April 7, 2021

Creative Writing Professor Yiyun Li Receives 2021 Arts and Letters Award in Literature

Professor of Creative Writing Yiyun Li has been named a recipient of a 2021 Arts and Letters Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Li is among 18 writers who will receive literature awards this year.

The Academy’s literature prizes, totaling $600,000, honor both established and emerging writers of fiction, nonfiction, drama, and poetry. The Academy’s members propose candidates, and a rotating committee of writers selects winners. Other recipients this year include the writers Chang-rae Lee, Layli Long Soldier, Laura Van Den Berg, Douglas Stuart, Kate DiCamillo, C Pam Zhang, and others.

The American Academy of Arts and Letters was founded in 1898 as an honor society of the country’s leading architects, artists, composers, and writers. Early members include William Merritt Chase, Childe Hassam, Julia Ward Howe, Henry James, Theodore Roosevelt, John Singer Sargent, Mark Twain, Edith Wharton, and others. Current Lewis Center faculty members Hilton Als, Jhumpa Lahiri, Paul Muldoon and Tracy K. Smith, emeritus faculty Joyce Carol Oates and Edmund White, and recent faculty Sigrid Nunez and Kevin Young are among the Academy’s 300 members, who are elected for life and pay no dues. The Academy seeks to foster and sustain an interest in the arts by administering awards and prizes, exhibiting art and manuscripts, funding performances of new music theater works, and purchasing artwork for donation to museums across the Unites States.

yiyun li stands at dusk by bridge with lights

Photo by Roger Turesson

Yiyun Li is the author of eight books, including two story collections, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers and Gold Boy, Emerald Girl; four novels, The Vagrants, Kinder Than Solitude, Where Reasons End, and Must I Go; and two nonfiction books, Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life and Tolstoy Together, 85 Days of War and Peace with Yiyun Li (forthcoming in August 2021). Her work has been translated into more than twenty languages.

In 2020, Li received a Windham Campbell Prize and was named a MacArthur Foundation Fellow in 2010. Her other distinguished awards include the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, a PEN/Hemingway Award, the Guardian First Book Award, an Asian American Literary Award for fiction, the Benjamin H. Dank Award from American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award, the PEN/Jean Stein Award, and others.

The awards will be presented virtually at the Academy’s annual Ceremonial at 7 p.m. (EDT) on May 19, 2021. During the live stream event, honorees from 2020 and 2021 will be recognized alongside 46 new Academy members and over 150 awards to architects, artists, writers, and composers.

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