Yiyun Li is first woman to win The Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award

Yiyun Li is first woman to win The Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award
24 April 2015

Chinese-American author Yiyun Li has won The Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award, managed by Book Trust, for her story 'A Sheltered Woman'. She is the first woman to win the Award since its inception in 2010.


'A Sheltered Woman' is the story of a Chinese-American nanny hired to spend a month supporting a new mother and her baby; trying to keep detached from the emotional turmoil around her, she is also entrapped by her own past.  A story of an outsider and the falseness of self-imposed isolation, it was first published in The New Yorker in March 2014.


Judge Elif Shafak says:

Amidst a diverse and dazzling shortlist, which made our job as jury members very, very difficult, the Chinese-American author Yiyun Li's 'A Sheltered Woman' has enchanted us with its exquisite crafting, brilliant observations and modest but powerful voice.

The inspiration for the story lay in a seemingly trivial incident.  Li says,

 A couple years ago, while rummaging through old things, I found a notebook that I had bought at a garage sale in Iowa City when I first came to America - I had paid five cents for it. The notebook was in a good shape; though it remained unused. A character occurred to me: she paid a dime and asked if there was a second notebook so she did not have to have the change back. Such greed, the character said, laughing at herself. From that moment on I knew I had a story.

42-year-old Li, who has been shortlisted before in 2011 for her story 'The Science of Flight', grew up in Beijing and has written (in The New Yorker) about how she learned American English language and customs from a tape recorder that her father bought. She has won many international awards including the MacArthur Foundation Award in 2010.


Li's first short story collection A Thousand Years of Good Prayers won the 2005 Guardian First Book Award and a PEN/Hemingway Award. She was selected by Granta as one of the '21 Best Young American Novelists under 35' and by the New Yorker as 'one of its '20 under 40'' names to watch.


Film and theatre director Sir Richard Eyre presented Li with her cheque for £30,000 at a Gala dinner at the Stationers' Hall. He commented, 'the quality of the entrants demonstrated that the short story is an extremely vigorous form.' 


In a global contest Li beat off opposition from fellow Americans Elizabeth McCracken and Scott O'Connor, New Zealander Paula Morris, Canadian Madeleine Thien and Rebecca F John from Wales. The shortlisted authors each received £1,000.


Yiyun Li joins a prestigious line-up of international winners including fellow American author Adam Johnson, who won the award last year for his story 'Nirvana', Dominican-American Junot Díaz, whose story 'Miss Lora' won in 2013, Irish author Kevin Barry ('Beer Trip to Llandudno', 2012), American Anthony Doerr (The Deep', 2011), and New Zealander C K Stead who won the inaugural Award in 2010 with 'Last Season's Man'.


Find out more about the prize


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