Friday, December 19, 2014

2nd Annual Diversity Month Day 19: Blogger Interview w/ Terry Hong of +Kindle Fire 6" and Book Giveaway!

So we're always excited to re-introduce a site that people are probably already familiar with. If you don't know about it BookDragon, you should! It's one of the best book blogging resources to highlight diversity in books, especially main characters, or authors of Asian and Pacific Islander descent.

We got to hang out with the multitalented, multifaceted Terry Hong, the face behind the magic, to talk about how BookDragon started, what BookDragon's about, and some of her favorite books!

Now without further adieu...
We'd love for you to start the conversation by telling us who you "are" and what drives your passion to spread awareness about Asian Pacific American experiences?

I’m book-obsessed. I read everywhere and I mean everywhere. Some might say I’m a bit of a hazard: back in the day, I gave myself a slight concussion from bonking into a Stop sign headfirst in the middle of busy street while reading and walking to work. These days, thankfully, I can just stick a book in my ear – running (I do ultra-marathons), driving, folding laundry, doing dishes, basically whenever I don’t need to listen to a live being, I’ve got a book going. Of course, being a Luddite, nothing compares to the glee of actually holding a real live paper bound book in my hands, curled up with a purring kitty squashed up against me. That oft-repeated phrase, “So many books, so little time,” seems to be my life motto!

My must-read-mantra, I’m sure, has much to do with feeling like I need to somehow catch up with all the books I missed growing up. Except for maybe Seven Chinese Brothers which was published in 1938 – no I’m not THAT old … yet – I can’t remember a single book as a child that featured characters with whom I could readily identify. And something about that book was always unsettling to me, but I didn’t have the vocabulary to express why until years later.

Not until I was an adult, after I had graduated from college and moved to California, did I discover my very first children’s book that featured true, recognizable Asian Pacific American characters. Pie-Biter by hapa Chinese American author Ruthanne Lum McCunn was the very first book I held that celebrated the APA experience. Based on a real-life character, Pie-Biter featured a strong Chinese immigrant boy who arrives in the American West in the late 1800s to work on the transcontinental railroads and, as tall tales go, got his strength from eating pies. I’m not Chinese American (although our direct Hong genealogy claims we immigrated to Korea from China 47 generations ago), and I’m not aware of any ancestors who worked on the transcontinental railroad. And yet the story in Pie-Biter offers a collective historical past that Asian Pacific Americans can recognize and identify with today.

With exposure to so many better alternatives that began with Pie-Biter, I was finally able to voice my discomfort growing up without books that spoke specifically to my experiences as an American of Asian descent. While Seven Chinese Brothers was an example of all that was exotic and foreign, Pie-Biter was a piece of genuine APA history with none of the cloying made-up exoticism seen through someone else’s eyes. In the three decades since I discovered Pie-Biter, I’ve been collecting APA titles ever since – not only picture books but books for all ages.  Over the decades, I've turned all that reading into reviews, author interviews, and other book-related articles for many, many publications.

What is the story behind the BookDragon Initiative?

The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center’s founding director, Dr. Franklin Odo (since retired, always beloved), used to insist that I share some of my published pieces with the rest of the office, so I would lug in the occasional stack of magazines or newspapers. But with the world going virtual, a blog seemed to be much more convenient – and dare I say, a more useful – means of dispensing literary opinions. Thanks to the techno-expertise of the APAC's original multimedia specialist, Ricky Leung, BookDragon was launched on March 16, 2009. All content prior to that date – posts go back to 1995, egads! – is culled from the various newspapers, magazines, and other printed publications I’ve written for. From March 16, 2009 going forward, the content is an aggregated mixture of book review/author interviews first published elsewhere and BookDragon-specific reviews.

There are so few blogs and websites promoting diversity in books online. There are some, but still not as much as the cascades of blogs that ignore the need for diversity. Do you think that websites that promote diversity in books are just as important as the books themselves?

Absolutely! And here’s THE phenomenal success story of the year: The #WeNeedDiverseBooks
campaign, which began as a grassroots-fueled fit of frustration earlier this year over the lack of diversity in children’s books, almost instantly went viral. That continuing tidal wave of support from authors and readers demanding diversity is changing the face – or should that be faces?! – of the publishing industry. For anyone who is not aware of the power of social media/blogs/websites, meet We Need Diverse Books’ co-founding president (and author of the fabulous, heart-thumping trilogy Prophecy) Ellen Oh, just named one of Publishers Weekly’s “Notable Publishing People of 2014.” 

And get to know We Need Diverse Books.

Representation is oh so important because many times, it feels as though Asian Americans tend to get left out of the conversation. What are some ways we can work on making stories and shows featuring Asian American protagonists more visible?

Historically, APAs have been boxed into certain rigid roles – from the yellow peril to be driven out and purged from communities; to enemy-by-racial-association to be rounded up and imprisoned without cause; to the super-achieving model minority; to name just a few. In spite of a presence in North America long before the United States became a country, APAs as a unifying group didn’t even exist until the late 1960s when Americans of various Asian descents came together, inspired by the Civil Rights Movement. Half a century later, APAs are still fighting the quiet, inscrutable stereotypes. If we don’t speak up, of course, we won’t be heard. Silence is not an option. Social media seems to provide the loudest, most visible platforms these days. APAs are apparently the most connected community in the country … we certainly have the means to be seen and heard both. We just need to keep at it.

What were your Top 5 books this year featuring protagonists of both East Asian and South Asian descent? Note: They don't have to be released in this year.

In alphabetical order by title for favorite adult fiction:

Where can readers go to learn more about your project BookDragon as well as inquire about being featured on BookDragon? 

Everything about BookDragon is linked from the main page here: Official BookDragon Site . And yes, while I do give priority to titles by and about Asians and Asian Pacific Americans, you’ll find books and authors from around the world mixed in throughout. I like to think I’m an equal opportunity reader.

I’m currently backed up with assignments from other publications and at least two dozen books that have-been-read-but-not-yet posted; I’m on a judging committee for an international kiddie books honor list (my initial two-year appointment has grown another year as I take over as chair next year) so my eyeballs are falling out, having read an additional 500 or so titles this year [in case you were wondering, kiddie book categories also include far too many 500+-page novels with itsy bitsy print, egads!]. I suppose I can’t complain – I’ve appreciated so many titles I would never have even picked up had they not been submissions! Even in my old age, my literary education continues daily! Thank the reading gods!

Some of Terry's faves!

Graphic titles:

Vivek Shraya’s God Loves Hair

Gene Luen Yang’s Shadow Hero

Michael Cho’s Shoplifter

Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki’s This One Summer

Shimura Takako’s Wandering Son (manga series)

Kiddie titles (PreK-18ish)

Sarah Kay’s No Matter the Wreckage (poetry collection; probably not classified as a YA title, but young adults seem to be the perfect market for it)

Raymond Nakamura’s Peach Girl

Ellen Oh’s Prophecy trilogy

Kellen Hatanaka’s Work: A Occupational ABC

Anna Kang’s You Are (Not) Small

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