Unlike in the previous years where my conference posts were fairly regular and completely up-to-date, I am lagging a bit behind this year. I am spreading my AFCC 2013 posts so that it won’t be inordinately long and I am seeing how I can ingeniously put together a few of the sessions that I managed to attend this year. I missed quite a bit since I was sick during the first two days of the conference, but it happens. Here are a few sessions that I attended which celebrate Asian American themes.
Asian American Authors and their Impact on Asia (Teleconference with Paul Yee and Ruthanne Lum McCann)
Paul Yee and RuthAnne Lum McCann on the screen. From L-R: Shirin Bridges, Renee Ting, and Moderator Lisa Yun.
With such esteemed and articulate speakers (four of them in all!) and such a learned moderator, one hour is hardly enough to explore the Asian diasporic experience in children’s literature and YA fiction and its impact and relevance to the rest of Asia. Each of the speakers talked about their background, the places they lived, and how being an Asian American influenced their writing and their narratives. One of the questions that the speakers answered was what motivates them to write/publish about Asian themes as well as some of the challenges they encountered through the years.
RuthAnne shared that when she was teaching middle school there was no story about Chinese Americans. And that when she started writing, she was told by publishers that there is no market for books about the Chinese. Yet despite this, she is resolved to tell valuable stories that have never been told – not so much about famous and well-known Chinese historical figures, but actual breathing and living individuals with their own unique stories to tell.
Paul Yee noted that he tries to fill in the gaps through his books and that he stumbled into children’s literature as part of his community work. He also states unreservedly that “diversity is the name of the game now.”
All the authors acknowledged that American publishers still prefer American content with RuthAnne facetiously pointing out that if the US thinks of Canada as foreign, how much more other countries from the other side of the world. Yet they also noted that “good stories are universal.” If writers come up with a story that anybody can relate to, then there is hope yet for that manuscript. Renee also noted that publishers prefer character-driven emotional stories which serve as a bridge that connects Asia and the West.
Current State and Future Possibilities of Asian-Themed Publishing in the US – Conversation with Renee Ting
We have always looked forward to having Renee Ting join us for the AFCC, and we are very happy that finally, she was able to make it this year. In her talk, she noted that there is no discernible pattern of Asian-themed publication in the US. She shared some demographics about the percentage of the minority/majority in the US as of 2011.
She also pointed out that the trend now is more about celebrating characters in the book that are Asian but not about being Asian, and she cited Eleanor and Park as an example.
Renee also shared that strong writing is essential in any manuscript. It has to be character-driven with character-voiced emotions and stories that would serve as a mirror for the reader and a window so that the reader can get to know about a culture that may be different from theirs.
One thing that struck me though was Renee’s thoughts about children’s literature where there is “a newfound celebration of culture, of being different.”
Here are some of the outstanding books across different genres and themes that Renee included in her presentation.