Joyce Lee Wong is one talented author.
Her her first book, Seeing Emily, was awarded the prestigious Lee Bennett Hopkins/IRA most promising new poet award. I met her recently at a promotion retreat and I was happy she agreed to be interviewed.
When and why did you start writing for children?
SEEING EMILY (Abrams / Amulet 2005), my first book, is a Young Adult novel-in-verse. While it is not autobiographical, I drew upon my experiences, growing up in Virginia and traveling to Taiwan, to write it.
I trace EMILY’s beginnings to my college days, when I found myself writing a series of poems about my experiences living in Virginia, Taiwan, and Spain. While I’ve continued to write fiction and other forms of poetry, these narrative poems kept reappearing in my writing, and in EMILY, they ultimately coalesced in a sequence of poems chronicling a high school sophomore’s quest to discover who she is.
Emily Wu, the book’s protagonist, wants desperately to break away from her family, in order to find a new vision of herself. She has difficulty seeing which of the reflections of herself she perceives in the eyes of others (her friends, her family, her new boyfriend), is the real Emily. I think this is something we all have to go through— discovering who we are as we grow into our adult selves— and I wanted to write about a girl who navigates the stormy waters of the teen years as she makes her own way.
What is the most valuable advice you can give to a newly published writer?
Last month, at the International Reading Association’s annual conference in Toronto, I ended up borrowing a pen to sign books— so my advice is to make sure you bring a pen along to book signings! Seriously, I would suggest that you try to find your own personal balance between marketing and writing, that you talk to other children’s writers for education, moral support, and fun (for a group of talented and terrific writers, I most highly recommend SCBWI), and finally, ENJOY the moment.
What is one of your favorite children’s books you’d like to recommend?
I think most children’s authors would say they love children’s books, and I am no exception. I love their quality and variety, and I am delighted to see that the established literary genres are ever-expanding to include strong children’s writing in new styles and forms.
As the author of a verse novel, I’m a big fan of Karen Hesse’s deeply moving OUT OF THE DUST, which won the 1998 Newbery Award.
I’ve recently read Gene Luen Yang’s AMERICAN BORN CHINESE. In a highly personal, yet ultimately universal coming-of-age story, Mr. Yang creates a new mythology, which is exactly what every teen must do as he pieces together the strands of his family, his evolving image, and his personal hopes he writes the story of his life.
Finally, I have a personal favorite for the very young: Margaret Wise Brown’s THE COLOR KITTENS. The educational bonus of teaching children how to mix primary colors to create secondary colors is a fine reason for any parent or teacher to revel in Ms. Brown’s rich descriptive language and the lovely verse she uses to evoke each color. And the illustrations are just as charming today as they were when this book was first published, more than fifty years ago.
What is your favorite dessert and why?
Yellow mango, thinly sliced, on a bed of sweet rice drenched with coconut milk. My second choice would be ripe organic peaches (yellow and white), tender and juicy. Or perhaps a medley of red, black and green grapes, picked warm from the vine.
Joyce Lee Wong has devoted herself to giving the disempowered a voice in her work as an attorney, interpreter, teacher, and writer. A graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, she completed a PEN Center USA West Emerging Voices fellowship and is the recipient of a UCLA Extension Writer’s Program Community Access scholarship. She has won numerous “new talent” prizes awarded by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She lives in Los Angeles. Her first novel, Seeing Emily, has been selected as an International Reading Association Notable Book and a New York Public Library Best Book for the Teen Age. She was awarded the 2007 International Reading Association / Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award for Seeing Emily.