This is a guest post by Lum Chi, 2023 Junior Fellow on the Literary Initiatives Team.
This year’s National Book Festival theme is “Everyone Has a Story.” Within this theme, the Library is committed to featuring a diversity of stories, ensuring that we represent voices from different cultural backgrounds, gender experiences, orientations and racial identities. This blog spotlights the nine Asian American, Pacific Islander authors and three Indigenous authors featured at this year’s Festival.
Asian American/Pacific Islander Writers
Tahir Hamut Izgil one of the foremost poets writing in the Uyghur language. He grew up in Kashgar, a part of China’s Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region. After attending college in Beijing, he returned to the Uyghur region and became a film director, producing music videos, advertisement campaigns, documentaries and feature films. In 2017, he and his family sought asylum in the United States to escape persecution from the Chinese government. Izgil’s poetry, as translated by Joshua L. Freeman, has appeared in The New York Review of Books, Asymptote, Gulf Coast: A Journal of Literature and Fine Arts and Berkeley Poetry Review, and has also been translated into Chinese, Japanese and Turkish. He currently works as a producer at Radio Free Asia. Izgil’s memoir “Waiting to Be Arrested at Night: A Uyghur Poet’s Memoir of China’s Genocide,” will be featured at this year’s Festival.
Cheuk Kwan was born in Hong Kong and grew up in Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan. He has lived in the US, Canada and Saudi Arabia. He speaks English, Japanese, French and several Chinese dialects. Kwan is a writer and filmmaker who co-founded The Asianadian magazine and a film production company, Tissa Films. He loves and appreciates food, culture and travel. In a New York Times interview, Kwan says that his book “Have You Eaten Yet?” (featured at this year’s Festival) is a love letter to the many homes he’s lived in and memories he’s made through them.
Siddhartha Mukherjee is a New York Times bestselling author and Pulitzer Prize winner of nonfiction books that center around the world of medicine and science. His books often delve deep into the stories of scientists/medical professionals, the evolution of the human body and the history of modern medicine. In his award-winning featured book, “The Song of the Cell,” Mukherjee takes the reader back to the discovery of cells, the ways it revolutionized the world of medicine and how scientists are exploring ways to create new humans through the study of cells. Mukherjee works as an associate professor of medicine at Columbia University and a cancer physician and researcher. He currently lives in New York with his wife and daughters.
Saket Soni is a labor organizer and human rights strategist. He is the founder and director of Resilience Force, a national initiative to transform America’s response to natural disasters by strengthening and securing America’s resilience workforce. Soni’s autobiographical novel “The Great Escape,” featured at this year’s Festival, recounts his experiences escaping forced labor and addresses the serious issue of human trafficking faced by many immigrant workers in the United States. Aside from writing, Soni is a prolific public speaker and advocate for social justice, participating in major engagements with the United States government agencies, the Economic Policy Institute, the Center for American Progress and other progressive gatherings.
YOUNG ADULT (YA)
Sayantani DasGupta is a bestselling author with stories rich with Indian culture and representation. She often explores topics of anti-colonialism and Indian-inspired revolutions (Fire Queen series), Bengali folktales and string theory (Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond series), as well as environmental-themes (Secrets of the Sky series). Her featured book at this year’s Festival is “Rosewood: A Midsummer Meet Cute,” a modern retelling of Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility,” following teenage drama at a regency-themed summer camp. DasGupta is a pediatrician by training and currently teaches at Columbia University. She is also a member of the nonprofit organization We Need Diverse Books, working on the social media team to help marginalized young readers discover more stories that represent them. When DasGupta isn’t writing or reading, she watches cooking shows with her trilingual children and spends time with her black Labrador retriever Khushi.
Linda Kao grew up in California and spent most weekends throughout elementary school hauling books home from the library and read them on the living room rug. After completing her degree at Stanford University, she taught elementary school for several years before earning a doctorate in education from the University of California, Los Angeles. Along the way, she discovered a love for writing fiction. She has published short stories and poems in “Highlights for Children,” “Ladybug,” “Fun for Kidz” and “Boys’ Quest” magazines. Kao currently lives in Southern California with her family and enjoys running, reading and attending her children’s sporting events. Her debut novel, “A Crooked Mark,” will be featured at the 2023 National Book Festival.
Trang Thanh Tran is a Vietnamese-American author who writes emotional, speculative stories that highlight food, belonging and the Vietnamese diaspora. They are an alum of the Writing Barn’s Rainbow Weekend and Tin House’s Young Adult Fiction Workshop. In an interview with Geeks OUT, a nonprofit that empowers the LGBTQ+ community, Trang shares that, as a horror fan, they didn’t see many Vietnamese main characters in the genre. “I wanted a Vietnamese American final girl front and center, and whose story is very specific. That meant working with a seed of my own fears about belonging and coming out—because I love when horror and emotion connect” —and so was born their debut horror novel “She Is Haunting,” featured at this year’s Festival, with a bisexual Vietnamese American girl at its center. When not writing, they are busy trying new food and watching zombie movies.
