Novelist Struggles Decades After She Won Prominent Literature Award



In March of this year, author, Yu Miri (柳美里)published a memoir chronicling her ongoing struggle with poverty.  Yu Miri is a female novelist who was born and raised in Japan but is of Korean nationality. She won the prominent Akutagawa award for literature in 1997 for her novel, Family Cinema (家族シネマ).

When she was about to hold an autograph signing at four bookstores celebrating her winning the award in April of 1997, a man referring to himself as “new right wing” called in threats to the bookstores, saying that if they do not cancel the signings, he would harm the participants. The signing was eventually cancelled and the incident was reported as an attack on free speech, both in Japanese and foreign media outlets.

She has released several bestselling novels since winning the Akutagawa award and has established her unwavering position as one of the most prominent novelists in Japan.

At the height of her success, she earned hundred million yen a year.

However, in the book, 貧乏の神様  ( roughly translated as God of Poverty ) published a decade after the pinnacle of her success, she writes that she is struggling with poverty.  After I read this book, I was so shocked to learn that a novelist who won the Akutagawa award could struggle financially. There are some novelists who disappear after they win prominent a literature award, not being able to recreate their previous success. However, Yu Miri published several best-selling books after she won the Akutagawa award and the book called 命, Life, a memoir about the days spent with her partner while they battled cancer was turned into a movie. I took for granted that if a book becomes a bestseller or is optioned and turned into a movie, the author would be set for life.  Even when a prominent novelist is having trouble producing a new book, I thought that their publishers or a patron would fund them until they beat their writer’s block. There are actually people who lend her money, but it is not like that they are going to lend enough to fund her whole life. They only lend her enough to get by for a few months at any one time. And if they can’t write at all, I thought they would be always be a flood of job offers as a lecturer or commentator. However, since she has difficulty relating to people, she cannot take on jobs as a lecturer or commentator to supplement her income, since these require dealing with many people at once.

In 貧乏の神様、Yu Miri claims that it is extremely difficult to make a living just by writing, even when you are already a successful novelist. She claims that even among novelists who are regarded as prominent, only a handful of them are able to make living solely by writing. Those who are not so lucky work day jobs while still acting as though their primary income comes from writing. She claims that it is quite embarrassing for them to be poor or having a hard time making a living when they are respected novelists. The book includes many scenes from poor life. For example, she was not able to pay her electric bills, so her Internet service was cut off. She also had to sell her car. The most heartbreaking episode was when she could not afford to go to the beauty salon, so she had to have her assistant cut her hair at home. This was especially sad since her trademark was her long, beautiful hair.

In addition to the fact that making a living by writing is extremely difficult, due to recent shifts in media consumption, people spend less and less time in reading physical books. Total sales of books are in decline. The prevalence of smartphones have made this trend more evident.

Another reason for her poverty is that Yu Miri developed severe depression which left her unable to write. In the book, in spite of the difficulties she faced, she continues to write as it is her calling. You learn that it is not an award, or how much money you make that makes one a novelist. Someone who was born to become a novelist continues to live as a novelist even in times of illness and in times of poverty.  Her book has deep meaning, shedding light on the shadows of the life of someone who was born to become a novelist.

Currently, Yu Miri lives in a 60 year old house in Minami Soma City in Fukushima with her son and four cats. She moved to Minami Soma City in April this year after selling her house in Kamakura city in Kanagawa. She has been hosting a radio show broadcasted from the Municipal Office of Minami Soma city since March of 2012 for free. Minami Soma city is only about 20 kilometers from the Fukushima Number One Nuclear Power Plant, which was devastated during the 2011 earthquake. She is continuing to host the show because she feels supporting the people affected by the earthquake is important. Through this activity does not bring in any money, she has cultivated great friendships, which is one of the reasons why she decided to move to Minami Soma city. At the moment, she is chronicling her daily life in Minami Soma city in her blog, La Vales de Miri. (


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