Transcript from an interview with Minh Lê

Below is an edited transcript from our interview with Minh Lê. Watch the video interview with Minh Lê ›

Comfortable in the pages of a book

As a kid I would describe myself as painfully shy and more comfortable within the pages of a book than I was kind of like navigating the world. So I used books as kind of my escape from the, from the world. Which makes it interesting that now as an author I get to use books as my way back into the world. Whereas before I would use books as a way of connecting myself, books have now become my way of connecting with other people and getting to go and talk to kids in schools and doing readings. It’s been really special to me. 

As far as my reading life as a kid, my parents took us to the library all the time. And we were those kids who would show up at the front desk with like a pile of books taller than we were. And so we were always surrounded by, by books growing up. 

Revisiting favorite children’s books

One of the things I love about children’s books is they kind of grow with you over time. When I was a kid, one of my favorite books was A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams, I experienced it from a certain perspective, from the child’s perspective. And what’s interesting is now revisiting it and reading it with my two children, it’s like suddenly I’m seeing it from a different angle and like have new appreciation for the mother in the story, and the hard work that she’s doing.

It’s interesting to me to have a book reveal new layers of meaning over time and that’s one of the things I love about picture books just there, there’s so much there for you to discover, and that it’s not going to be the same book each time you read it. And I always tell people that for me one of the power of children’s books is that it is like a friend that you get to travel with through the course of your life. 

So you read a book when you’re a child and then you revisit it, it’s almost like a marker for your own personal growth and to see like how much you’ve changed over time dependent on like your interaction with this one work of art that you’ve had since you were a child.

Story time at the Lê house

My children are 9 and 6. We have a saying in our home that all the time is story time because we’re always reading or telling stories. My kid’s live in this magical world because I also review children’s books. For the entirety of their life, they live in this world where we get free books delivered to our door on a daily basis. So, our house is covered in books. I often joke with people that our home is what you would get if a library and a bookstore got into a fight. There’s like books everywhere. 

But it’s great because we, we have story time all the time. And they’re at an age now where they are doing storytelling. And like last night our six-year-old was reading the story at bedtime. And story time for us is a very sacred space and something that we cherish a lot, whether that’s the story at bedtime or if we’re driving around and one of us, me or my wife pops into the store real quick, the boys will request a story in the two minutes that we have waiting in the car. 

When I say that all the time is story time, not only is that us reading together and making up stories, but I want to impart them with the idea that they are also living their own story. Right, like we’re all kind of like in the middle of our own stories and how you perceive the world and your own agency within that is something that I like to kind of embed in the fabric of our days.

Blogging about kids’ books

I started out in this industry kind of as a blogger and a book reviewer. Which is really interesting because it kind of gave me an unofficial, like, PhD in children’s books because I spent all this time reading everything that out there and it allowed me to get a good sense of what was in the field or more importantly what wasn’t in the field, and then what books worked for me, which ones didn’t, so that I kind of fine-tuned my, my own relationship with children’s books over the years. 

And also got a real good sense of the industry. And I just developed a deep, deep appreciation for children’s books as an art form. I always get surprised when people talk about picture books in a dismissive way or like just a childish thing because for me it’s one of the highest forms of art that you can have. It’s like you have this wonderful text, you have this like visual art, and it’s such a great way of communicating and storytelling. 

So all of the years I’ve spent reviewing books, for a while I thought of it as I was spinning my wheels and wasting my time, but then now I realize all of that was building up to an expertise within the field that has really paid off now that I’m writing.

From the classroom to the policy desk

In addition to being an author, I have a master’s in education policy and I have some experience in the classroom. And it’s been a great way of kind of balancing out the author life. For one thing having spent a lot of time in the classroom before I started writing gives me a very deep and real appreciation for teachers. 

And when I go into classrooms, I really appreciate everything that they’re doing, and all the things that they are bringing to the table, and all the work that they’re doing. 

So I enter every classroom with a deep sense of appreciation. And then also having familiarity in a classroom setting when I go in to do school visits, it just feels comfortable to me. I like to engage with children in that way. It’s not foreign territory. 

It really gave me a great baseline of experience for the other side of being author, on the engagement side. And then as far as the policy job. I work with the federal government on childcare policy helping low-income working families get access to high quality childcare. 