Amélie Wen Zhao works in finance during the day and writes young adult fantasy at night. She is a New York Times and international bestselling author of the “Blood Heir” trilogy for young adult adults. Her magical new series is a celebration of the beauty of Chinese mythology, culture and spiritualism, and the first book, “Song of Silver, Flame Like Night” is featured at this year’s Festival. As she tells it in her interview with WBUR, “I wrote this book not only to empower us, but to celebrate us. As a Chinese author, I think it’s my duty to commemorate the spirit of my people and to remind us that in dark times, so long as we live on and carry our legacy, there’s going to be hope.” Born in Paris and raised in Beijing, Zhao currently resides in New York City.
Grace Lin is a bestselling, multiple award-winning author and illustrator of over 30 books and a 2022 recipient of the Children’s Literature Legacy Award. Most of Lin’s books center around the Asian-American experience, often exploring Chinese culture and folklore. As Lin expressed in an interview with “Reading Rockets,” she hopes her books become a mirror for Asian/Asian American kids like her to see themselves represented in literature and not feel alone. She expressed that “[b]ooks erase bias, they make the uncommon everyday, and the mundane exotic. A book makes all cultures universal.” Her featured book at this year’s Festival is “Once Upon a Book,” which paints the tale of a young girl who loves to imagine herself going on magical adventures through the pages of her favorite book.
Daniel Nayeri was born in Iran. He spent some time as a refugee before immigrating to Oklahoma at age eight with his family. Nayeri recounts these immigrant experiences in his autobiographical novel-in-verse, “Everything Sad Is Untrue: (A t=True s=Story),” which explores family history, generational lines, tradition and what it feels like to part ways with your motherland. His honors include the Michael L. Printz Award and a Middle East Book Award. Nayeri’s featured book at this year’s Festival is “The Many Assassinations of Samir, the Seller of Dreams,” an illustrated “assassin-studded” romp down the Ancient Silk Road for middle grade readers. Nayeri is a former publisher, editor and pastry chef. He lives with his wife and son in an Airstream in one of America’s great national parks.
American Indian and Native Alaskan Writers
Angeline Boulley, an enrolled member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, is a storyteller who writes about her Ojibwe community in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. She is a former director of the Office of Indian Education (OIE) at the U.S. Department of Education. Boulley lives in southwest Michigan, but her home will always be on Sugar Island, Michigan. Her debut novel “Firekeeper’s Daughter” received many awards, including a Michael L. Printz Award, William C. Morris Award, Walter Dean Myers Award and an American Indian Youth Literature Honor. Her newest release, “Warrior Girl Unearthed,” will be featured at the 2023 National Book Festival.
Michaela Goade is a bestselling illustrator and enrolled member of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. She’s well-known for her work on picture books that center around Indigenous people and Indigenous culture. Goade is the first Indigenous artist to receive the 2021 Caldecott Medal, and she was awarded a Caldecott Honor in 2023. Goade is the illustrator of the featured Festival title “Remember,” a picture book adaptation of Joy Harjo’s poetry, which invites young children to take a closer look at their relationships with nature, their heritage and the expansive world around them.
Joy Harjo, the 23rd Poet Laureate of the United States, is an internationally renowned performer and writer of the Mvskoke Nation. She is the author of 10 books of poetry, several plays, children’s books and two memoirs; she has also produced seven award-winning music albums and edited several poetry anthologies. A picture book adaptation of “Remember,” one of her most celebrated poems, will be featured at this year’s National book Festival, as well as her newest poetry collection, “Weaving Sundown in a Scarlet Light: Fifty Poems for Fifty Years.” In an interview with Vogue, Harjo expresses that she realized how empowering poetry can be for Indigenous people when she started working in local Native communities: “I remember . . . listening to testimonies of the older Native people, who spoke so eloquently. They were filled with history and a deeply embedded sense of spirituality. You watch all of these injustices that our peoples have gone through and you start thinking, By the time I get to the end of my life, I want Native people to be seen as human beings.” She lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma where she is the inaugural Artist-in-Residence of the Bob Dylan Center.
History and creation is interconnected with every writer, their work and the reader, and the Library works to preserve the voices of these creators and connect them with anyone who visits loc.gov or comes by in person.
The Library keeps records of Asian American Pacific Islander collections as well as Native American special collections, and contributes to research on both Asian American, Pacific Islander and Indigenous studies. Noteworthy collections include Asian American and Pacific Islander Culture and Traditions and Native Americans: Resources in Local History and Genealogy. If you would like further research assistance, reach out to a Library of Congress reference specialist for free from the Ask a Library service: Asian Studies, Local History & Genealogy, or the American Folklife Center.