The Taiwanese poet Yang Mu (楊牧) has been chosen by an international jury as the winner of the third Newman Prize for Chinese Literature. Sponsored by the University of Oklahoma’s Institute for U.S.-China Issues, the Newman Prize is awarded biennially in recognition of outstanding achievement in prose or poetry that best captures the human condition, and is conferred solely on the basis of literary merit. Any living author writing in Chinese is eligible. A jury of five distinguished literary experts nominated the five candidates last summer and selected the winner in a transparent voting process on Oct. 5.
Yang Mu will receive $10,000 and a commemorative plaque and medallion at an award ceremony and academic symposium at OU on March 8, 2013. The event will be hosted by Peter Hays Gries, director of the Institute for US-China Issues, which seeks to advance mutual trust in U.S.-China relations.
“The five jurists nominated five exceptionally talented poets,” Gries said. “So they had a very difficult choice. It is a credit to Yang Mu’s extraordinary literary achievement that he emerged the winner after four rounds of positive elimination voting.”
The Newman Prize honors Harold J. and Ruth Newman, whose generous endowment of a chair at OU enabled the creation of the OU Institute for US-China Issues. OU also is home to Chinese Literature Today, World Literature Today and the Neustadt International Prize for Literature. A special section of Chinese Literature Today will be dedicated to Yang Mu’s work in summer 2013.
The five nominated poets under consideration were: Yang Mu (楊牧), Hsia Yu (夏宇), Yang Lian (杨炼), Zhai Yongming (翟永明) and Ouyang Jianghe (欧阳江河). The third Newman Prize jury consisted of five internationally recognized jurors based in the United States, United Kingdom, Mainland China and Germany. It was coordinated by Jonathan Stalling (OU). The jurors were Jennifer Feeley (University of Iowa), Michel Hockx (SOAS, University of London), Wolfgang Kubin (University of Bonn), Michelle Yeh (University of California, Davis) and Zhang Qinghua (Beijing Normal University).
The list of nominees was filled with luminaries of the mainland Chinese and Taiwanese literary scenes. Stylistically and formally, each poet displays a high level of originality, ranging from dense lyricism to colloquial narratives, from variations on the sonnet to poetic cycles, from philosophical musings to deconstructive energy. Thematically, the nominees represent remarkable breadth and depth. The judges considered the vision of poetry as beauty and truth; radical challenges to the limit of signification; intricate relations between language and exile; expressions of the female psyche; and critical reflections on a fast-changing China.
The diversity and strength of the nominations posed a great challenge for the jury. Yet Yang Mu emerged as the consensus winner after four rounds of positive elimination voting. Born in 1940 in Hualian on the east coast of Taiwan, Yang Mu has produced an extraordinary corpus of poetry and prose over the past five decades. After graduating from college, he attended the University of Iowa, where he received a master of fine arts degree. He went on to earn a doctorate in comparative literature from the University of California at Berkeley. He has taught at the University of Washington in Seattle for many years, and as a visiting professor at Princeton and National Taiwan University, among others. He also has served as the dean of humanities at National Dong Hwa University in his hometown Hualian, and as the founding director of the Institute of Literature and Philosophy at Academia Sinica, Taiwan. Yang Mu started writing poetry in 1956 and has published 14 original books of poetry to date, most of which are gathered in the three volume Collected Works of Yang Mu.
“Yang Mu,” Michelle Yeh comments, “is an innovator, a supreme craftsman. His deep engagement in world literature, cultures, and history has given his work a versatility and profundity that is unparalleled among Chinese poets today, perhaps even in the entire history of modern Chinese poetry. He has created a language that is densely lyrical and charged with a diction that runs the spectrum from the colloquial to the archaic, a syntax that is supple and complex, and a tone that ranges from playfulness to passion, and to despair. He moves easily from the world of tangibles to the world of abstraction, with images rich and precise. His poetic world is cosmopolitan and global on the one hand, and decidedly native and local on the other. Some of his most powerful poems reveal an unwavering love for and identity with Taiwan. Yang Mu has inspired several generations of poets in the Chinese-speaking world. He has produced a body of work brilliant and impressive in its range: reticent, controlled, yet musical, adventuresome, and linguistically surprising line-by-line. The reader thinks with him, inside the poem and inside his mind and emotions, and emerges more aware of the world and what it means to be human.”
Mainland Chinese novelists Mo Yan (莫言) and Han Shaogong (韩少功) won the 2009 and 2011 Newman Prizes for Chinese Literature, respectively.
For more information, please visit the Newman Prize homepage. You can also contact Peter Gries, the University of Oklahoma, at (405) 325-1962 (U.S. Central Time), or Michelle Yeh, the University of California at Davis, at (530) 758-0151 (U.S. Pacific Time).