IWP participant wins Nobel Prize for Literature

The 2012 Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded to Chinese author Mo Yan, a 2004 participant of the University of Iowa International Writing Program (IWP).

One of China's foremost novelists, Mo is best known for his 1987 novel Hong Gaoliang Jiazu (in English, 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 Master of Arts in literature from Beijing Normal University. In the late 1990s, he left the army to become a professional writer. In 2011, he received the Mao Dun Literature Prize, established in the will of prominent Chinese writer Mao Dun and sponsored by the Chinese Writers Association.

He has written dozens of short stories and numerous 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).

The Nobel Prize, which carries a value of approximately $1.2 million, will be presented in a ceremony in Stockholm on Dec. 10.

“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,” says IWP Director Christopher Merrill. “The complicated history of modern China is his true theme, which he explores in ingenious ways. For example, his 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?"

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Photograph: Ulf Andersen/Getty Images