UC Davis Today

Woman standing in stairwell

Celebrated writer illuminates the shadows

English professor Yiyun Li’s graceful tales of the human condition are drawing critical acclaim throughout the literary world.

Li — who grew up in Beijing, came to America to study medicine and entered the Iowa Writers’ Workshop after earning a master’s degree in immunology from the University of Iowa  — joins the likes of Joseph Conrad and Vladimir Nabokov in writing in English as a second language. She also is another inspiring author teaching at UC Davis, which is acclaimed for its writing programs.

“If you look at the world as a stage, a movie, I’m not interested in the main characters, the heroes,” Li recently told UC Davis Magazine. “I’m more interested in the extras. They occupy that space that I'm very curious about.”

Li has received wide praise for her two short story collections — A Thousand Years of Good Prayers and Gold Boy, Emerald Girl — as well as her novel, The Vagrants, set in late-1970s China. She was named one of the nation’s best young fiction writers by editors of The New Yorker and selected for a 2010 MacArthur Foundation “genius” award. She joined the UC Davis faculty in 2008.

(Photo of Yiyun Li in the Voorhies Hall stairwell by Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

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