Stories that touch our hearts

Yiyun Li

Yiyun Li

Field: English

Highest degree: Master of fine arts in creative writing

Learning English was part of Yiyun Li’s teenage rebellion.

Li grew up in the China of the 1970s where the study of English was almost a subversive act. But she persevered in her love of language — and today she is a professor of English and powerful fiction writer whose stories, set both in China and the United States, draw readers into compelling explorations of her characters’ struggles.

Li is unafraid of bold decisions — and charting new creative paths. After moving from China to the United States in 1996 to pursue a graduate degree in immunology at the University of Iowa, Li switched her studies to her adopted language of English. Her rise as a writer was meteoric. 

Her 2005 debut story collection A Thousand Years of Good Prayers earned her comparisons with Anton Chekhov and Alice Munro, and she drew rave reviews in 2009 for her first novel, The Vagrants, which centers on the 1979 execution of a counterrevolutionary in China. Her second novel, Gold Boy, Emerald Girl, was published in 2010 to wide acclaim.

That same year Li was selected for a MacArthur “genius” award, one of the most prestigious fellowships in the country, and the editors of The New Yorker chose her as one of 20 American fiction writers under age 40 who exemplify the best of their generation — a high honor from one of the nation’s most esteemed literary magazines.

“I love language and I love writing. I’m fascinated by people, and I like to tell their stories,” Li says.

Now, tell us your story

Tell us why UC Davis is the one for you, or share a story about someone in the UC Davis community who inspires you. This story could be featured on banners, posters, social media and elsewhere.

Wildlife Watchguard

Kristen Gilardi

Kirsten Gilardi


Co-director, the Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center

Impact: Developing health programs to protect and conserve wildlife and ecosystems

Veterinarian Kirsten Gilardi knows what it takes to protect all creatures great and small — endangered mountain gorillas, sea birds, marine mammals and more. At the Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center, she approaches health problems with the understanding that we’re all connected as “one.”

Growing up in Davis, Gilardi’s childhood was spent visiting horse barns and attending Picnic Day. She came back to UC Davis after college to attend veterinary school. Now a School of Veterinary Medicine faculty member and leading proponent of the One Health approach — that the health of people, animals and the environment are intrinsically linked — she says she’s been shaped by UC Davis in more ways than she ever would have imagined.

“Our university is at the national and international forefront, whether it’s delivering health care for people and animals, developing new technologies and methods for feeding and transporting people, or advancing our understanding of how ecosystems function and what’s required to conserve them,” Gilardi points out. “That’s what I love about UC Davis.” 

Though she’s proud of her role in developing wildlife and ecosystem health programs through the School of Veterinary Medicine, Gilardi is quick to point out that her work is collaborative. “My colleagues at the vet school’s Wildlife Health Center, who are both mentors and friends, are absolutely 100 percent the motivation and inspiration for the work I do here.” 

Photo: Rob Hilsenroth