MacArthur Fellows Program

Gene Luen Yang

Graphic Novelist | Class of 2016

Bringing diverse people and cultures to children’s and young adult literature and confirming comics’ place as an important creative and imaginative force within literature, art, and education.

Title
Graphic Novelist
Location
San Jose, California
Age
43 at time of award

About Gene's Work

Gene Luen Yang is a graphic novelist and cartoonist whose work for young adults demonstrates the potential of comics to broaden our understanding of diverse cultures and people. Yang has produced full-length graphic novels, short stories, and serial comics, many of which explore present-day and historical events through a contemporary Chinese American lens.

In American-Born Chinese (2006), Yang integrates tropes from American comics, Chinese folklore, and the Chinese immigrant experience. Three interlocking narratives contribute to a nuanced depiction of the struggles of adolescent Jin Wang as he comes to terms with his bicultural identity and attempts to assimilate in America. Yang employs elements of mythology and realism in his retelling of the legend of the Chinese folk hero the Monkey King, who offers a lesson on the need to accept oneself in order to thrive, and the character of Chin-Kee represents Jin Wang’s confrontation with the stereotypes of Chinese culture. In an ambitious two-volume work of historical fiction entitled Boxers and Saints (2011), Yang chronicles the peasant uprising against Western influences in China in 1900. The story of the Boxer Rebellion is told from two contrasting points of view: a boy who joins the rebels, and a girl taken in by Christian missionaries to whom she offers allegiance. Boxers and Saints is an immersive adventure tale, an educational primer on the Boxer Rebellion, and an illustration of how consideration of multiple perspectives enriches understanding of historical events.

Having written much of his work while employed as a high school computer science teacher, Yang recognizes the instructional value of comics. He is currently writing a series of graphic novels, Secret Coders (2015­– ), that cleverly introduces computer coding within an engaging mystery plot. In these and other projects, such as the New Super-Man series, Yang is leading the way in bringing diverse characters to children’s and young adult literature and confirming comics’ place as an important creative and imaginative force within literature and art.

Biography

Gene Luen Yang received a B.S. (1995) from the University of California at Berkeley and an M.A. (2003) from California State University at East Bay. From 1998 to 2015, he taught computer science and served as director of information services at Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland, California. His additional publications include The Shadow Hero (2014) and Level Up (2011), and he has written for Avatar: The Last Airbender. Yang has taught in Hamline University’s MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults since 2012 and is currently serving as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature (2015–2016).

News About this Fellow
October 1, 2017
"Cartoonist Gene Luen Yang Pushes Comics to Deeper Themes"
San Francisco Chronicle
Gene Luen Yang, 2016 MacArthur Fellow
May 4, 2017
"Asian-American Superhero The Green Turtle Returns!"
Smithsonian Magazine
Gene Luen Yang, 2016 MacArthur Fellow
April 28, 2017
"Interview: Gene Yang Talks Diversity, Politics and New Super-Man"
Comic Book Resources
Gene Luen Yang, 2016 MacArthur Fellow
April 24, 2017
"Gene Luen Yang's Resistance Reading"
Mother Jones
Gene Luen Yang, 2016 MacArthur Fellow
April 14, 2017
"Minority Book Report: How Reading Grows Our Empathy"
Big Think
Gene Luen Yang, 2016 MacArthur Fellow
February 17, 2017
"Gene Yang: A Graphic Novelist Caught Between Two Worlds"
Christianity Today
Gene Luen Yang, 2016 MacArthur Fellow
View all news

Photos

Photos are owned by the MacArthur Foundation and licensed under a Creative Commons license: CC-BY.
Credit: John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

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