Lettre Ulysses Award for the art of reportage

Yang Lian, China

“I’m well aware that in this confused and frenzied day and age my writing will not well suit most reading habits. However, I do not mind – the conflict between individual writing and its environment can be summed up in the line ‘do not yield to history’. If one stunts oneself purely in order to match the poverty of the times, then I say there are far more interesting ways to waste one’s life. Therefore, those people who cannot stand my work would be better off not reading it. And just supposing you are one of those friends who enjoy being tormented, then remember this: in the end, when all my ‘projects’ have been catalogued and collected into the same piece of work, you will witness, together with me, how these ‘manuscripts’ ultimately converge with my inner original.”

Poet, essayist, literary critic. Yang Lian was born in 1955 in Bern, Switzerland, where his diplomat parents were stationed. He grew up in Beijing and during the Cultural Revolution, like all of his generation, he underwent ‘re-education through labour’ by being sent to work in the countryside. His mother’s death in 1976 initiated his life as a poet and on his return to Beijing he became one of the first members of a group of young ‘underground’ poets, who published the literary magazine Jintian (Today). Yang Lian’s poems became well-known and influential inside and outside of China in the 1980s, especially when his poem Nuorilang was criticized by the Chinese government during the ‘Anti-Spiritual Pollution’ movement.

Yang Lian’s works were introduced to overseas readers just as the political climate in China was becoming more open and he was invited to present his poems in many countries, including Hong Kong, West Germany, France, Spain, and England. In 1987 he was named one of the ‘Top 10 Poets’ by Chinese readers. Yang Lian was invited to visit Australia and New Zealand in 1988 for a year-long writer’s programme and he was in Auckland when the massacre in Tiananmen Square occurred on 4 June 1989. He organised protests against the suppression in China and from then on became a poet in exile. Since that time, he has continued to write and speak out as a highly individual voice in world literature, politics and culture. Various scholarships have taken him to different countries throughout the world, including a DAAD scholarship to Berlin in 1991 and a University of Sydney residency in 1993.

Yang Lian has published eight selections of poems, two selections of prose and many essays in Chinese. His three volumes of collected works, Yang Lian Zuo Pin (1982-1997, 2 vols) and Yang Lian Xin Zuo (1998-2002) have eventually been published in China. His work has also been translated into more than twenty languages, including English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Japanese and Eastern European languages. His most recent translations into English have been Yi, a book-length poem, and Notes of a Blissful Ghost, a selection of poems. His latest book of poetry Concentric Circles was published by Bloodaxe Books in 2005. He has also published two collections of essays, Ghost Talk (1995) and Seven and a Half Nights of Lunar Eclipses (2001), and has contributed to several newspapers and magazines, including Granta, New Left Review, The Guardian, The Times Literary Supplement and OpenDemocracy.net. (www.yanglian.net/english)

Yang Lian has actively participated in international literature, arts and academic activities and is widely regarded as one of the major voices representing modern Chinese literature. He was awarded the Flaiano International Poetry Prize (Italy, 1999) and his book Where the Sea Stands Still: New Poems won the title Poetry Books Society Recommended Translation (UK, 1999). He served as writer-in-residence for Taipei City in Taiwan in 2000 and has been a judge for the Weimar International Essay Prize Contest and the Voice of Deutschland broadcasting literary contest.

Yang Lian is now a New Zealand citizen and currently lives in London with his wife, the novelist Liu Yo Yo.

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"The human depth of literary reportage communicates more to us than the news on CNN. This depth can only develop because the authors had time for their work, time that allowed them to understand situations and backgrounds."Abdourahman Waberi (jury member 2003 & 2004)