Lillian Li

Posted by Sue Leonard on Tuesday 26th February 2019

Lilian started writing when she was ten years old.

“I wrote fan fiction with my best friend. We used to meet up at playgrounds to brainstorm story ideas. I transitioned into writing original fiction in high school and things pretty much took off from there.”

Lillian started writing her debut whilst taking her MFA programme.

“It started as a short story, but I found the characters so rich and compelling that I wanted to spend more time with them. It took about three years to write the novel and revise it. By the end of my three-year programme, I managed to sell the book.”

The novel was longlisted for the Centre for Fiction’s first novel prize for 2018.


Who is Lilian Li?

Place of Birth: Ann Arbor, Michigan and grew up in the Gaithersburg area of Maryland.

Education: The National Cathedral School. Princeton, English with a certificate in Creative Writing. MFA in Creative Writing.

Home: Ann Arbor, Michigan

Family: A mom, dad, and a younger brother.

The Day Job: “I work at an independent bookstore, and I teach composition and creative writing at the University of Michigan.”

In Another Life. “I really wish I could draw. I’m deeply envious of graphic novelists who are able to combine illustration with writing.”

Favourite Writers: Alice Munro, Elena Ferrante, Virginia Woolf, Karen Joy Fowler, Ruth Ozeki, Zadie Smith

Second Novel: “I’m not currently writing anything new.”

Top Tip: “No one will ever care as much about your work as you do, so you need belief in yourself. You are the only one who can call yourself a writer.”

Web: Twitter: @zillianzi


The Debut: Number One Chinese Restaurant: One: €15.99   Kindle: €9.16. 

Behind the scenes at the Beijing Duck House in Maryland, the staff, tired from gruelling years of service, work hard to mask their grudges amidst the simmering tension. We get a great insider’s view of the service industry, as the multigenerational characters fight and fall in love.

“I worked at a Chinese restaurant, briefly, the summer before grad school, and combined my experience with my mother’s inspired me to write the novel. She was a waitress when she first immigrated.  I hope readers will find the characters as compelling as I do.”

The Verdict: A clever compelling debut with lots of heart.  

Published in The Irish Examiner on 16th February, 2019

© Sue Leonard. 2019.

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