Meet Wendy Shang: The Amy Tan of Children’s Lit (The Great Wall of Lucy Wu, ages 9-12)
Meet Wendy Shang, a shining voice in children’s literature that actually portrays Asian Americans as we are — not nerdy, tweaky, math wizards — but nuanced balancing the tightrope of assimilating versus being Asian that we all walk. The Great Wall of Lucy Wu is her first chapter book for ages 9-12 but it’s a break out! Expect it to win many awards this year. I can’t wait to read more of her work, so much so that I tracked her down for an interview.
1) Tell me about growing up.Where did you live? Siblings? Where are you parents from? Any semblance of Tiger Mom or Dad?I still live near where I grew up – in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC – but it was quite different then! It’s so diverse here now – you might see someone in a hijab working at the sushi counter or hear a call for any Nepali speakers at the library – but I was the only Asian student in my first elementary school for a long time (and I still remember the name of the second Asian student because I felt so relieved when she arrived). My parents were born in China, but spent their young adult years in Taiwan before coming to the US.They were absolutely NOT Tiger parents. When that book first came out, in fact, my mother was concerned that people would think she had been a Tiger Mom because my brother and I had done pretty well in school, become a doctor and lawyer, that sort of thing. They certainly had high expectations, but it was up to us to get there. Both of my parents gave us a lot of freedom in that regard, but did let us know that education was a family priority and that they were ready to make sacrifices for us.
2) When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? How did your parents feel? What did you do to pursue?It’s funny – I LOVED to write as a kid. I wrote my first book in kindergarten, won awards for writing in elementary school, and maintained a weekly “serial” with a friend in high school. But somehow, making a career out of writing didn’t even seem like a possibility to me. The idea of an author as a real, live person was a bit odd!I took up writing while I was a stay-at-home mom. My parents were really supportive of me being a stay-at-home mom, and so moving to writing wasn’t a big leap to them, I think. My husband, though, really hung in there for me, especially in the early days when I would leave him with three small children after he had a full work day so I could take a class on writing for children. My first course was at the Writer’s Center with Mary Quattlebaum, and I remember just feeling electrified when I went to class. It was probably a small miracle that I didn’t drive off the road in pure excitement.
3) Your character, Lucy, seems to nail exactly what it’s like to walk the tightrope between assimilating and being Asian.How much of Lucy is you?There are aspects of me that are definitely in Lucy; I drew a lot upon my memories of feeling alienated as a kid. But Lucy is really her own person. One thing I really love about having LUCY out in the world is how many different people come to me and say, “My family is from [insert any country], but I really relate to your book!”
4) Do you have children? If you do or intend to, how will you raise your children with respect to their Asian heritage?I do have children. I would say that the best thing I’m doing for them with respect to their heritage is living near their grandparents, where they can hear lots of stories and discussions about their family’s history.
5) What are you working on now?
I am working on a baseball book set in the 1970s.
6) What authors had the greatest influence on you?What were your favorite authors growing up? Now?When I was a kid, I really loved Judy Blume. I felt like she really understood me, and of course, there was Tracey Wu from BLUBBER. There weren’t a lot of Asian characters in pop culture aside from Mr. Sulu on Star Trek, and seeing a girl like me in a book was so gratifying. I also liked Laura Ingalls Wilder, Ellen Conford and John Fitzgerald. And to me, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is pure perfection.Right now, I’m going through a heavy boy phase, because I’m working on a boy character. I really enjoyed Kurtis Scaletta’s Mamba Point, and Gary Schmidt’s Okay for Now has just captured my heart as a reader and my mind as a writer. On the “adult” side of reading, I’ll read anything by Bill Bryson, David Sedaris, Sarah Vowell, Ann Patchett and Jhumpa Lahiri.
7) What advice would you give to someone who says that they want to be an author?I would say, don’t think about being an “author.” I think a lot of people get overwhelmed by that. Just think about writing. Try to write a little bit every day. Maybe write about what you ate, or look for a funny little situation that captures your imagination. Write about something that made you angry or delighted or sad or puzzled. Then after you’ve written a bit, go back and look at what you’ve written down. You may hate some of it, but chances are, you’ll find something that you like and would be willing to write a little more on.
To view Wendy’s book at Amazon, just click on image of book. I also have reviews here on my other blog, PragmaticMom.