Gene Luen Yang is the First Graphic Novelist to Be Named National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature

In 2008, the Library of Congress, the Children’s Book Council, and Every Child a Reader established the position of National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature: someone who “raises national awareness of the importance of young people’s literature as it relates to lifelong literacy, education and the development and betterment of the lives of young people.” Today, the Library of Congress named Gene Luen Yang—author of American Born Chinese and The Shadow Hero (among others) and current writer on DC Comics’ Superman—as its latest National Ambassador. Yang, 42, is the first-ever graphic novelist to receive this esteemed title, joining the ranks of Walter Dean Myers, Katherine Paterson, and others.

In a press release, Yang said:

I’m thrilled and humbled to be appointed National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. Reading breaks down the walls that divide us. By reading, we get to know people outside of our own communities. We gain knowledge others don’t expect us to have. We discover new and surprising passions. Reading is critical to our growth, both as individuals and as a society. The Children’s Book Council, Every Child a Reader, and Library of Congress all empower people by getting them to read. I’m honored to take up that mission myself and to carry on the amazing work of the ambassadors before me.

Talking to the New York Times, he also discussed the significance of being appointed National Ambassador based on his graphic novels:

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. […] These worlds are really converging in interesting ways.

American Born Chinese, published by First Second in 2006, was the first graphic novel to be a finalist for the National Book Award as well as the first to win the Michael L. Printz Award. It also won the Eisner Award in 2007 for Best Graphic Album – New; in 2015, Yang was honored at San Diego Comic-Con with the Eisner Award for Best Writer.

The National Ambassador is selected based on a combination of factors, including his/her ability to relate to middle grade and young adult readers and his/her dedication to fostering children’s literacy. During his two-year term, Yang will appear at events such as the Children’s Choice Book Awards in May, at which he will announce the winners. Yang will also work to promote Reading Without Walls, a program he developed with the Children’s Book Council and First Second, which encourages children to step out of their comfort zone when learning reading skills. He told the New York Times:

A huge part of being a kid is exploring the world. Books are a bridge between them and what might be unfamiliar.

Furthermore, he explained to the Washington Post‘s Comic Riffs,

Walls are only a big thing if you’ve never crossed them or scaled them. There are a lot of walls between cultures that reading can help bridge; reading is a way to get to know people on a deeper level. … And we’re also talking about ways we can use technology to engage kids with reading, because the technology [we’re looking at] is so new.

Yang’s inauguration ceremony will take place on Thursday, January 7, at 11 a.m. EST in Washington, D.C. The event is open to the public; no tickets required. You can also follow along on Twitter with the hashtag #NatAmb.


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