Gene Luen Yang: National Storyteller

If we were to conjure a favorite high school teacher, one who’s smart, funny, innovative, caring, honest, and ever so talented, Gene Luen Yang would fit to a T. So personable a speaker, he can reach you through his website videos. Most writers share their deepest thoughts and ideas through their books, but to also be able to speak eloquently and touch audiences of children, teens or adults, well, Gene is in a rock star category all his own. As an award-winning cartoonist, author, and the Library of Congress’ fifth National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, he is proudly a teacher first. His inspiration as a writer is firmly rooted in his 17 year teaching experience as a high school computer science teacher. About that, he declares, “…honestly, I miss it. I miss my students, and my co-workers. I miss having to put on pants to go to work.” A very funny guy to boot.

He burst onto the literary scene when American Born Chinese was the first graphic novel ever to be nominated for a National Book Award and first one to win the Michael L. Printz YA Award. He addresses cultural identity and faith, in a most disarming way. Another graphic novel in 2 volumes, Boxers and Saints, was equally stunning as historical fiction and honored with a National Book Award nomination and 2013 LA Times Book Prize. Teens and adults both are big fans.

Children and teens certainly know the comics but may not know of Yang’s huge part in them. He is associated with the very popular series Avatar—the Last Airbender, as well as the writer of some titles in DC Comics’ most famous superhero series, Superman:  Superman Vol. 1:  Before Truth, Superman Vol 2:  Return to Glory, and still to come in 2017 New Superman 1:  Rebirth. Currently, he is working on a book series called Secret Coders, which makes coding simple and fun by following the adventures of three friends in an elementary school full of secrets and mysteries to be solved by using one’s head. He also has written especially for teens: The Shadow Hero, Level Up, The Eternal Smile, Animal Crackers, Prime Baby, and more.

When he accepted the role of National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, he concluded his talk by saying, “Let me … encourage you to read without walls. Find a book with someone on the cover who doesn’t look like you or live like you. Find a book about a topic that you don’t know much about. Find a book that’s in a format you’ve never tried before: a graphic novel, a words-only novel, or a novel in verse. Read without walls and see what happens.” Since then, he has a blog devoted to the concept, with lots of incentives and challenges for all ages, so start here to join the throng: READING WITHOUT WALLS.

~ posted by Diane C.

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