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Yi Lei, born Sun Gui-zhen in Tianjin, China, in 1951, was one of the most influential figures of Chinese Poetry in the 1980s.  Sent to the countryside to work on a farm in 1969, two years later she became a reporter for the Liberation Army and a staff member of the newspaper the Railway Corps.  Yi Lei studied creative writing at the Lu Xun Academy and earned a BA in Chinese literature from Peking University.  In 1991 she moved to Moscow, where she lived and wrote for a number of years.  A recipient of the Zhuang Zhongwen Literature Prize, Yi Lei’s work has been translated into English, Japanese, French, Italian, and Russian.  She died in 2018.

My Name Will Grow Wide Like A Tree

Graywolf Press
2021 Shortlist
United States

Judges’ Citation

One of shortest poems in My Name Will Grow Wide Like a Tree creates — in just five lines! — lasting theological perspective: ‘When life ends, / Memory endures.

One of shortest poems in My Name Will Grow Wide Like a Tree creates — in just five lines! — lasting theological perspective: ‘When life ends, / Memory endures. / When memory ends, / What persists /Attests to the spirit.’ Such larger-than-life–and yet also such delicate–approach distinguishes this  collection as it gathers poems of eros and grief, each page bursting with attentiveness to our world. ‘Each blade of grass is a glorious eye,’ Yi Lei writes, echoing, and also revising, Whitman. In very beautiful versions by Tracy K. Smith and Changtai Bi, Yi Lei’s voice here becomes invigorating, lasting poetry in English.