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University of Iowa News Release

Sept. 30, 2005

O'Connor Award-winning UI Writers' Workshop Alumna Yiyun Li Reads Oct. 14

Fiction writer Yiyun Li, a recent graduate of the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, will read from her acclaimed first collection of stories, "A Thousand Years of Good Prayers," at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 14 on the "Live from Prairie Lights" series on UI radio station WSUI, AM 910.

The reading, hosted by WSUI's Julie Englander, will be a free event in the Prairie Lights bookstore at 15 S. Dubuque St. in downtown Iowa City. Listen on the Internet at

"A Thousand Years of Good Prayers" was recently honored with the largest short story prize in the world, the inaugural Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, sponsored by O'Flynn Construction in Ireland and including a cash prize of 50,000 Euros.

Val McDermid, chair of the O'Connor Award jury, said, "When it came down to the wire, we had three books in front of us, each of which had a passionate advocate in the room. After vigorous discussions we were all agreed that 'A Thousand Years of Good Prayers' by Yiyun Li was the winner. It demonstrates an admirable command of the short story form, revealing moments of extraordinary brilliance along the way. It is a collection with a sense of history as well as humanity."

Li, a native of Beijing, came to the United States in 1996 with minimal skills in English. Less than a decade later, her writing in English has been published in major periodicals, including The New Yorker, Ploughshares and the Paris Review, and she is being hailed as a major new voice in English-language literature.

In announcing the O'Connor Award, named for Ireland's leading exponent of the short story, the city of Cork's "Cork 2005" cultural program explained, "Brilliant and original, 'A Thousand Years of Good Prayers' introduces a remarkable new writer whose stories are set in China and among Chinese Americans in the United States. In this rich collection, Yiyun Li illuminates how mythology, politics, history and culture intersect with personality to create fate. From the bustling heart of Beijing, to a fast-food restaurant in Chicago, to the barren expanse of Inner Mongolia, 'A Thousand Years of Good Prayers' reveals worlds both foreign and familiar, with heartbreaking honesty and in beautiful prose."

A starred review in Publishers Weekly proclaimed that the book, "a beautifully executed debut collection of 10 stories, explores the ravages of the Cultural Revolution on modern Chinese, both in China and America. . . . Li deftly weaves a political message into her human portrait. . . . These are powerful stories that encapsulate tidily epic grief and longing."

A review in the San Francisco Chronicle celebrated the author's arrival: "American readers can now celebrate that one of the best new fiction writers of the year learned English as a second language. Even when you employ the highest standard, which is to say, the Nabokovian standard, you have to admit that her book seems to be an extraordinary feat of intelligence and style."

And Pulitzer Prize-winning Writers' Workshop faculty member Marilynne Robinson commented, "With great tenderness, tact and humor, these stories open a world that is culturally remote from us, and at the same time as humanly intimate as if its people were our own family and their thoughts the thoughts that lie nearest our own hearts."

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STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Winston Barclay, 319-384-0073,