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Writer, Teacher, and Mother of Two Wins "Genius" Fellowship

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A blog from: Poets & Writers Magazine

Posted by Prize Reporter on 9.28.10

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced yesterday the winners of its 2010 "Genius" Fellowships, among them one author. Lauded Chinese American fiction writer Yiyun Li, who struggled for several year with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to prove herself of the "extraordinary ability" required for citizenship, received the five-hundred-thousand-dollar award, given out-of-the-blue to innovators in all fields and "designed to provide an extra measure of freedom, visibility, and opportunity."

Li, an alumna of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and author of the story collections Gold Boy, Emerald Girl (Random House, 2010) and A Thousand Years of Good Prayers (Random House, 2005) and the novel The Vagrants (Random House, 2009), has previously won a Whiting Writers Award, the Plimpton Prize from the Paris Review, the Frank O'Hara International Short Story Award, and the Guardian First Book Award, among other honors. The mother of two and assistant professor at University of California in Davis told the Los Angeles Times that she anticipated the fellowship funds will allow her to focus more on writing and a little less on teaching.

Joining Li in this year's honor roll are twenty-two other "explorers and risk takers" including sign language linguist Carol Padden, type designer Matthew Carter, historian Annette Gordon-Reed, jazz pianist Jason Moran, and journalist and screenwriter David Simon, known for his work on the television series Homicide: Life on the Streets and The Wire. The complete list is posted on the MacArthur Foundation Web site.

Among the writers to have won the award in the past are John Ashbery, Edwidge Danticat, Ann Lauterbach, Jonathan Lethem, Heather McHugh, and David Foster Wallace.

In the video below, Li discusses her connection to Winnie the Pooh (which she read first as Willie Ille Pu—the Latin translation), happiness, and what authors she'd like to meet one-on-one.

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