Yiyun Li

Yiyun Li masterfully explores the landscape of loss with delicacy and precision, restoring the fractured lives of ordinary people on the margins, endowing them with agency and power.

Born in Beijing, China, Yiyun Li is the author of four novels, two short story collections, and a memoir. Li started writing in English in her twenties, and from the beginning of her career her work has earned praise for its formal beauty, imaginative daring, and intense interest in both the small flames of ordinary lives and the sweeping fires of political and social change. Her first novel, The Vagrants (2007), paints a portrait of a provincial Chinese town at a moment of crisis, with a young woman about to be executed as a counter-revolutionary. In recent years, she has continued to write about the complex and often difficult relationship between personal freedom and political agency. Kinder Than Solitude (2014) follows a group of friends after the Tiananmen Square protests; Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life (2017), an essay collection, is both an examination of the exterior forces that power Li’s writing—literary, personal, and political—and an interrogation of selfhood. In all her work, Li displays a piercing clarity of vision, and a committed, sometimes painful empathy for individuals and for the fragile bonds between them. A former fellow of the MacArthur (2010) and Whiting (2006) Foundations, among many other honors, Li is a professor of Creative Writing at Princeton University. Her work has been translated into more than twenty languages.

Writing is a solitary activity; each book is a message sent out in a bottle. And one day a phone call, coming out of the blue, tells an astonishing story of those bottles' journey not known to the sender: they have arrived, and they are in good hands. Words cannot express my gratitude to the Windham Campbell Prizes—your generosity and confidence will make a huge difference to my career. YIYUN LI