Conversation: Yiyun Li, Fiction Writer and Winner of the 2010 MacArthur Fellowship

BY Jeffrey Brown  September 28, 2010 at 2:47 PM EDT

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“When you write in your second language, you bypass a lot of history with the language,” says Yiyun Li, a writer and professor who was named one of 23 new MacArthur Fellows on Tuesday. “And I feel more liberated writing in English than in Chinese.”

Born in Beijing, Li came to the United States in 1996 to complete a doctoral program in immunology, but decided then to change her career path and instead do something that was more important to her.

“I knew…that I could be a good scientist, but I loved writing more than science. So somehow I thought I would just pursue my dream.”

The author of “A Thousand Years of Good Prayers” and “The Vagrants,” her latest work is a short story collection called “Gold Boy, Emerald Girl.”

 
I talked with Yiyun Li today by phone:

 
Editor’s Note: You can read more about this year’s MacArthur Fellows here. A full transcript will be posted shortly.