And it’s a program that helps parents get back into workforce. And I think people have really gained a strong appreciation for how essential childcare is for our economy and for families. So, it’s both helping families access to the care that they need and also making sure that children are in healthy and safe environments where they can get a high-quality early education. 

So for me it creates a nice sense of balance of like I have the policy side of things where I’m working with – to help children and families. And then I also have the creative side where I get to work with teachers and parents and kids as far as just, like, engaging their creative side and their imagination. So it’s been a wonderful ride so far.

Writing my first children’s book

For the longest time, I knew that I wanted to write children’s books. When I graduated from undergrad when people asked me what I wanted to do my answer was, ‘I want to work in a small-town library and write children’s books.’ Even though I knew that, I didn’t have the courage to embrace that dream for myself, and every time I would bring it up I would kind of dismiss it and laugh it, laugh it off right away with those questions of like, who am I to write a children’s book? And all of that. 

But one day I was driving around with my wife and she said, ‘You know, you act as if you failed at publishing a children’s book, but you’ve never actually finished an idea and sent it out in the world to even give yourself the opportunity to fail.’ 

So that was kind of the kick in the pants I needed because I was notorious for having stacks and stacks of like notebooks in my home with like half-baked ideas. That gave me the motivation I needed to finally pick an idea that felt closest to the finish line and just take it as far as I could. 

And at that time the idea for Let Me Finish was the one that felt the most complete. So, I was going to pick this one out of the pile and just see how far I could take it. 

It’s a book about a child who’s trying to find a quiet place to finish a book and these animals comes, and they keep spoiling the story. I think there was like maybe Harry Potter, the newest one was out and I was just like there’s something very beautiful about that communal experience of a book or a story where the danger is that people love it too much, and that they can’t hold, hold in their love of that story and they end up spoiling it for other people. 

It felt like a really fun entry point into the world of books, one that’s both fun to read with kids and also one that shows, in a fun way, reading and stories as a thing of value, right? That you are cherishing and that you want to carve out time and space for. So, fortunately when I was sent it out for consideration, I had had enough of a name within the industry from reviewing and writing about children’s books that people at least had a sense of who I was and saw some of my other writing, and that definitely, that definitely helped me get through the door.

Drawn Together and connecting beyond language

Drawn Together is a very special book for, for me. And it came based on my experience with my own family. My family is originally from Vietnam, but I was born in the U.S. And growing up, my grandparents spoke mostly Vietnamese and I spoke mostly English, so I spent a lot of time at their house, in their home, and we loved each other so much, and yet we didn’t know how to talk to each other about that. 

So I grew up with this dissonance of both feeling very close to my grandparents, but also feeling very distant at the same time because we didn’t know how to communicate on a very basic level. I wanted to write a book that both captured that depth of love and connection while also recognizing some of the challenges that could come with it. 

What I didn’t know at the time is that Dan had the same experience with his grandmother because she lived in Thailand and spoke mostly Thai, or maybe exclusively Thai, and so he had that same language barrier, and had to find ways to try and connect with her over time. 

So that story is very personal to me. And it’s been wonderful to share with people because, as a writer, and all till – until this book came out pretty much, that inability to communicate felt like this personal failure and burden that I was carrying, but having the book out in the world has given me the opportunity to connect with other people who have had similar experiences because I’ll go to a reading and then inevitably afterwards someone will come up and say, ‘Oh you know, this reminds me so much of my childhood.’ Or, ‘I speak English with my grandparents, but we’re not able to connect just because we can’t find that common ground until we were able to find a mutual love of cooking or music or art.’ 

And so having a book out in the world like that has made me feel less alone. And what’s even more gratifying for me is this is a book about the inability to connect with someone in your life and then seeing classrooms and families use the book as a way of connecting with the people in their lives. 

I’ve had so many people reach out and say, you know, ‘We read this book and we immediately called our grandparents.’ Or ‘We immediately decided we needed to get together with our grandmother who we haven’t talked to in a long time.’ And I’ll get pictures of kids and their grandparents drawing together or painting together. And the fact that this book, which was born out of that distance, is being used to close that gap for other families means the world to me. And I can’t think of a better tribute to my grandparents than, than that.

Collaborating with illustrator Dan Santat

Working with Dan Santat on Drawn Together was a total dream. He had just come off winning the Caldecott Medal, which is the biggest award for children’s books in the U.S., for The Adventures of Beekle. He has such an amazing use of color and energy and humor, but he also has this incredible amount of heart in his stories. 

