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Yiyun Li
Yiyun Li grew up in Beijing, China, and went to the Unites States in 1996. She is the recipient of several prizes for her writing and an M.F.A. from The University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, Li's stories have been published in The New Yorker, The Paris Review and elsewhere. She lives in Iowa City with her husband and their two sons.
Although the themes about which you write are in many ways universal, they are all either set in China or about Chinese émigrés. What do you feel your stories offer to readers in the West?
I remember two incidents after the book came out: two older women, both Caucasian, came to me and said they really loved "Extra" and they both felt they could be Granny Lin in the story who fell in love with a six-year-old boy; a man once told me that after reading "Princess of Nebraska", he became more aware that a Chinese graduate student walking past him in the street might have been as troubled as an American, but he had never tried to look deeper into a foreigner for anything beyond their foreign-ness. It's my hope that my readers see that there is no difference between themselves and my characters, and the pains and joys we share are the same.
As a writer living and working in the West, do you feel a responsibility to write about your culture of origin, and if so, do you feel restricted by it?
I don't feel a responsibility to write about my own culture. I am not a spokesperson for any culture or any country, but only for my own characters.
Your stories are beautifully-crafted and in some ways resemble folk tales with modern metaphors and symbols. Are you aware of being influenced by traditional stories?
Immortality is more influenced by traditional stories than the rest of the stories in the collection, and that was what I set out to do--to retell a legend .
Which authors have most influenced your writing?
William Trevor is my biggest influence. I also love Isaac Babel, Bernard Malamud, and Ernest Hemingway.
Through reading A THOUSAND YEARS OF GOOD PRAYERS, a complex picture of a country in transition emerges. What is your attitude to the changes that are currently happening in China?
I am skipping this question as I don't feel I know enough to comment .
It's very surprising that, given your fluid prose style, English is not your first language. Why did you choose to write in English?
I had never written anything in Chinese, and did not feel I could write in Chinese, so there was not a choice when I started writing. It just happened English was the only other language I could use so it became my first language in writing.
Your talent and skill have been recognised both in the US and in Britain with literary awards. What have those prizes meant to you?
Awards and prizes are always happy news to a writer, but I am aware that for every prize or award I win there are many other qualified writers too. I feel grateful and lucky.
Yiyun Li

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