RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST: And this morning brings news of a literary prize. The Nobel for Literature goes to Chinese writer Mo Yan. Making the announcement, the Swedish Academy's permanent secretary, Peter Englund:
MONTAGNE: Well, there are hallucinatory realism from a Chinese writer. To find out more about Mo Yan and his work, we turn to NPR's Lynn Nearly. Good morning.
LYNN NEARY, BYLINE: Good morning.
MONTAGNE: So, earlier you told us that - now before the winner was announced - you told us that Mo Yan was a top candidate.
NEARY: Indeed, he was, and China's very happy that this turned out to be the case. A lot of people in this country may not recognize his name immediately. ①But he's actually one of the best-known Chinese writers in the West because a lot of his work has been translated into English. And his novel "Red Sorghum" was made into a film, which was widely seen in the West. It was made in 1987. And he's been influenced by writers like William Faulkner and the magic realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, certainly familiar writers to many of us in this country and the rest of the West. And as you just heard, in announcing the award this morning, the Swedish Academy described his writing as hallucinatory realism that merges folk tales, history and the contemporary. ②His writing's also been described as experimental and unique.
Other novels by Mo Yan include "The Republic of Wine," "Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out" and "The Garlic Ballads." He's said to be so prolific that he wrote "Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out," which is a 500,000 word epic, in just 43 days.③ He wrote it with a brush, not a computer, because he says a computer would have slowed him down because he can't control himself when he's online. He always has to search out more information.
MONTAGNE: Well, his titles are fascinating, although none of them tell us exactly what his subject matter is. What does he write about?
NEARY: Well,④ you know, his work is mostly about peasant life set in the countryside. He often writes about the area where he grew up in Shandong Province. He has said that folk literature, storytellers, his own family's stories have been a resource for him. He grew up during the Cultural Revolution. When it ended, he joined the army, and that's when he began writing.
Something very interesting: Mo Yan is a pen name and it means: Don't Speak. And he said he took on that name because when he was growing up during the Cultural Revolution, his parents told him not to speak or to say what he really thought outside of his home. And he says that's very ironic because he's speaking all the time.
MONTAGNE: So what do you think people will be saying in China about this?
NEARY: Well, you know, there's been a lot of excitement leading up this. China has felt it's been snubbed by the Nobel committee in the past. The only other Chinese writer to get a Nobel in literature was actually a French citizen. And Mo Yan is the vice chair of the state-sanctioned writer's committee. And, you know, he's actually been criticized for his tolerance for public censors in China because in a country where writers are banned and even imprisoned, Mo Yan has cooperated with authorities. Although on literary scholar said: He's an honest writer who knows how to survive in the coercive censorship of China.
MONTAGNE: Thanks very much. That's NPR's Lynn Neary, reporting that the Nobel Prize for Literature went to Chinese novelist Mo Yan. And this is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.