Artist Spotlight – E. Lily Yu

Published: July 9, 2019

Categories: Artists | Featured | Spotlight

E. Lily Yu is a Bellevue-based writer and narrative designer whose work has appeared in McSweeney’s, Boston Review, Hazlitt,, and more. Her story, “The Wretched and the Beautiful,” was anthologized in The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2018, and in 2012 she received the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

In addition to writing short stories and poems, Lily has also worked as a narrative designer for video games, including Destiny and Destiny 2.

In 2017, Lily received the La Salle Storyteller Award from Artist Trust. We recently caught up with her to learn more about her work as a writer and narrative designer, the impact the award has had on her career, and her advice for artists.

How did you first get interested in writing? What drew you to science fiction/speculative fiction in particular?

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, and reading for even longer than that. I assume I started writing because of the reading, the way breadcrumb trails wind up at gingerbread cottages. I write what comes to me, or what I’m asked to write, and the latter tends to be science fiction more often than not.

What are some of the challenges and milestones you’ve encountered on your path as a writer?

For me, truth is at the heart of writing: first incised, then excised, then beveled and bezeled. And to tell any meaningful truth requires risk. Sometimes the cost is only counted up after. I’d like to think I picked truth more often than not. But I’m also human.

You’ve also worked as a narrative designer for video games. How, if at all, has that work influenced your writing or expanded your understanding of storytelling?

There’s nothing quite like hearing other people reading your dialog aloud to discover the flaws and cracks in it. Especially when the reader is a talented and expensive voice actor, and you’re in the studio recording, and the crumbly mouthful of a sentence has to be fixed now. There are also a tremendous number of interesting problems in video game narrative that remain open or only partially solved.

How did you first connect with Artist Trust?

I’m not sure, but it may have been through my writing group. Other members have been GAP recipients.

How has receiving the LaSalle Storyteller Award impacted your career as an artist?

Artist Trust’s generous grant gave me the time to finish revisions on my novel, which had stalled, as well as a renewed confidence in the worth of my work.

What advice do you have for artists looking to take their work to the next level?

Your heart knows better than I do. God knows the rest.

What projects are you currently working on?

I have a number of short stories in the works, slated for publication this year and next.

To learn more about Lily and her current projects, check out her website.