The 2012 Nobel Prize in Literature goes to the Chinese novelist Mo Yan 莫言 (IWP 2004)! Congratulations!
His IWP bio (2004):
"Mo Yan is one of China's foremost novelists, best known for his 1987 novel Hong Gaoliang Jiazu (Red Sorghum ). The internationally acclaimed film adaptation, directed by Zhang Yimou, won the Golden Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival, becoming one of China's most popular films and bringing Chinese cinema into the international mainstream. After a childhood of extreme poverty during the Cultural Revolution, Mo worked in a factory until he joined the army in 1976. He began writing in 1981 and graduated from the Army Academy of Art and Literature in 1986, subsequently receiving a M.A. in literature from Beijing Normal University. In the late 1990s, he left the army to become a professional writer. He has written dozens of short stories and ten or more novels, translated widely. In addition to Red Sorghum, released by Viking in 1993, titles available in English include: Explosions and Other Stories (1991), The Garlic Ballads (1995), and The Republic of Wine: A Novel (2000)."
Of his work IWP Director Christopher Merrill writes:
"Mo Yan, which means Don't Speak, nevertheless speaks elegantly, and humorously, in his novels, which are set largely in the impoverished countryside of China. They brim with life and light, as he himself does. The complicated history of modern China is his true theme, which he explores in ingenious ways. For example, his most recent novel in English, Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out, details the story of a landlord who believes himself to have been unjustly executed by the Communists during the Land Reform Movement. He convinces the Lord of the Underworld to let him come back to life, first as a donkey, then as an ox, a pig, a dog, a monkey, and finally a boy who has a gift for language--someone who will learn to tell the truth with the wit of Mo Yan. It is a wonderful romp, like Mo Yan himself. Who knew that the Nobel Committee was prepared to tickle its funny bone?"
Read a short excerpt from one of Mo Yan’s great novels, Red Sorghum (1987) in Howard Goldblatt’s 1993 translation.
Listen to Mo Yan read from his work at Shambaugh House in the fall of 2004, following an introduction by Hualing Engle.
AROUND MO YAN’s NOBEL PRIZE
The literary Nobels have a long tradition of controversy, as the 2012 iteration simply confirms. The debates surrounding it are varied but always fascinating. Here we include a small English-language selection of the many recent assessments and reassessments of Mo Yan’s place in contemporary Chinese and world literatures:
Current chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities and former Iowa representative Jim Leach interviewed Mo Yan in Beijing in early 2011, including questions about the writer’s visit to Iowa during his IWP residency in 2004.
Once the Nobel committee made its announcement, in October 2012, an editorial in the New York Times by a member of PEN American Center reframed Mo Yan’s work against that of other Chinese writers and Nobel award winners.
The New Yorker’s China correspondent Evan Osnos gauged Mo Yan’s rhetorical strategies and options.
Mo Yan’s long-standing American translator-cum-advocate Howard Goldblatt was interviewed a number of times.
The prominent German Sinologist Wolfgang Kubin’s sharp criticism of Mo Yan’s Nobel was argued on (broad) literary rather than (narrow) political grounds. (The blog The China Beat has a succinct and expert survey of Chinese views on a writer’s ‘representativeness’ of his nation, and the context for Kubin’s position.)
…while in Der Spiegel two prominent German writers debate the meaning of ‘dissent.’
Also Berlin-based, the site Human Rights in China makes room for a Chinese exile, to address Mo Yan’s literary language, and to revisit some older documentation.
Finally, a link to a sample of two decades of English-language literary criticism focusing on Mo Yan’s works, at the indispensable Modern Chinese Literature and Culture Resource Center .
The archived video from the 2014 International Writing Program Showcase at the Library of Congress is now available online.