Translator Brings Poetry of Nobel Peace Laureate Liu Xiaobo to U.S.

BY Mike Melia  December 9, 2010 at 3:48 PM EST

A poster of Chinese dissident and peace prize laureate Liu Xiaobo. Photo: Odd Andersen/ AFP/ Getty Images

On Friday, Liu Xiaobo will formally receive the Nobel Peace Prize at a ceremony in Oslo, Norway. But Mr. Liu will not be attending the event. He was arrested in June of 2009 and remains in prison in China under the charge of “inciting subversion of state power.”

Liu is a writer, literary critic and activist who has repeatedly been arrested and imprisoned for his calls for a more open and democratic government. He is the co-author of Charter 08, a declaration calling for major political reforms and increased human rights. That publication sparked the crackdown that led to his latest arrest. Much of Liu’s work — poetry as well as political writing — has been banned and destroyed by authorities.

“The circumstances of trying to read him are difficult, pretty much impossible in China, because he hasn’t been able to publish there,” says translator Jeffrey Yang.

On Thursday, Graywolf Press announced it will publish the first ever English translation of Liu’s poetry. The book, “June Fourth Elegies,” is slated to be released in 2012, edited by Jeffrey Yang. It will be the first major exposure to an international readership that Liu’s poetry has received.

Listen to an interview with translator Jeffrey Yang:

The June Fourth Elegies is a book, twenty years in the making, that tries to keep alive the memory of the violent crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in Tienanmen Square on June 4, 1989. Each poem in the collection was written by Liu on or around the anniversary of that date, in subsequent years from 1990 to 2009.

“It is a really carefully structured book,” Yang said. “They [the poems] are very intense. They are actually pain-filled poems in many ways.”

The New York Times published one of Liu’s poems in its Op-Ed section Thursday. “Experiencing Death,” is a personal reflection about being arrested. Translated by Yang, it begins:

I had imagined being there beneath sunlight with the procession of martyrs using just the one thin bone to uphold a true conviction

Listen to Yang introduce and read “Experiencing Death”: