Dong Li, "The Orange Tree" (U Chicago Press, 2023)

Summary

Dong Li’s The Orange Tree (U Chicago Press, 2023) is a collection of narrative poems that braids forgotten legends, personal sorrows, and political upheavals into a cinematic account of Chinese history as experienced by one family. Amid chaos and catastrophe, the child narrator examines a yellowed family photo to find resemblances and learns a new language, inventing compound words to conjure and connect family stories. These invented words and the calligraphy of untranslated Chinese characters appear in lists separating the book’s narrative sections. This lyrical and experimental collection transcends the individual, placing generations of family members and anonymous others together in a single moment that surpasses chronological time and offering intimate perspectives on times that resonate with our own. The result is an unflinching meditation on family history, collective trauma, and imaginative recovery.

In this conversation, Dong and Anna discuss landscape and memory, family and history, and poetry as a medium for storytelling and as a language all its own.

Dong Li is a multilingual author who translates from Chinese, English, French, and German. Born and raised in China, he was educated at Deep Springs College and Brown University. His poems have been published by Conjunctions, Fence, Kenyon Review, POETRY, and elsewhere. He has served as the Olive B. O’Connor Fellow in creative writing at Colgate University and is a recipient of fellowships from Akademie Schloss Solitude, Camargo and Humboldt Foundations, MacDowell, PEN/Heim Translation Fund, Yaddo, and others. His debut poetry collection, The Orange Tree (University of Chicago Press, March 2023), was the inaugural winner of the Phoenix Emerging Poet Book Prize.

Anna Zumbahlen lives in Albuquerque and works in book marketing and publicity at the University of Chicago Press.

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