Yiyun Li, a Writers' Workshop alumna, received the award for her 2019 novel, Where Reasons End.
Monday, March 2, 2020

Yiyun Li (MFA, 2005) accepted the 2020 PEN/Jean Stein Book Award at a March 2 ceremony in New York, NY for her 2019 novel, Where Reasons End.

Yiyun Li Awarded the 2020 PEN/Jean Stein Book Award

Founded in 2016, the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award is an annual award that recognizes a book-length work of any genre for its originality, merit, and impact, which has broken new ground by reshaping the boundaries of its form and signaling strong potential for lasting influence. The author of the winning book receives a prize of $75,000 and is honored at the annual PEN America Literary Awards Ceremony.

Yiyun Li is the author of A Thousand Years of Good Prayers; The Vagrants; Kinder than Solitude; Gold Boy, Emerald Girl; Must I Go (forthcoming, July 2020) and an essay collection, Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life. Her work has been translated into more than twenty languages. 

Li's short stories and essays have been published in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Zoetrope: All-Story, Best American Short Stories, O Henry Prize Stories, and elsewhere. She has received grants and awards from Lannan Foundation and Whiting Foundation, and was named a MacArthur Foundation Fellow in 2010. Her debut collection, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, won the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, PEN/Hemingway Award, Guardian First Book Award, and California Book Award for first fiction. 

Her debut novel, The Vagrants, was published to critical acclaim and won the gold medal of California Book Award for fiction. She has also received the Asian American Literary Award for fiction, Benjamin H. Dank Award from American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award.  

Li was selected by Granta as one of the Best Young American Novelists, and named by The New Yorker as one of top 20 fiction writers under age 40 from US. She is currently a professor of creative writing at Princeton University.

From the judges’ citation:

“In this spare, haunting, deeply humane novel, Yiyun Li bends the conventions of narrative to accommodate an extremity of experience that’s often beyond representation. In these posthumous conversations between a mother and the young son she recently lost to suicide, what might have been an unremittingly desolate book instead bristles with humor and playfulness, and achieves finally a profound reconciliation. Li has written a novel unlike anything we have read before, a book that is beautiful and wise, and almost unbearably moving in its portrait of a woman turning to literature as to a last resort, and finding that it might—barely, savingly—suffice.”