Taiwanese Women in Literature Panel
by Karen Lee - Thursday, May 4, 2004

This panel featured three successful Taiwanese American women in the publishing industry: Alvina Ling is an editor at Little, Brown and Company in New York City; Justina Chen Headley is the writer of newly released picture book The Patch , and the young adult novel, Nothing But the Truth (and a few white lies); and Grace Lin, writer of several dozen books, most notably the children's book The Ugly Vegetables , which was nominated for several awards.

How did you make the decision to enter the profession?

After graduating from UC Berkeley with a major in mass communications, Alvina didn't know what she wanted to do with her life. She moved to Taiwan to teach English and study Chinese, and when she returned to the US , she started working as a bookseller for Barnes & Nobles, completing two internships at Horn Book and Charlesbridge Publishing, and then working at Little Brown and Company in 1999. The main reason she entered the profession was because she never saw Asians in the children's books she read as a kid and wanted more character diversity in the literature. She feels that being an editor of children's books, though not a high-paying job, is immensely rewarding as a result of her being able to pursue this goal.

Justina majored in economics at Stanford University and worked as a marketing executive at Microsoft. She delayed pursuing a career in writing because one of her writing professors had said she had no talent. She thanks her mother for her support in her and became a writer because she felt she had stories to tell.

Grace Lin
While her other sisters became scientists, Grace attended the Rhode Island School of Design where she quickly set out to achieve her dream of creating children's books. Her first book, The Ugly Vegetables was published in 1999 and made the American Bookseller's Association's "Pick of the List" and Bank's Street College Best Books of the Year. The Ugly Vegetables was nominated for the California Young Reader Children's Choice Award and named a Growing Good Kids Book Award Classic. Most recently, Grace's first young adult novel The Year of the Dog was released with glowing praise.


Challenges and Support

When asked about the greatest challenges and support in regards to their decision to pursue a career in literature, the three were quick to name their parents. Pursuing a career that didn't entail medicine, engineering or business poses an extra challenge to Asian Americans and is often the cause of much strain in family relations. When speaking of disappointing their parents, the speakers' diplomatic words nevertheless convey the difficulties they all experienced.

Alvina thanked her parents for being supportive in allowing her to make her own decisions. She acknowledged that it must have been difficult for them in the beginning, especially when she first started working at Barnes & Nobles while her friends were making a lot of money in consulting firms. She imagined the pitying glances her parents must have received from their friends, but their belief in her and her passion for her work kept her going.

Justina admitted that her decision to be a writer was very disappointing to her father, an engineer. When she spoke of her mother however, she glowed with heartfelt appreciation of her mother's support.

Grace Lin replied that going to art school was very difficult for her parents, especially her father. She gave an anecdote of overhearing her mother's friends chastising her mother, "how could you let her go to art school?" Grace said she realized how difficult it must have been for her parents and began to appreciate what they went through to support her.

What are your plans for the future?

Alvina intends to stay in book publishing. She's interested in working with Taiwanese American writers, as well as Mexican-American and African American. What is important for her is that the children books represent the diversity of our population and be fun and entertaining.

Justina intends to continue writing for children and teenagers. She feels that there are not enough Asian American figures in books and her goal is to bridge the differences between cultures.

Grace wants to continue to write and publish, she loves what she does and considers herself one of the lucky few who get to do what they love for a living.

After a few more questions, Justina read from her book, Nothing But the Truth . She read from the chapter where her character Patty is sent to math camp and dates a boy.

Grace read from her novel, Year of the Dog . She read the part where she mingles her parents' stories with her own.

A NATWA member from the audience asked the question, "How can NATWA and the older community support NATWA II and the second generation.

Alvina asked them to please support the second generation - not only financially by buying the books and using them as role models for their children and grandchildren - but also to encourage the next generation to pursue careers in the industry. Nancy responded by saying that the Taiwanese community is a powerful demographic - financially and politically - but it is time that our culture and stories reflect our presence. It has been difficult to publish stories about Taiwanese Americans, and if they don't sell, publishers won't encourage other writers to write about Taiwanese Americans.

Alvina, Justina and Grace will be touring the US during May, Asian American month, promoting Hai Ya! Check out the NATWA II website for more details.

Information on Grace Lin can be found on her website, www.gracelin.com

Information on Justina Chen Headley can be found on her website, www.justinachenheadley.com


Grace Lin Biography

Grace Lin grew up in Upstate New York with her parents and two sisters. While the other sisters became scientists, Grace became an artist. Surprisingly enough, being an artist was not Grace's first choice. She first dreamed of being a champion ice skater, and drew many pictures of herself twirling and dancing on the ice. Unfortunately, Grace had neither the talent nor coordination to make it to skating stardom. However, the pictures she drew of herself held much promise and quickly became Grace's career focus. After attending the Rhode Island School of Design, Grace quickly set out to achieve her dream of creating children's books. Her first book, THE UGLY VEGETABLES, was published in 1999 and was quickly heralded. As well as being an American Booksellers Association's "Pick of the List" and a Bank's Street College Best Books of the Year, THE UGLY VEGETABLES was nominated for the California Young Reader Children's Choice Award and named a Growing Good Kids Book Award CLASSIC. Grace followed that success with the publication of over a dozen more books, including DIM SUM FOR EVERYONE!, FORTUNE COOKIE FORTUNES, and OLVINA FLIES. Her book ROBERT'S SNOW became the inspiration for the cancer fighting fundraiser, Robert's Snow: For Cancer's Cure ( www.robertssnow.com ) and was featured on NBC's Today Show. Most recently, Grace's first children's novel, THE YEAR OF THE DOG was released with glowing praise. Grace lives in Somerville, MA with her husband Robert Mercer.

Alvina Ling Biography

Children's books have shaped Alvina's life, and she is honored to play a role in creating them. After spending some time after college studying at the Mandarin Training Center in Taipei, Alvina decided to try to break into the publishing industry. She started as a bookseller at Barnes & Noble and found herself constantly being drawn to the children's section, and realized that her passion lay in children's books. She completed two internships at the Horn Book and Charlesbridge Publishing, and then started at Little, Brown and Company in 1999. She currently also works two Saturdays a month in the children's room of a Bronx branch of the New York Public Library.

At Little, Brown, Alvina edits a wide range of books, including picture books, middle grade, young adult novels, and nonfiction. Some of the books she has edited are Blow Out the Moon by Libby Koponen; Anne Elizabeth's Diary by Anne Elizabeth Rector, Kathleen Krull and Catherine Chermayeff; Bubble Gum, Bubble Gum by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith, Flight of the Dodo by Peter Brown, Sound of Colors by Jimmy Liao (originally published in Taiwan), Year of the Dog by Grace Lin, and Nothing But the Truth (and a few white lies) by Justina Chen Headley. She also works with Caldecott-Medal winner Ed Emberley and Newbery medal winner Jerry Spinelli. Alvina lives and works in New York City and enjoys walking to work through Central Park every morning, even in the snow!


Justina Chen Headley Biography

Justina Chen Headley's debut young adult novel, Nothing But the Truth (and a few white lies) was sold at auction between four major publishers, resulting ain a 2-book contract with Little, Brown. Two National Book Award finalists have called this novel about a hapa teen "a work of art" and "fresh, energetic and immensely likeable." Recently, Justina published her first picture book, The Patch. After graduating from Stanford with honors, Justina worked as a marketing executive at Microsoft. She lives near Seattle, WA, with her husband and two children.


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