The Library of Congress has appointed comic book author and graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang as the US National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. The announcement, made Jan. 4, marks the first time the honor has been conferred on a comic book author since the program started in 2008.
Yang, a 42-year-old California native, and the son of Chinese immigrants, has penned several best-selling graphic novels including American Born Chinese, the story about the travails of a Chinese-American boy acclimating in San Francisco, which became the first graphic novel to be considered for the National Book Award. (Graphic novels are, as SF Gate succinctly put it, “essentially super long, complicated comic books,” which happen to be very popular right now among young readers.)
During his two-year tenure as national ambassador, Yang will expand on the lessons of his award-winning books through a program called “Reading Without Walls.” Yang, who wore a “We Need Diverse Books” campaign button when he gave a speech at the National Book Festival gala in 2014, asserts that exposing children and teens to a wide range of literature is a way to quell prejudices and arrest agoraphobia.
“Reading breaks down the walls that divide us. By reading, we get to know people outside of our own communities,” said Yang in a statement issued by the Library of Congress regarding his appointment. “We gain knowledge others don’t expect us to have. We discover new and surprising passions. Reading is critical to our growth, both as individuals and as a society.”
Making graphic novels is not Yang’s first and only career. Urged by his parents, Yang pursued computer science at the University of California, Berkeley, where he graduated with a minor in creative writing. While running his self-publishing imprint Humble Comics, Yang previously worked as a software developer and has been teaching computer science to teens at a Catholic high school in Oakland for nearly 20 years. His latest novel, Secret Coders, published in 2015, draws on this experience and along the way deftly imparts the basics of computer programming to young readers.