17th Day of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

Today is for celebration!  Celebrating one of my favorite Asian American authors – Gene Luen Yang.

Gene is generous. Gene is funny. Gene is wise. Gene is brave.

Gene is generous.

In 2013, he came to my school and met with high school students in the Asian Cultures and Science Fiction/Fantasy clubs to chat about graphic novels, Boxers & Saints, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and growing up as an Asian American nerd and answer many many questions — all on his own time, without charge!

Addendum: A friend of mine pointed out to me that such “free” visits are not the norm for most libraries or authors — my school is in NYC where Gene’s publisher is located, this was part of his promotional tour for Boxers & Saints, and I and the school I work for are frequently tapped by the NYC publishers to host informal author events like this.  This is yet another case of how one person’s view can be so influenced by the circumstances and thus limited without the reminder from someone else who has the view from a different vantage point.  That said, Gene’s generosity is not limited to “free visits” but is demonstrated his willingness to engage the students and freely shared thoughts and views.

geneyang2 geneyang1

Gene is funny.

I had the great pleasure to listen to Gene talking about Graphic Novels on a panel at last year’s USBBY Conference.  He used humor to drive home some serious considerations in a way that the audience would easily accept.

Gene is wise.

As a recently appointed National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Gene has set up a great campaign for all readers to Read Without Walls with three simply stated but significant goals that will advance the scope of diversity in any young reader’s world:

RWW-Criteria

Gene is brave.

He spoke the hard truth publicly without skirting around the issues.  One such memorable speech was delivered at the National Book Festival gala in September 2014.  You can read the whole transcript at The Washington Post.  These words were not only wise, almost prophetic, they should be heeded ever more now that so many of us get our news and views from extremely short, often volatile, and sometimes sensationalized sound bites littering the edge-less world of the Internet.

But I have noticed an undercurrent of fear in many of our discussions. We’re afraid of writing characters different from ourselves because we’re afraid of getting it wrong. We’re afraid of what the Internet might say.

This fear can be a good thing if it drives us to do our homework, to be meticulous in our cultural research. But this fear crosses the line when we become so intimidated that we quietly make choices against stepping out of our own identities.

After all, our job as writers is to step out of ourselves, and to encourage our readers to do the same.

I offer three further thoughts inspired by Gene’s words:

First, I think this call for “doing homework” should not be limited to authors, illustrators, or editors and publishers.  The demand of meticulous cultural research must extend to all the critics of books — we must also do our homework before delivering verdicts to praise or condemn a literary work, especially when large swatches of the text contain cultural allusions unfamiliar to us.

Second, I think it is crucial for those who are promoting works about and by diverse creators to remember that simply “of a culture” does not guarantee any book creator having understanding of the multiplicity of the entire history or full scope of that specific culture.  Even those writing “within” a culture must do their homework!

Third, although book creators must heed Gene’s call for NOT fearing of where their creative hearts tell them to go, I feel compelled to call on critics and advocates to educate ourselves on informative and productive ways to critique literature so that we may uplift the whole field.  We must figure out ways to turn our initial anger and frustration into useful and illuminating insights and advices to help improve representation and authenticity in all future books for young people.

 

 

3 Comments

Filed under Views, WIWWAK

3 responses to “17th Day of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

  1. What a great post! Thank you. Let’s all “do our homework.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for this and particularly for your further thoughts on Gene’s Reading Without Walls challenge. I have been very discouraged by the diversity conversation over the last year and a half or so. Not because I disagree with it or because I think those outspoken critics of “inauthentic” diverse books should be silent. I’m frustrated because this much needed movement has profoundly discouraged so many writers. I’ve heard from many who have left the field entirely. If they were middle class, middle aged white woman, maybe that wouldn’t be so bad but the folks that are getting most discouraged by the authenticity conversation (in my observation) are the very writers from minority communities that we would like to hear more from. Mindful and specific praise and gracious criticism supported by thorough research would be a welcome change.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. fairrosa

    Thanks, Rosanne, for your comment — Actually, I don’t know why middle class, middle aged white women should ever be discouraged to follow their creative passions! To be more sensitive, mindful, and educated, yes — but not to be scared off of the entire field. At least, that’s why I keep writing about these topics.

    I love your suggestion for all book reviewing critics that we need to offer “mindful and specific praise and gracious criticism supported by thorough research…” and I might add – an understanding of the field as a whole.

    It’s sad when my daughter’s answer to my puzzlement of why people are not “working together” to create a better community for all was, “Mom, have you considered the possibility that they just don’t really care to make the field better. They just want to be angry and for others to hear them shout?” No, I told her — no, I have never considered that. And I still do not believe that that is the case for the majority of those who care deeply about children’s and YA literature and about fair and authentic representations — I think they/we are all trying to make things better. We just have to ride the waves together and learn, even if the curves are huge!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s