The Collegian
Monday, October 26, 2020

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Chinese children's author comes to campus

Race and gender melt away in a true multicultural book, Grace Lin, a children's author and illustrator, told an audience of almost 50 people in the Brown-Alley Room last Wednesday. Storytelling is at the heart of Grace Lin's award-winning children's writing and illustrations. Lin's Chinese heritage and rich artistic background from her days at the Rhode Island School of Design shine through in works such as her 2010 Newbery Honor children's novel, "Where the Mountain Meets the Moon."

Lin, an author or contributing illustrator of 18 books, shared a different kind of story with students, community members and children Wednesday night - her story. With a projector displaying illustrations of childhood and published work behind her, Lin told the crowd of her life from creating childhood books, to writing a New York Times best-seller as the fourth installment of the English department's annual Writers Series.

Lin, a daughter of Chinese immigrants, wasn't always in touch with her heritage. Growing up as the only minority family in a small, upstate New York community didn't help. Lin and her two sisters were the only minority children in their school. She recalled seeing her reflection in a store window and thinking, "Look! An Asian girl!"

While studying art in Rome for a year, Lin immersed herself in Italian art and, in doing so, realized she knew little of her own cultural heritage. Lin reflected deeply upon her experience abroad, which she said left her with an identity crisis after returning stateside.

After studying and attempting to replicate art by greats such as Michelangelo and Botticelli, Lin said her art needed to reflect "Grace Lin" and her own voice. The projector switched to Lin's sketch of St. Mark's Cathedral in Rome.

"Up to this point, I had been creating art for all the wrong reasons," Lin said. "I realized I didn't draw this because I really wanted to draw St. Mark's Cathedral. No. I drew this because I wanted to show off.

I wanted people to look at this drawing and say, 'Grace Lin, you are such a great artist, you draw so well, I've never seen anyone draw as well as you.' I was drawing like this because I wanted people to give me compliments.

"If you are going to be an artist, if you are going to spend your life in the creative field, you should not be doing it because you want people to compliment you, because you want that pat on the back. That's really a waste of life. You have to be doing it because you want to share something with the world."

After this epiphany, Lin contemplated what made her and her art unique. She began researching Chinese folk art, learning Chinese and discovering Chinese folktales from her family, which became the foundation for most of her work. Her art drew from elements of both European and Chinese folk art, with vibrant colors and inspiration from Chinese alphabetical characters. Her stories became more complex, using both remembered and revised folktales.

Laura Browder, an English professor of adult and children's literature at Richmond, introduced Lin, and taught Where the Mountain Meets the Moon in to her class. Browder praised Lin's use of storytellers as characters in her books, as well as the role of parents in the novel.

Lin read an excerpt from her Newbery Award-winning novel to the audience near the end of her presentation.

Lin said the novel was a story about faith, destiny and how nothing is impossible. "Even fates written in the book of fortune can change, just like the fate of my multicultural books, and the reading habits of the children that we are trying to reach, even the state of publishing. So hopefully together we can change them for the better."

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Lin's next novel, "Dumpling Days," will be released in January during the Chinese New Year.

Contact reporter Chris McClintick at chris.mcclintick@richmond.edu.

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