I was like, ‘How do I come up with a story that kind of takes advantage of all that he brings to the table?’ And that’s how the idea for Drawn Together came about. When this opportunity presented itself my wife and I had just come back from the hospital after the birth of our second son, so I remember being up at 3 am in the morning rocking this baby to sleep and being like, ‘How do you write a story for someone who just wrote — or won the biggest award in children’s literature?’ But I think being in that new fatherhood mindset, thinking about family is kind of how this story came about. 

But with a book like Drawn Together it is very much a story about the inability to connect with language. So, it’s a story that I wanted to be told mostly through the pictures. So my goal was to give Dan the sketch of a story that he could then take and come to the table with his own experiences. For example, in this story, in the manuscript the characters are Vietnamese just because that’s my experience, but I wrote in the note that like, ‘If you want to illustrate this from your perspective as a Thai American that would be wonderful.’ 

And he took that and like really brought a lot of personal experience and his own cultural background to the story, and I think that’s what really unlocks a lot of the story because even though I’m Vietnamese American and he’s Thai American, there is so much overlap in the kinds of experiences that we had that his story feels as true to me as my own. So, when we combine those two it really creates a book that I think rings true for people from all different backgrounds. 

And that’s one of the things that I love about a story like this is that we dove very much into like a specific experience, but I think by doing that you touch upon something hopefully universal that people who don’t share that specific cultural experience can still resonate with the, the emotional truth that’s hopefully there. So, in Drawn Together the grandfather speaks Thai and we don’t put the translation on the, on the page right there. We actually put it earlier in the book in the little note upfront. 

But we wanted to create a book and a reading experience where you as a reader don’t necessarily know what the grandfather is saying unless you speak Thai because that’s a space that these two characters are in. They’re not able to understand each other. So as a reader you’re experiencing something very similar to what the characters are experiencing and that kind of allows you to occupy a similar emotional space as the characters. 

And I think talking through it with my editor and everything like we landed on, on that approach, and I think it works really well to kind of give you a taste of what it was like in this space.

The magic of Lift

I got the idea for Lift from a couple of reasons, mostly from my two boys, my two children because whenever we’d be out and about, whenever we saw an elevator, they would fight over who gets to push which button. If one of them pushed the outside button, the other one had to push the inside button. And I started paying attention and I was like, I’ve never seen a kid not want to push an elevator button. They just like feel drawn to it somehow

So, I figured there must be a story there. But then I also remember getting into an elevator with my newborn, at one point, and just like watching his eyes. We step into this strange room and the doors close. There’s this magical ding and he’s looking around. And then the doors open, and we step out onto a whole new world. It was probably the second floor of the mall or something like that, right. But I was like to a baby this is a totally magical experience. There’s no explanation for what just happened. 

As a writer, you kind of take that magical quality and try to take it to the next level of what if you had a magical elevator button that actually did take you somewhere completely different? What would that be like? 

And for me as a writer I feel a lot of times my goal is to capture that sense of magic that comes from when you’re a child and you’re kind of looking at the world with fresh eyes, and how do you recapture that for an audience, a young audience? But also for an adult audience who may be more jaded, but you kind of like mimic that sense of magic and recreate that magical environment for just looking at the world in a fresh way. 

So yeah. Lift very much was inspired by just paying attention to my children and how they navigate the world.

Leaving room for collaboration and surprises 

Here’s the thing about the collaboration with Dan Santat for Lift is that I always try to leave room in the manuscript for collaboration. And in this instance, so in the story a girl discovers a magical elevator button that she puts up next to her closet, and when she pushes it her closet transforms into a magical elevator that takes her to all kinds of fantastical places. 

I never specified what was on the other side of that elevator door. So, in the manuscript she pushes the button, it goes ding, the doors open, and then I left that up to Dan. So, it was almost like he was in charge of creating the fantastical world on the other side of the elevator and in that way we kind of built in this space for a collaboration. Because for me Dan is such a creative and imaginative individual, I was like I want to give him every opportunity to draw what he wants to draw, to be as creative as possible within this story. 

And I think it worked out really well because it’s almost like the book is embodying that collaborative spirit. Just like the girl, Iris has to learn to work with her younger brother, it’s like the author and illustrator are working together to create this, create something magical.

