The Longest Shortest Time

EPISODE #99: When Grace Lin Realized She Was Chinese

This week’s guest is the fabulous Newbery-winning author and illustrator Grace Lin. There she is as a kid with her mom ^^.Tune in to hear the story of how she went from hating her parents’ culture to making a living by embracing it.

Since this story is so visual, we’ve also created a pictorial timeline of Grace’s journey. Please enjoy that below. And click HERE to find out how to win a beautiful little limited edition booklet by Grace, with a chapter that didn’t make it in to her latest novel, When the Sea Turned to Silver.

How Grace Lin Went from Drawing White Princesses to Bold Chinese Heroines

Grace grew up in a small town in upstate New York, the child of Taiwanese immigrants. She was the only Asian kid in her class.

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Grace didn’t like being Asian. But she loved to read and write and draw.

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The stories she’d tell were mostly about fairies and princesses, and sometimes just regular girls. But they were always white, never Asian. Grace says it didn’t even occur to her to draw characters who looked like her, because there weren’t characters who looked like her in any of the books she read.

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The image above is from a book Grace made that won her fourth place in a contest. The cash prize of $1000 convinced Grace that she wanted to be an author and illustrator, and publish her own fairy tales. So she went to art school. Where she learned … you don’t get to paint princesses right away. Here’s one of her many still lifes.

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She spent a year abroad in Rome, hoping to learn to draw and paint like Michelangelo and da Vinci.

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But while Grace was in Rome, she wound up having a conversation with an inquisitive Italian that led her to question who she was and where she came from. And she started making paintings of an Asian girl looking for … something. Here are details of two of those paintings.

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Grace began studying Chinese art, and even went to China, to learn more about her heritage.

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Grace was especially drawn to flat, colorful Chinese folk art, like the image detailed above. So she tried painting a portrait of her family in that style.

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Grace felt that she had finally found her artistic voice, and what you see in that family portrait has become her signature style. She’s used it in her picture books, like The Ugly Vegetables. (Top image on this page is Grace and her mom in their real Chinese veggie garden, which despite her thumbs up, Grace says embarrassed her as a kid.)

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Grace even has Chinese-folk-art-influenced illustrations in her novels, like Starry River of the Sky and When the Sea Turned to Silver. They’re full-color, too—which is unusual for novels, even novels for kids. Here are a couple images from Grace’s Newbery-award-winning book, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon—a Wizard of Oz type saga.

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These days, Grace is married (to a white guy). They have a daughter named Hazel.

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And Grace is struggling to figure out how to incorporate Asian culture into her daughter’s life without sounding preachy … and without seeming like an imposter.

Tune in for the full story! And don’t forget to enter for a chance to win a limited edition booklet, written and illustrated by Grace! It just involves retweeting one thing. Super easy.

Grace Lin’s Recommended Reading List
Here’s a list of Grace’s favorite Asian-American children’s lit.

Hush by Minfong Ho
The Lost Horse by Ed Young
Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin by Chieri Uegaki
Alvin Ho book series by Lenore Look
Millicent Min by Lisa Yee
Apple Pie Fourth of July by Janet Wong
Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream by Jenny Han
Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon (this one is for older young adult readers)
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

I’m gonna add one of my faves to this list—for YA readers: A Step from Heaven by An Na

How have YOU connected with your heritage?
(Or not.) Tell us! And add any favorite Asian American books or authors.

Our sponsors for this episode are Olive & Cocoa, Bark Technologies (code: LONGSHORT), Yogi Tea, Little Passports (code: LONGSHORT) and Fracture (mention LST at checkout). Use these links to access special deals for LST listeners!