A Moment with Gene Luen Yang,
National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature

h1 January 6th, 2016 by jules

I’m not normally in the habit of posting other people’s interviews in full at my site, but what the hell, I’m doing so today.

And that’s because I was very excited to hear on Monday of this week that graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang (pictured left in his self-portrait) was named the 5th National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.

Below is a five-question chat he had with Gina Gagliano at First Second Books. I’m merely hosting them here today.

I can’t wait to hear more from Gene in his two-year term as Ambassador.

As the new Ambassador of Young People’s Literature, what changes would you like to see in America’s reading culture?

Gene: I want us to diversify our reading in every sense of the word “diverse.” I want us to read stories from different cultures about different topics in different formats. I want every person to read at least one book that others don’t expect them to like, at least once a year.

What draws you to YA books and literature?

Gene: I started in the comic book industry, which isn’t as tightly categorized into age demographics as the traditional book market. I didn’t really think of myself as a YA author until I began publishing with First Second Books. They looked at my stuff and decided it fit best in Young Adult.

I think they’re right. My friend and fellow author Marsha Qualey says there’s an equation at the heart of all YA:

Power + Belonging = Identity

Most of my stories are about that equation.

What do you like better — hardcovers or paperbacks?

Gene: You know, I’ve never really thought about it. Each format has its advantages. Hardcovers feel solid and substantial in your hand. Paperbacks are more portable.

I do a lot of my reading on the go these days, so I guess right now I prefer paperbacks.

What would you say to kids having trouble getting into reading?

Gene: A love of stories is built into our species. It feels good to have stories in our brain, and reading is one of the best ways to get them in there.

If you don’t like reading, maybe it’s because you haven’t found the right story yet. Maybe the right story is on a shelf you’ve never explored.

Go to your local library or bookstore and I guarantee you’ll find someone there who can help. Librarians and booksellers are like matchmakers. They’re in the business of love. They’ll connect you with a story that you love.



What’s the first book you remember reading?

Gene: A Chinese language version of The Five Chinese Brothers. When I was really young, my grandparents lived in Taiwan. My mom asked them to send over a bunch of books for bedtime reading, and that was one of them.

I didn’t encounter the English version until I was much older. It’s been a long time, but I remember two big differences. First, in the Chinese version, the brothers all look different. Second, it’s accepted that one can take his brother’s punishment in his stead. No one in the story thinks the brothers are the same person.


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All images posted by permission of First Second Books.

One comment to “A Moment with Gene Luen Yang,
National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature”

  1. I am REALLY looking forward to learing more about Gene and witnessing his impact with this esteemed position 🙂

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