Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Today's Washington Post has a fantastic story about Yiyun Li, brilliant author of A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, which I ecstatically reviewed a few weeks ago for the same publication.

Ms. Li faces an "extraordinary" problem:

In the summer of 2004, Li petitioned the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to become a permanent resident of the United States. To approve her application for a green card, USCIS would need to agree that she was an artist of "extraordinary ability," defined in Title 8, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 204.5(h)(2) as "a level of expertise indicating that the individual is one of that small percentage who have risen to the very top of the field of endeavor."

To the upper echelons of literary publishing, Li looks like a slam-dunk to meet this definition. Not to the USCIS, however. A year after she filed it, her petition was rejected.

Testimonials on her behalf were filed:

Novelist and PEN American Center President Salman Rushdie, who noted "the exceedingly steep trajectory of her still-young career," reviewed Li's record of publication and prizes, pointed out that the kind of "far-reaching interest and buzz" she has generated is "extremely rare" and concluded that "Yiyun Li is the real thing."

New Yorker Editor David Remnick, who wrote that the magazine he runs is "dedicated to identifying young writers who are destined to become the leading writers of their generation," named Li as one of these and described her as possessing "a remarkable voice that we hadn't heard before and an extraordinary way of writing about characters caught in a rapidly changing society."

Novelist Elinor Lipman ... wrote that, although she had never met Li, "reading her rsum is like getting a glimpse of an early F. Scott Fitzgerald or a young Hemingway." She also wrote that, for a fiction writer, the New Yorker was "the pinnacle, a no-man's land, and, for 99.9 percent of the world's writers, only a dream."

None of this helped.

Ms. Li has no idea what will happen if her next appeal is denied; as anyone who has read her stories knows, she'd better steer clear of her native land.

No idea exactly what any of us can do but hope, but she has a thousand years of good prayers from my corner.

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