Nov 29, 2021 1 min, 24 secs

Centered on the 13-year-old daughter of a Chinese cook, Khor’s middle-grade graphic novel, a finalist in this year’s National Book Awards, explores the hardships Chinese laborers experienced in the tumultuous years after the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act.

Tara Fickle, an associate professor at the University of Oregon who teaches Asian American literature and comics, said the growth of graphic memoirs can be partly attributed to the “coming of age” of certain Asian American subgroups that haven’t “historically received as much attention in mainstream narratives,” including the children of refugees, mixed-race Asian Americans and transracial adoptees.  .

“Asian American graphic novelists have developed brilliant ways to expose and critique the microaggressions and everyday reality of growing up Asian American, as well as the broader historical and systemic forces that determine their specific racialization.”

In some ways, the graphic novel is almost uniquely equipped for writers to explore the complexities of race, said Gene Yang, author of 2006's “American Born Chinese,” the first graphic novel to be nominated for a National Book Award

While the rise of Asian American graphic novelists is a more recent phenomenon, Yang said, the group has had greater representation in comic books than perhaps any other storytelling industry

“If you ask any comic book fan for a list of their favorite artists, there’d be at least one to two Asian Americans,” Yang said

In her 2020 novel “Displacement,” Kiku Hughes uses a science fiction staple to explore the intergenerational impact of incarceration on Japanese American families like her own

As more states consider legislation to integrate Asian American history into public school curriculums, some graphic novelists are hoping their works have a place in the classroom alongside history textbooks.  

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