Graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang has created a groundbreaking read in American Born Chinese. It's the first graphic novel to be nominated for a National Book Award.
As one of the few Chinese Americans in his predominantly white school in Northern California, Yang wrestled not just with all the usual questions of childhood, but also with often subtle forms of racism.
Yang says he ran out to the local copy shop with the original draft in 2000, thinking he would sell 12 or 13 copies of the "mini comic" by hand. The novel tells the story of three characters, the Monkey King, the Chinese-American boy and Chinkie, the over-the-top stereotype.
Memories of shame played a big part in shaping the book, Yang says. He recalls a boy who joined his elementary school from Taiwan. Yang's teachers wanted him to befriend the new kid, who gamely talked to Yang in Mandarin for a week. Yang struggled to respond. "I was really dealing with something inside about me being ashamed of the culture of my parents," he says.