beth_shulman: (stock: open book rose)
...I write my books on what I call "The Pizza Model." Fifty years ago, pizza was a strange exotic food, the subject of ethnic slurs. Now, not only does it have coast-to-coast acceptance, but American chefs and eaters have made it their own: in Italy you would be hard put to find a Cajun-blackened-chicken pizza topped with mango salsa on a whole-wheat sourdough crust! In the same way, I think of [A Single] Shard as an "American" novel. Its setting and characters may be twelfth-century Korean, but its author was concerned with the search for belonging and the drive to innovate, both very much part of the American experience. This strikes me as a fine parallel to both the Newbery Award itself — named for an Englishman, yet now wholly American-and to American culture as a whole. It is one of our great strengths that we have such a richness of cultures from which to draw in the continuing evolution of our own.

Is it important that I am the first Asian American in seventy-five years to have been awarded the Newbery Medal? In some ways, yes. Seventy-five years is a long time — three or four generations. We all know now how important it is for young people to see themselves reflected in positive images from the culture around them. And I think it is even more important for those in the majority to see images of people of color in a variety of contexts, to move away from seeing them as "other."

However, I was pleased by Kathleen Odean's comment that the book's multiculturalism was not a factor in its selection. Certainly I did not write the book with an overt political agenda in mind. It has also been difficult for me to deal with the idea of becoming a sort of poster child for Korean Americans and for Asian writers in general.

I feel strongly that the author's bio should be kept separate from consideration of the text itself, so much so that for my first three books I declined to have my photo printed on the back flap. I wanted the books to stand or fall on their own, without help or hindrance from information about my ethnicity. And I still believe that this is the goal — the ideal we must strive for, But the response from Koreans and Korean Americans demonstrates that we are still a long way from inhabiting that ideal world. I was stunned and humbled to learn what the award for A Single Shard means to so many people, young and old, complete strangers, who have written to tell me how proud they are that a book set in Korea by a Korean American had won this award — how they now feel "included" in a way that they did not before...


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