Gene Luen Yang

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Summary

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Last Updated on January 12, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1114

Born: August 9, 1973

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Birthplace: California

Principal Works

Animal Crackers (2004)

Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005–)

American Born Chinese (2006)

The Eternal Smile (2009)

Prime Baby (2010)

Level Up (2011)

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Boxers & Saints (2013)

The Shadow Hero (2014)

Secret Coders (2015–)

New Super-Man No. 1–24 (2016–18)

The Terrifics No. 15– (2019–)

Biography

The author of numerous comics and graphic novels for young adult readers, Gene Luen Yang is best known as the author and illustrator of the award-winning graphic novel American Born Chinese (2006), in which three seemingly divergent stories combine to form a thought-provoking exploration of race, assimilation, and Chinese identity in the United States. He is also the author of Boxers & Saints (2013), a pair of graphic novels that chronicle the diverging lives of two young people during China's Boxer Rebellion. Yang's works have received significant critical recognition both within and outside of the comics industry, and he has been the recipient of multiple Eisner Awards, which recognize excellence in comic books and graphic novels. He has also received recognition from organizations such as the American Library Association and the National Book Foundation. American Born Chinese was the first graphic novel to be nominated for the National Book Award.

Yang was born on August 9, 1973, in Alameda County, California. The child of parents who had immigrated to the United States from Taiwan and Hong Kong, Yang endured racist bullying and struggled with his identity as an American-born person of Chinese descent during his early life, experiences that influenced his later work. His parents' stories were a memorable part of his childhood, and he began writing and drawing comics at an early age. Yang soon became an avid reader of comics, particularly superhero titles.

After graduating from high school, Yang enrolled in the University of California, Berkeley, where he majored in computer science and minored in creative writing. He later attended California State University, East Bay, from which he earned his master's degree in education. After college Yang initially took a software engineering position, a role he found unfulfilling. After two years, he ultimately decided to leave his job to become a teacher and work on comics in his spare time.

Yang soon began self-publishing short comics, establishing the publishing company Humble Comics. He first found success in 1997 with the publication of Gordon Yamamoto and the King of the Geeks, a comic published in several installments in which a teenager has a life-changing encounter with a tiny alien. He followed that work with Loyola Chin and the San Peligran Order, a comic set in the same universe; the two were collected and published in a single volume, titled Animal Crackers, in 2004.

It was Yang's next major work that brought him significant acclaim from both the comics industry and the wider literary community. Published in 2006, American Born Chinese features three stories that are ultimately deeply connected and provide a thoughtful portrait of the protagonist's experiences as the American-born son of Chinese immigrants. Yang also illustrated the graphic novel, which became the first such work to win the Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in young adult literature from the American Library Association. Following the success of American Born Chinese, Yang went on to write various other graphic novels, including Level Up (2011), Boxers & Saints, and The Shadow Hero (2014). Boxers & Saints was a finalist for the 2013 National Book Award and the winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for young adult literature. Yang has also written several graphic novels set in the world of the animated television series Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005–8), chronicling the continuing adventures of the characters after the end of the series.

In 2017, DC Comics released New Super-Man Vol. 1: Made in China, illustrated by Richard Friend and Viktor Bogdanovic, and written by Yang. In the comic, Yang introduces a new superhero, Kong Kenan. In 2019, Yang replaced Jeff Lemire as the writer for DC Comics' The Terrifics, starting with issue number fifteen.

In addition to his work in comics, Yang taught computer science at Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland, California, for more than ten years. In 2012, he joined the faculty of Hamline University as a creative writing teacher in the school's master of fine arts program. In 2016 he was appointed the Library of Congress's National Ambassador for Young People's Literature and won a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship. He lives in San Jose with his wife, Theresa, and their two children.

Major Works

Yang is best known for American Born Chinese, a complex graphic novel that weaves together the stories of a Chinese American boy who seeks acceptance in his predominantly white school, a white American teen whose life is sent into upheaval when his Chinese cousin comes to visit, and the Monkey King, a deity who wants to be perceived as something other than his true self. Incorporating elements of Chinese literature and American popular culture, American Born Chinese examines themes of immigrant identity, assimilation, and self-acceptance. Yang returns to such themes in some of his later works, including the superhero graphic novel The Shadow Hero, about a Chinese American teenager in the 1930s who becomes a costumed crime fighter.

A devout Catholic, Yang often considers the subject of religious faith in his graphic novels. One Lent, Yang wrote what would become The Rosary Comic Book (2003), a comic adaptation of the Rosary Prayer, in lieu of giving up chocolate or soda. Christianity plays a small but significant role in American Born Chinese, in which the story of the Monkey King, a figure from Chinese literature, is somewhat Christianized. Yang likewise engages with both Chinese culture and Christianity in Boxers & Saints; as two companion volumes, Boxers follows a Chinese boy who opposes Western imperialism during the Boxer Rebellion of 1899–1901, while Saints follows a Chinese girl who converts to Catholicism and faces persecution during the same period. Through such works, Yang explores the importance of religion, and especially Christianity, to many people of Chinese descent.

Further Reading

  • “About.” Gene Luen Yang, http://geneyang.com/about. Accessed 31 Oct. 2015.
  • Chen, Alice C. “The Humble Comic.” SFGate, 11 May 2008, http://www.sfgate.com/magazine/article/The-Humble-Comic-3214214.php. Accessed 31 Oct. 2015.

Bibliography

  • “Announcing New Faculty.” Hamline University. Hamline U, 2012, http://www.hamline.edu/HUContent.aspx?pageid=2147517472. Accessed 31 Oct. 2015.
  • Mayer, Petra. “'Boxers & Saints' & Compassion: Questions for Gene Luen Yang.” NPR Books, 22 Oct. 2013, http://www.npr.org/2013/10/22/234824741/boxers-saints-compassion-quesions-for-gene-luen-yang. Accessed 31 Oct. 2015.
  • “The Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature.” ALA, Amer. Lib. Assn., 2007, http://www.ala.org/Template.cfm?Section=bookmediaawards&template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=148145. Accessed 31 Oct. 2015.
  • Peitzman, Louis. “Gene Luen Yang: Teacher, Dad, Graphic Novelist.” SFGate, 29 Apr. 2010, http://www.sfgate.com/thingstodo/article/Gene-Luen-Yang-Teacher-dad-graphic-novelist-3265852.php. Accessed 31 Oct. 2015.
  • Sava, Oliver. “Gene Luen Yang takes over The Terrifics in This Exclusive Preview.” AV Club, 22 Apr. 2019, aux.avclub.com/gene-luen-yang-takes-over-the-terrifics-in-this-exclusi-1834216029. Accessed 11 Nov. 2019.

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