Hamline News

Yang Named National Ambassador for Young People's Literature


In January of 2016, Hamline University instructor Gene Luen Yang was named the fifth National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature by the Library of Congress. On top of teaching creative writing in Hamline’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program, Yang is a graphic novelist and has been creating comics for over fifteen years.

“When I was coming up in the ’90s, the comic book industry and the book industry were largely separate. They had their own awards, distribution systems, and stores,” Yang said. “But now, these worlds are really converging in interesting ways.”

Yang has published numerous works including American Born Chinese and Boxers and Saints, mostly with publishing company First Second Books. Not only has Yang received many awards for his work, but also wrote the first graphic novel to be finalist for the National Book Award. While stories cross genres, the one thing that remains the same is his commitment to integrating topics such as identity, acceptance, and culture.

“You learn something about yourself every time you write. I think that's what storytelling is. You're trying to figure out what it means to be human. Identity, culture, and belief crop up again and again in my comics. I don't consciously choose to write about those themes. They just sort of... emerge. I didn't realize how important they were to me until I started telling stories,” said Yang.

The Library of Congress created the literary ambassador program in 2008 to advocate for the education of children and young adults. As the national ambassador, Yang will travel around the country speaking to kids, teens, and their caregivers at events like the Children’s Choice Book Awards. He will also focus on promoting his platform, "Reading Without Walls," which focuses on engaging non-readers, embracing diversity, and eliminating barriers to reading. News of Yang’s recent national ambassador title has been covered in major news outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, National Public Radio, StarTribune, and Publishers Weekly.