Chinese-American fiction writer Yiyun Li will read from her much-praised new novel "Kinder Than Solititude" (Random House) tonight at 7 p.m. at Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center, 341 Delaware Avenue ( at Tupper Street) as sponsored by Talking Leaves Books and the Brooklyn-based literary magazine A Public Space. A question-and-answer session and book signing with Ms. Li will follow the reading. The event is free and open to the public.
Li, a Beijing native who came to the United States in 1996 to study immunology at the University of Iowa, but eventually found her way into the Iowa Writers Workshop, is the author of two story collections and two novels. Her debut story collection "A Thousand Years of Good Prayers" (Random House, 2005) won both the PEN/Hemingway Award for fiction and the 2005 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, and inspired immediate comparisons of her work to that of Chekhov and Alice Munro. Two of the stories from the collection were adapted into 2007 films, one ("The Princess of Nebraska") directed by Wayne Wang and the title story, for which Li herself wrote the screenplay.
Her first novel, "The Vagrants" was set in 1979 during the vestigial stages of the Chinese Cultural Revolution in a provincial industrial town called Muddy River, and was framed by the public denunciation and execution of two women deemed as counterrevolutionary by the shifting ideologies of the Communist Party. Far from being a purely political novel, though, it was a finely-crafted and shifting, almost minimalist approach toward the effects the betrayals and brutality had upon family, community, and the inner lives of Chinese citizens of that era.
Li's second story collection "Gold Boy, Emerald Girl" (Random House, 2010) won her an even wider readership and comparisons to an even more diverse range of classic international short story masters, from Guy de Maupassant to the writer she herself has cited as her own greatest influence, the Irish novelist, playwright and short story writer William Trevor.
She was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant in 2010, and named to both Granta's Best Writers Under 35 in 2007 and The New Yorker's 20 under 40 in 2010. She lives in Oakland and teaches at the University of California, Davis.
Her new novel "Kinder Than Solitude" is set in both the China of 1990's and contemporary China and the United States. It follows the trajectory of three characters--a man and two women--who were involved in the poisoning and twenty-three year coma of a fourth woman acquaintance in the China of that earlier era, but escaped from detection as perpetrators of the crime, except to one another. Following the death of the poisoning victim, they re-establish contact to survey, along with the reader, the damage their secret has wrought on their lives and futures. Like all of Li's writing, the book has been hailed for its subtlety and understatement: her ability to insinuate her narrative voice into that of her characters without seemingly fixing them to the page. There is always a certain sense of mystery and indeterminacy to her characters. As a reader, you can't know them fully, but that's precisely why you want to.
Ms. Li's reading tonight at Hallwalls is co-sponsored by A Public Space, the Brooklyn-based literary magazine founded and edited by Buffalo native Brigid Hughes, the former Executive Editor of The Paris Review and immediate successor to founder George Plimpton at the magazine. A Public Space was named Best New Literary Magazine by The Village Voice in December 2006 and Ms. Hughes received the prestigious PEN/Nora Magid Award for Magazine Editing for "her commitment to quality literature and for her larger purpose" in 2011. Ms. Li is a contributing editor to the magazine.