Within five years of
coming to America as an immunology student, Yiyun Li won the Paris Review’s
Plimpton prize, the first of many awards. Her first short story collection, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, won the inaugural Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award. She teaches in the
University of California at Davis’s Creative Writing Program and
lives with her family in Oakland, California.
with Yiyun Li
How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?
Yiyun Li: Many of the stories in Gold Boy, Emerald Girl were written while I was working on my novel, The Vagrants. I love to write stories and a novel at the same time, so when The Vagrants was finished, I had eight stories ready for a collection, and wrote two more, including a long story Kindness. So I would say the stories in the collection were written in four or five years.
have a collection in mind when you were writing them?
YL: No, I did not have a collection in mind, though I knew I would keep writing stories and somehow something would emerge.
you choose which stories to include and in what order?
stories in a collection is like arranging the guests at a dinner party
(though I never give dinner parties)--you would want the stories next
to each other to have something to talk about, though you would also
want some sort of tension between them so the conversation is not dull.
does the word "story"
mean to you?
A story starts with a situation (or a few situations), whether it is a
happy one, or a pleasant, or a sad, a distressful, a tragic one, and
the story is to explore the people around that situation so in the end
the situation may turn out as it appears, but oftentimes it turns out
to be the opposite.
Do you have a reader in mind when you write stories?
YL: No. I don't have a reader in my mind, though I do have stories in my mind to which I hope my stories will talk with.
anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection, anything at all?
YL: Oh, I don't know. I would ask them if they have questions for me.
TSR: How does
it feel knowing that people are buying your book?
The less one thinks about that the better! Writing is a very private
thing, and publishing is the opposite. Some writers are attracted to
the latter, I am not at all.
What are you working on now?
YL: A novel, and a few stories.
the three most recent short story collections you've read?
YL: The Rain Came Last & Other Stories by Niccolo Tucci;
Collected Stories by Elizabeth Bowen;
A Russian Affair by Anton Chekhov