned her the nickname of "the Chinese Chekhov." In addition to numerous awards for her short stories and fiction, she's the recipient of a MacArthur "Genius" grant. Her stories and essays have appeared in The New Yorker and the Paris Review. Li is also a contributing editor of A Public Space, a literary magazine. She teaches at the University of California, Davis.

Franklin talks with Li about why she decided to change her career path, the themes in her books, why she only writes in English, and the influence of author and Idaho native Marilynne Robinson on her work.

The interview is part of Dialogue's ongoing "Conversations from the Sun Valley Writers' Conference" and was taped at the 2014 conference. Since 1995, the conference has been bringing together authors to discuss literature and life. Marcia Franklin has interviewed speakers there since 2005. This year's, and previous years', conversations can be found at the Dialogue Sun Valley Writers site.