While I didn’t specify what was on the other side of the elevator for Dan, once he decided and showed me sketches of those imaginative worlds, we kind of went back in and figured out how to put in those clues that would kind of give the reader breadcrumbs for how those – how Iris ends up in those worlds. So that for me is the fun part of getting to kind of like put in all of those details. 

As a creator of children’s books, the hope is that you create something that the reader will want to revisit over and over again. So you want to put in those little details that you might not notice the first time around, but then you’re rewarded when upon a reread because then you notice those details and it reveals different meanings. And each book that we work on kind of has those little details that hopefully you can discover along the way.

The Green Lantern and real-life heroes 

Green Lantern: Legacy introduces two new Green Lanterns because there’s a 13-year-old boy named Tai and he lives with his parents and his grandmother. And one day unfortunately his grandmother passes away and he ends up with her jade ring. Or what he thought was her jade ring, because it turns out that it was actually a Green Lantern power ring, and that his grandmother had been a superhero his entire life and he didn’t realize it. So the story follows him as he learns more about his grandmother’s secret superhero past while learning how to become a superhero himself. 

And for me, when I was trying to think of a story to write, I was really looking for some way to connect with these characters. And DC Comics had said, take a look at all of our characters from Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, on down, and just see if you can come up with a story that feels right. And so I looked at all the characters and it wasn’t until I got to Green Lantern, which is about an individual with a very strong willpower and a green ring that plays — or draws upon the strength of the character, that I realized there’s something very familiar about this character, and it was because it reminded me of my own grandmother who always wore a jade ring and was one of the strongest people that you’ll ever meet

She’s actually very much responsible for helping most of my family escape during the Vietnam War. So for me it was an opportunity to kind of like think about who are those real heroes in your life because I think that the superhero stories that resonate with me the most are the ones where the super human is grounded in something very human, right? And you can take away the cape, you can take away the magical powers, but there’s still at its core an individual who demonstrates these heroic qualities. 

And I think especially in the past couple of years we’ve been able to see so many examples of real-life heroism that getting to write a superhero story that allows children or readers of all ages to think about who are those real heroes in your life, has been really gratifying to, to me. So yeah, the story is very much inspired by my family. And I was able actually to go back to Vietnam and visit my other grandmother, who is 98-years-old, and show her a copy of the book, and give her own Green Lantern, and it was really a special moment.

Revisiting the immigrant and refugee narrative in Green Lantern

Within Green Lantern: Legacy there is an immigrant and refugee story in there because the main character, the grandmother, had a refugee experience. And for me it was an opportunity to kind of revisit the narrative around refugees and immigrants because to me there is, there are very few instances that are, that show a greater heroism than, than the refugee experience. I know that personally from my family, you don’t have to look very far to see examples of true heroism because they went through these unimaginable circumstances, right? And they emerged on the other side. 

As a kid growing up, it’s like you can have all your problems, but then I’d always be like, but anything that I’m facing right now is nothing, pales in comparison to what my, my family had gone through. So, when I was thinking about this story it was like there’s this young kid who has a challenge of becoming a superhero himself, but within his family he has this example of heroism that he can, can look to.

Is that something you’re going to draw strength from or is that something that you’re going to turn away from?

When I was writing this story it felt very natural. A lot of people asked me when I was writing, they said like, ‘Is it strange to write a superhero story for kids?’ And for me I was like it’s the opposite. It feels like the most natural thing in the world because in the origin story is almost exactly the same and follows the same beats as a coming-of-age story. 

You know, you’re trying to figure out how you fit in with the world, how you use your new-found powers to navigate the, the spaces around you. So it was, it was a great opportunity. And the refugee story in the book comes full circle because that was something that I learned about my grandmother after she passed away

I was at her services, and I had just delivered a eulogy for her, and this family came up, and they said, ‘You know, when we came to this country your grandmother showed up to our door with bags of food and like ingredients and chopsticks, and things from Vietnam that we couldn’t find. And she very much like gave us the opportunity to kind of settle her.’ And she was very much about paying it forward in that way. 

For me I feel like in the Vietnamese experience immigration, the refugee experience is something that’s historical or in the past, but there are so many people that are living that experience now, and I wanted to just kind of show that an example of heroism would be to, to be there for people when they, when they need it. So that was something that I thought was very important for me to have the opportunity to kind of pay tribute to that style and that kind of heroism that doesn’t always get the same kind of shine as other superhero attributes.

