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Yan Lianke Wins 2021 Newman Prize for Chinese Literature


Chinese novelist Yan Lianke

An international jury has selected the Chinese novelist Yan Lianke as the winner of the seventh Newman Prize for Chinese Literature.

Sponsored by the University of Oklahoma Institute for US-China Issues in the David L. Boren College of International Studies, the Newman Prize is awarded biennially in recognition of outstanding achievement in prose or poetry that best captures the human condition, and is conferred solely on the basis of literary merit. Any living author writing in Chinese is eligible. A jury of five distinguished literary experts nominated the seven poets last spring and selected the winner in a transparent voting process on Oct. 9, 2020.

Yan Lianke will receive $10,000, a commemorative plaque and a bronze medallion. He will be celebrated at an online symposium and award ceremony held on the OU Norman campus March 4-5. Yan Lianke was nominated for the prize by Eric Abrahamsen of Paper Republic. Other nominees and jurors include Wu He (舞鶴), nominated by Andrea Bachner (Cornell University), Su Tong (苏童), nominated by Yunte Huang (UC–Santa Barbara), Xu Xiaobin (徐小斌), nominated by Chen Xiaoming (Beijing University) and Lung Yingtai (龍應台), nominated by Eileen Chow (Duke University).

“This year’s nominees speak to the incredible richness and diversity of Sinophone literature today,” said Jonathan Stalling, director of the Newman Prize and Professor of International Studies. “This year’s winner is truly special, as he has been nominated for the Newman Prize three times before (2009, 2015 and 2017), yet this is his year — Yan’s lifelong contributions to world letters are recognized by this year’s prize.”

The Newman Prize honors Harold J. and Ruth Newman, whose generous endowment of a chair at the University of Oklahoma enabled the creation of the OU Institute for US-China Issues in 2006. OU is also home to the Chinese Literature Translation Archive, Chinese Literature Today, World Literature Today and the Neustadt International Prize for Literature.

Juror Eric Abrahamsen said of the winner, “Yan’s writing does for the Chinese heartland what John Steinbeck did for the American West, or Thomas Hardy for Southwest England…he remains vitally invested in the ethical responsibility of the author. Though it has been demonstrated to him again and again that his explorations of China’s historical trauma are not welcome, he seems not to take the hint, and persists in laying bare what he sees as the original sins of modern Chinese society…His stubbornness, and the perpetual freshness of his sorrow over historical tragedy, are worthy of respect.”

Previous winners of the Newman Prize have included Mainland Chinese novelists Mo Yan (莫言) in 2009, Han Shaogong (韩少功) in 2011 and Wang Anyi (王安忆) in 2017. Mo Yan went on to win a Nobel Prize in Literature in 2012. Taiwanese poet Yang Mu (楊牧) and novelist and screenwriter Chu Tien-wen (朱天文) won the Newman Prize in 2013 and 2015, respectively, and Hong Kong writer Xi Xi (西西) won the Newman Prize in 2019.

For more information on the Newman Prize, please visit the Newman Prize website or contact Dr. Jonathan Stalling at stalling@ou.edu or (405) 325-6973. For more about Yan Lianke, read his recent interview in Chinese Literature Today.

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