5 Questions with Yiyun Li, Author of Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life

City Lights is proud to welcome author & friend of the store, Yiyun Li, this Tuesday, March 7th! Yiyun will be reading from her new book, Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life (published by Random House). We asked Yiyun our five questions–more info on her, and her answers, below!

The Event: Tuesday, March 7th, 2017 at 7:00PM. 261 Columbus Ave., San Francisco CA, 94133. Admission Free.

About Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life: Startlingly original and shining with quiet wisdom, this is a luminous account of a life lived with books. Written over two years while the author battled suicidal depression, Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life is a painful and yet richly affirming examination of what makes life worth living.

Yiyun Li grew up in China and has spent her adult life as an immigrant in a country not her own. She has been a scientist, an author, a mother, a daughter—and through it all she has been sustained by a profound connection with the writers and books she loves. From William Trevor and Katherine Mansfield to Søren Kierkegaard and Philip Larkin, Dear Friend is a journey through the deepest themes that bind these writers together.

Interweaving personal experiences with a wide-ranging homage to her most cherished literary influences, Yiyun Li confronts the two most essential questions of her identity: Why write? And why live?

About Yiyun Li: Yiyun Li grew up in Beijing and came to the United States in 1996. She has received fellowships and awards from Lannan Foundation and Whiting Foundation. 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 novel, The Vagrants, won the gold medal of California Book Award for fiction, and was shortlisted for Dublin IMPAC Award. Gold Boy, Emerald Girl, her second collection, was a finalist of Story Prize and shortlisted for Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. Her books have been translated into more than twenty languages. She was selected by Granta as one of the 21 Best Young American Novelists under 35, and was named by The New Yorker as one of the top 20 writers under 40. MacArthur Foundation named her a 2010 fellow. She is a contributing editor to the Brooklyn-based literary magazine, A Public Space.

She lives in Oakland, California with her husband and their two sons, and teaches at University of California, Davis.


City Lights: If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit? If you haven’t been here before, what are you expecting?

Yiyun Li: I have been to City Lights several times for author events. One fond memory: once, when I arrived early, I sat in a deli across the street and watched the storefront of City Lights, brightly lit, and read Sylvia Plath under a dim light.

CL: What’s the first book you read & what are you reading right now?

YL: I don’t have any recollection of the first book I read, but the first book that made a lasting impression is Arabian Nights. A friend loaned it to me in second grade, as we both thought it was a children’s book. I was seriously baffled by the reading.

Some of the books I’m reading/rereading at the moment: Troubles by J. G. Farrell, Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis, Crabcakes by James Alan McPherson, The Little Virtues by Natalia Ginzburg, and Willa Cather’s letters.

CL: Which 3 books would you never part with?

YL: Moby-Dick, War and Peace, and Dream of the Red Chamber.

CL: If your book had a soundtrack, what would it be?

YL: Symphony No. 1 of Pyotr Tchaikovsky, a lesser known composition by Tchaikovsky but I would love it to be the soundtrack of my book.

CL: If you opened a bookstore tomorrow, where would it be located, what would it be called, and what would your bestseller be?

YL: I would like to call it Read and Breathe. It would be located in a town where there is no independent bookstore. My bestseller would be short stories by Chekhov and William Trevor.


Join us this Tuesday, March 7th at 7PM, as we celebrate Yiyun Li’s new book!

For more about Yiyun and Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life, go to yiyunli.com. For more information on events coming up at City Lights, go to our complete calendar.

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