Graywolf will publish poems by Chinese Nobel winner

  • Article by: LAURIE HERTZEL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 13, 2010 - 12:30 PM

Graywolf Press to publish poems by Nobel Peace Prize-winning Chinese poet Liu Xiaobo.

Liu Xiaobo, November 2007

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Graywolf Press of Minneapolis will publish the first collection of poems in English by Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese dissident poet who is the winner of this year's Nobel Peace Prize.

Liu Xiaobo (whose full name is pronounced Leeyu Show-Boe) is imprisoned in China and will not be present to accept the prize when it is awarded in Oslo on Friday.

"June Fourth Elegies" is an intense collection, its translator, Jeffrey Yang, said Wednesday. It is divided into 20 sections, each relating to the June 4, 1989, massacre at Tiananmen Square.

"The way the book is structured, the poems were written kind of at the same time every year, when Tiananmen happened," Yang said. "Each one is a kind of recollection of a certain aspect of June 4. They're very elegiac. The original title of the book in Chinese is literally something like 'Remembering Six Four.'"

Liu Xiaobo is a political activist who has fought for 20 years for a more democratic and open China. He has been imprisoned repeatedly for dissident activity. On Christmas Day last year, he was sentenced to 11 years in prison for inciting subversion, and his wife, Liu Xia, is now under house arrest.

Yang began translating Xiaobo's poetry at the request of the global writers' group PEN International. "They were in close touch with his wife and went to visit her last summer in Beijing," he said. "They e-mailed some poems to me and I translated those. They published those in their journal."

Four of Liu Xiaobo's poems appear on PEN's website, but "June Fourth Elegies" will be the first book of his poems in English. A second book, primarily of Liu Xiaobo's political writings, will be published by Harvard University Press in 2012, Yang said.

Yang grew up in California. He is a poet, translator and editor at New Directions Publishing in New York. His relationship with Graywolf Press began several years ago when Graywolf published his poetry collection, "An Aquarium." Graywolf will publish a second Yang book in 2011, "Vanishing-Line."

Yang figures he has about six months' worth of translation yet to do on Liu Xiaobo's poems, and Graywolf publisher Fiona McCrae said the book, which will be published in a bilingual edition, will come out in the fall of 2012.

Yang "had had a positive experience working with the Graywolf team in the past," McCrae said. "He wanted to bring the project to Graywolf. We have a bit of support from the Lannan Foundation for translations."

McCrae said the first print run will likely be about 15,000, large for a poetry collection. Graywolf is a nonprofit literary press in Minneapolis with a national reputation. It published "Praise Song for the Day," Elizabeth Alexander's poem for Barack Obama's inauguration, and in the past two years, two Graywolf poets -- D.A. Powell and Matthea Harvey -- have won the Kingsley Tufts Award, the largest prize given for poetry in the United States.

Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune books editor. She is at 612-673-7302

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