Pride in seeing a Vietnamese superhero

My boys love, love, love the book, and they take a lot of pride in it getting to see a character as a superhero who’s also a Vietnamese, a Vietnamese boy. One of the fun parts about working on the story is when I started doing, writing the Green Lantern story, I wanted to make sure that this character, even though they were new, fit within the Green Lantern universe. So, I emailed my editor, and I was like, could you send me some of the back matter so I can read and research and make sure that what I’m writing is consistent? 

And they sent me boxes of like all the Green Lantern back copies. So, my boys and I just spent like a summer just reading everything. I was like I don’t know how this happened, but I am getting paid to read comics, so I’m just living the dream. So yeah, my boys have gotten a lot out of being in the world of, world of comics for sure.

A Lotus for You

I was approached with this amazing opportunity to write the authorized biography of Thích Nhất Hạnh, who is this Zen Buddhist monk. He is such a powerful force in my family, he’s Vietnamese, and I grew up with him as such a strong presence within my, within my life. He actually gave my mother her Buddhist name and my grandparents knew him when he was first in the United States, and I think back in Vietnam. 

But for me to see a Vietnamese individual like that, who has had such a global impact, he’s done so much to bring Buddhism to the world, to make it accessible to people that it was a true honor to get to work on this project. I actually met him when I was a child at a meditation retreat and that’s how the title A Lotus for You came about because I remember talking to him, and he was talking to me and my sisters, and he bowed to us, and when he held his hands like this he said, ‘I’m making my hands in the shape of a lotus bud because within you and within everyone you meet we all have the potential to become a Buddha.’ 

The Buddha isn’t some like superhero figure out there in the world that is unattainable. It’s like the nature of Buddha is within every individual. And so he was like, ‘When I’m greeting you with this lotus bud it’s a recognition of the fact that you have the bud of a Buddha within you that can someday flower into, like a lotus bud will flower into a lotus that you as an individual can blossom into a Buddha through practice and mindfulness. 

And that’s such a powerful, that’s such a powerful message to me as a child that, that I and everyone around me has that potential. And so, when I was working on this book it was something that I wanted to convey to a young audience kind of to give a sense of his spirit and personality, and also share some of his teachings. He has done so much to bring Buddhism to the world. To have the opportunity to share his message with a new generation of readers is, is truly an honor.

Meeting Thích Nhất Hạnh

I was approached with this amazing opportunity to write the authorized biography of Thích Nhất Hạnh, who is this Zen Buddhist monk. What’s interesting is that when I was approached by his publisher to see if I would work on this book, I was actually on my way to Vietnam for the first time in 30 years, to visit my grandmother, and she lives in Central Vietnam. 

And so when we were there we went to visit the temple where he was staying. And he’s very, he’s very ill, so he wasn’t seeing many people, but his senior advisors kind of took me on a tour of the grounds where he became a monk, and kind of like told me a lot about his story. 

And then when my family came back to pick me up, my parents were there, my wife and my boys, the nun who was giving me the tour said, ‘Well, why don’t we go up to his quarters? We can kind of look around and just see where he’s staying. It’ll give you a good sense of what his life is like right now.’ And so, we go up there, and she goes into his quarters while we’re looking around, and my kids are just, you know, doing what kids do, just kind of playing out in the courtyard. And then she comes out a minute later and says, ‘This never happens, but he is inviting your whole family to come in and say hello.’ 

He is known for loving children, like children bring him so much joy. So, in my mind I think maybe he saw my children and wanted to say hello. So, they brought us into his space and he held my children’s hands, and you saw this huge smile on his face. And my mother who is a disciple of his didn’t think she would ever get to see him again, so she was just like so emotional and like got to pay her respects to him. 

And it was such a powerful moment, especially since my oldest son is about the age that I was when I met him when I was a child. So, it really does feel like things have come full circle. And to be able to pass on that personal experience to my children to me kind of feels appropriate for writing a book that will share some of his teachings with the children to come and with a new generation of readers. So, it was a very, very special moment for me and my family.

Doing the research for A Lotus for You

I was approached with this amazing opportunity to write the authorized biography of Thích Nhất Hạnh, who is this Zen Buddhist monk. It’s such a wonderful opportunity, but also a big responsibility to take on a story like this, to try to capture such a, such a life on the page. 

