Talking Books, Culture & Identity

It’s that time of year when cities all across the country have weekends celebrated to the written word and this past weekend was one of my favorite weekends of the year, the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. Two days of a book addicts dream where there are all sorts of book talks, author signings, independent bookstores just waiting for my money, and just plain fun. The festival begins with the Los Angeles Book Awards ceremony where this year Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers & Saints won for Best Young Adult Fiction! Congrats to Gene!

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Gene draws and signs my copy of Boxer & Saints.

At the festival there were literally hundreds of talks and panels fans of books and writers of all levels could attend. Of course, being my focus is diversity in YA literature, one of the panels I attended was titled, “YA Fiction: Writing Culture & Identity.” The panel included Maurene Goo, Cynthia Kadohata and Gene. The panel focused on the topic of incorporating culture and one’s identity into their writing. The discussion was a lively one with Maurene and Gene giving insight into why they infuse their writing with their own culture. Maurene stated that as an adult YA reader, she noticed a void within the literary landscape and wanted to add her voice, her experiences. She said there were a plethora of diverse “message” stories (and I completely agree with her) and that she wanted Holly’s stories (from Since You Asked) to be universal. When asked if the authors were writing for their child self, Gene stated that “maybe I’m writing for the 12 year old me.” He expanded his statement that he was writing for the self who wished there were more characters in his books and comics that looked like him. In fact, this desire is what is also propelling him to write the Green Turtle series.

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The panel was not all about discussing problems with the lack of diversity but also a talk for solutions. Cynthia stated, and correctly so, that because Middle Grade/YA purchasers are usually the parents, the parents of children have to take the initiative and ask for books by and about people of color. Another suggestion (and I unfortunately did not write down who said it, sorry all) was questioning what are we, all of us, doing to help the next generation of writers. Are we nurturing kids writing, especially children of color, who might not be encouraged to write? I think this question is profound and an important one as I also work with mentoring young writers of color. Children need to be able to know that their stories are valid and worthwhile, instead of just voices from the dominate culture. Gene also followed up by stating that diversity is difficult, but by using common interests, we can build community.

Over all, it was a good talk and after I got to spend some time chatting with Maurene who is a lovely young woman. She mentioned what she is currently writing about and I got so excited!

Maurene Goo. We bonded over our love of Korean Dramas.

Maurene Goo. We bonded over our love of Korean Dramas.

If you have a book festival coming to you this spring, please go and support authors of color. Get your books signed, say hello, tell them how much you loved their book.

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One Comment on “Talking Books, Culture & Identity
  1. Several excellent questions. I’d add that school and city libraries also help give exposure to writers of color. We, as parents or non-parents, can help the librarians along by requesting that they carry certain books.
    The same goes for Indie and B & N Bookstores. Walk in, ask and recommend.
    I’m gratified to hear that some teachers have included writing stories as early as the second grade (at least in my county). I think that, as you mentioned, will be the ‘equalization’ of the future of books.

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