This week, the Library of Congress inaugurates a new national ambassador for young people’s literature: San Jose graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang.
Yang may be the first graphic novelist to hold this particular post, but he’s well known in the world of comics. Two of his books, American Born Chinese and Boxers & Saints, were nominated for National Book Awards. American Born Chinese is also the only graphic novel to win the American Library Association’s Printz Award.
"In a lot of ways, I just feel like I was in the right place at the right time," Yang says. "Historically in America, comics and 'traditional books' have been these two separate worlds. They really have been merging over the last decade or two. I think I've been a huge beneficiary of that.
Mark Siegel, editorial director at Yang’s home imprint, First Second Books, would say talent has a lot to do with his success, too. Siegel says he was hooked immediately by Yang's first book, American Born Chinese, when it was still an unfinished draft.
"This was tapping into a bigger conversation," Siegel explains. "There’s the universal immigration story, but the Chinese version of that story has not been told in the way he tackles it. Then there’s also the story of internalized racism in the second and third generations. This is part of America’s big conversation with itself."