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Teaching Multicultural Literature : A Workshop for the Middle Grades
Workshop 1 Workshop 2 Workshop 3 Workshop 4 Workshop 5 Workshop 6 Workshop 7 Workshop 8
Workshop 4: Research and Discovery - An Na, Edwidge Danticat, Laurence Yep, and more
Overview
Authors and Literary Works
An Na
Biography
Work
Edwidge Danticat
Biography
Work
Interview
Pam Munoz Ryan
Biography
Work
Walter Dean Myers
Biography
Work
Laurence Yep
Biography
Work
Interview
Key References
Video Summary
Teaching Strategies
Commentary
Student Work
Resources
Interactive Workbook -- Explore two poems using strategies from these workshops. Go.
Channel-Talk -- Share your views on the discussion board. Go.


Authors and Literary Works
Biography

Chinese American writer Laurence Yep was born in San Francisco's Chinatown in 1948. He is a third-generation American, son of a mother who was born in Ohio and raised in West Virginia, and a father who came over to California from China. He has written more than 50 works of fiction, generally for young readers. Among the best known are Dragonwings, Child of the Owl, Sea Glass, and Dragon's Gate. Writing mostly novels, but also short stories and plays, and even mysteries, Yep has created an original and personal blend of Chinese history, Chinese American history, mythology, fantasy, and science fiction. His work takes Chinese American fiction way beyond the meager supply of books with tired stereotypes from an earlier time. Page by page, chapter by chapter, book by book, he builds authenticity by rendering complex and nuanced characters and revealing them in highly energized plots that appeal to young people.

Yep's work is deeply influenced and defined by his Chinese American background, his ability to observe ordinary life closely, and his willingness to do extensive research, digging deep into primary resources in visits to small-town libraries. Even though Yep takes his characters far and wide geographically and chronologically (he might say they take him), he maintains unity in the underlying themes, examining the Chinese immigrant experience from countless perspectives. The first generation's concern with survival; their children's interest in assimilating as Americans; the relationships and conflicts between the generations; the struggle to fit in, to find identity, and to deal with discrimination: all are in Yep's purview.

For adolescents who read and reside in most of his works, a primary theme is alienation. "When you just look at adolescence itself, the very definition of it is alienation," says Yep. "That sense of alienation has many levels, and I think that's why I always try and write about it in different ways." Personally, Yep had much experience with alienation. He often found himself apart from the mainstream -- first as a Chinese American growing up in an African American neighborhood where his father owned a grocery store, and then when he went to elementary and middle school in Chinatown not being able to speak Chinese.

Laurence Yep couldn't find a mirror of himself in books either. There weren't many about Chinese Americans available when he was a boy, and "most of them weren't real. The few that were done were usually by somebody who had spent just a couple days in Chinatown at most, if they had done any research at all. I couldn't really identify with those books." So the future writer turned to books of fantasy and science fiction. "In those books you have children leaving their ordinary world and going to some faraway place where they have to learn strange new customs and a strange new language. And so science fiction and fantasy talks about adapting, and that's something I did every time I got on and off the bus."

In high school, Yep seemed headed for science -- he wanted to be a chemist -- and won the science prize at graduation. But an English teacher had urged students to send stories to magazines for publication. Yep learned that getting rejected makes you sad, "but it doesn't destroy you. So I kept on sending out stories." He decided he wanted to be a writer, and went to Marquette University in Milwaukee to study journalism. Here, in yet another way, Yep was out of his element. There were few Asian students, and the cold and snowy climate depressed him. He retreated into science fiction again, this time writing a story, Selchey Kids, which was sold to If magazine and later included in the book World's Best Science Fiction of 1969. Yep left Marquette after two years and went to the University of California at Santa Cruz, where he graduated with a degree in literature. He then went to the State University of New York at Buffalo for his Ph.D. in English literature.


"Sometimes I think of myself as a professional daydreamer," says Yep. "I get paid for just staring at the wall about different situations, about 'what if.'" The results of his daydreaming have reaped much praise and many awards. Dragonwings and Dragon's Gate, both from the Golden Mountain Chronicles series, which follows several generations of a Chinese American family, were named as Newbery Honor Books. Dragonwings also won the Children's Book Award from the American Library Association, the International Reading Association Award, the Carter A. Woodson Award from the National Council of Social Studies, the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, the Friend of Children and Literature Award, the Phoenix Award, and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. Child of the Owl received the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, the Jane Addams Award, and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom Award. The Rainbow People won the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award. Sea Glass was given the Silver Medal of the Commonwealth Club of California.

Teaching at the University of California at Berkeley and Santa Cruz, and giving talks to schoolchildren, Yep has found that many of his students share a common misconception about writing. "They think you have to go to a faraway place ... or be shipwrecked or have some kind of adventure before you can begin writing... That's not true... Good writing brings out the specialness of ordinary things, and all you need to write about are your friends and family."

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