Congratulations to Chinese fiction writer Yiyun Li on having been named one of 23 MacArthur Fellows for 2010. Commonly referred to as the "genius grants," the MacArthur Fellowships are awarded annually by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to "talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction," and come with a no-strings attached grant of $500,000 awarded over a period of five years.
For Li, a recent visitor to the Asia Society, the MacArthur Fellowship continues an unlikely journey from mainland China to the center of American literary life. Li came to the United States to study immunology at the University of Iowa, where she discovered that what she really wanted to do was write fiction—in English. Fortutiously, the university is home to one of the best-known MFA programs in the United States; and the result has been a string of well-received books like her novel The Vagrants and the just-published short story collection Gold Boy, Emerald Girl.
The MacArthur Foundation's official Fellows announcement page cites Li for "dramatizing the myriad effects of late-twentieth-century China's sweeping social changes in a deeply moving, yet quietly understated, style of storytelling." Here's hoping the MacArthur moolah allows her to keep writing, and publishing, without having to contemplate a return to immunology anytime soon.