*Kate is one of our new Lit CelebrAsian team members. She introduces Julie C. Dao’s work below:
One of my favorite books (and debuts!) of 2017 was FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS by Julie C. Dao. If you haven’t heard or read it yet, first, read it. Secondly, the book is a fabulous reimagining of the Evil Queen from Snow White and her origin story. The sequel KINGDOM OF THE BLAZING PHOENIX is slated to be released November 6, 2018 with all new branding and I am chomping at the bits for it.
Julie is active on social media and one of my favorite authors to follow because of her commentary and honest thoughts on being an Asian American. When searching my mind for an author to interview, I knew I had to reach out to Julie.
What does it mean to you to not only see more Asian protagonists in books, but Asians on the cover?
JCD: It means the world to me to see Asian protagonists in books and on book covers, too! I still remember the first time I saw the cover of Cindy Pon’s WANT, with a handsome Asian boy front and center, and also the gorgeous girl on the covers for Traci Chee’s Sea of Ink and Gold series. Honestly, it brings tears to my eyes.
Speaking for myself, I’m 28 and seeing people who like me on covers of books means the world. I can’t imagine how seeing myself reflected on a book cover would’ve impacted me at age 10. What do you think this would have meant to you as a girl growing up?
JCD: When I was a kid, I never thought I could be a heroine. The stories I wrote were about white kids because those were the only characters in the books I read. If I had seen covers or read books like Cindy’s and Traci’s growing up, I probably wouldn’t have questioned my self-worth or whether I deserved to be the heroine of a story. I’m overjoyed that young Asian readers get to see themselves represented more often these days… though we still have a long way to go!
Q: What do you see as the biggest barrier to accurate representation of Asian/Pacific Americans* in literature today?
JCD: I think one big barrier is ensuring that more Asian and Pacific Americans* are represented in the publishing industry. Yes, we need more Asian books, but who seeks those books out in the first place? Who gives them a chance? Who champions them through the gateways of publishing so that they can find the young readers who need them? It should be a multi-faceted effort: acquiring and publishing more Asian and Pacific American* works, but also simultaneously and actively filling the ranks of editors, agents, sales/marketing professionals, etc. with more people who, too, have yearned to see themselves represented in fiction and understand – to their very core – the need to find amazing Asian authors to tell their stories.
[*Note from the Lit CelebrAsian Team: Readers can find books by Pacific Islander writers over on Anjulie Te Pohe’s amazing resource page.]
Q: What stereotypes do we still need to knock down?
JCD: I’d love to see all types of Asian-American experiences in literature! I think common stereotypes (i.e. strict parents, young Asians pushed into STEM, emphasis on school and hard work) are there for a reason, but we are not a monolith and not all of us experienced these things. I’d love to see more books about Asian characters who play sports, perform in the school musical, volunteer at summer camp, make art and write stories, etc. I’m such a fan of WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI by Sandhya Menon, TO ALL THE BOYS I’VE LOVED BEFORE by Jenny Han, and AMERICAN PANDA by Gloria Chao, which honor their characters’ heritages but also allow them to be just like any other fully fledged teenagers you’ll find in YA, with hopes and dreams and angst and romance!
What was the book for you that made you feel seen and properly represented? For me, it was STARFISH by Akemi Dawn Bowman. I’ve never felt more intimately connected to a character before.
JCD: I have to cheat and mention three! I adore Axie Oh’s REBEL SEOUL, which had multiple Asian female characters I loved, and it was wonderful to relate to elements of each unique character. I am obsessed with WARCROSS by Marie Lu, which has whip-smart, courageous Emika Chen at the helm, and I loved imagining myself in that character’s shoes! And on the adult side of things, I read Jhumpa Lahiri’s THE NAMESAKE many years ago. I had never seen my conflicted diaspora experience so beautifully and poignantly explained, and I cried buckets.
Thanks so much Julie!
Interview conducted by our new Lit CelebrAsian team member: Kate
Kate is a Korean-American adoptee and a 2011 Drake University grad, where she received her BA in magazine journalism. In addition to being a blogger, she is also a contributing writer for BookRiot.com.