I’ve done my best to read as much of his writings as possible and interviews, and kind of like get a good sense of the, the timeline of his line and the scope of his life. My goal for writing the book is to do my best to capture his voice for a young audience. 

So, I did a lot of listening to lectures that he’s given and books that he’s written. What’s funny is that my grandfather, his idea of a relaxing fun time would be to put on Thích Nhất Hạnh’s sermons on in the background while he’s like around the house. So, I grew up with his voice literally in my, in the space my entire childhood. 

So, it was really important to me to do my best to kind of capture that voice and spirit because I think that’s so much of what makes him such a powerful figure. He is such an embodiment of peace within a single human and that’s something that he wants to share with people. 

So yeah, I was just trying to immerse myself in his teachings, his writings, his life, and get as much as information as I can on him, and then distill it into something that is accessible to a young audience.

We are working with an illustrator named Catia Chien, who is an award-winning children’s book illustrator and also a disciple of his. She’s been following his work for I think over a decade now and so this is also a very personal project for her because this is also her opportunity to share teachings that have meant a lot to her with a new audience. So, it’s been a very special collaboration.

Seeing yourself in a book

It’s been a wonderful experience to talk to children and have them talk about how they see themselves reflected in books that I’ve worked on. For me, as an author these books weren’t around when I was a kid. So, I didn’t see myself in a book truly until after I graduated from college. I read Gene Yang’s American Born Chinese and I had this like, everything clicked into place. I was like I didn’t know that this was what I was missing until I read this book, that this was even possible to see yourself in this way on the page. 

So, when I talk to children now and they’re seeing themselves through these books, and I’m so grateful that they don’t have to wait as long as I did. But even just this weekend I was at Comic Con and people would come up and say, they held up Green Lantern: Legacy and they were like, ‘You wrote about my grandmother. You wrote about my family.’ And that means so much. And with Drawn Together I’m always getting messages from families who see their experience reflected on the page in a way that they hadn’t before, and that means the world to me.

The librarian’s role in guiding young readers

If I had to give some advice to librarians — well, first I would say thank you because librarians play such a critical role in, in the reading lives and just the life in general of our community. But for me when I think about helping children find the resources that they need and the stories that they’re looking for, I would say provide children with access to as much as possible to allow them to discover what they’re looking for, and not be so prescriptive. 

Because I’ve had experiences growing up where someone would say, ‘Oh, you’re Vietnamese, you have to read this — or like, ‘You have to watch Miss Saigon.’ And just like that kind of prescriptive nature narrows a person’s personality and who they are to a prescribed notion of what they’re going to be looking for. I think as a librarian you play an amazing function of like being able to help that child discover what they’re looking for, and give them the opportunity to discover what the, what the stories that are going to resonate with them. 

So, to present them with the, the full slate of books and helping them narrow it down as needed, but to follow their lead to discover what their, what story is going to mean the most to them I would say is my advice.

Being part of the We Need Diverse Books movement

I was very fortunate to recently join the board of We Need Diverse Books. And it’s an organization that is dedicated to broadly ensuring that everyone has the ability to see themselves reflected in a book, in the pages of a book. And they work with creatives, from authors and illustrators, to agents, editors, publishing professionals to ensure that the books that are available on the shelf reflect the people out there in the world. 

And it’s been really meaningful to me. It’s an organization that started a while ago because there was a recognition of how not diverse the publishing industry was and the selection of books that were available. Like I said, when I was a child, I couldn’t see myself, I couldn’t find myself on the book shelves very easily, and most of the representations I did see were either like sidekicks or stereotypes, right?

So, and it’s unfortunate to, to have a bookshelf, which is supposed to encompass the human imagination, right, the human experience, and it to be so narrowly defined. So, I think for an organization to be like, we want to ensure that what is available to people is reflective of the fullness of humanity and then so readers can find what they’re looking for is a very noble goal and one that I’m happy to be a part of.

We need diverse books because we want tomorrow’s classics to reflect today’s society, right? When I was thinking about the mission of We Need Diverse Books at the onset, you get a lot of pushback saying well, it’s not part of the cannon. We have to read the classics. And I was like the reason the classics are the classics is because those were what were, the books that were available to be published, were allowed to be published. 

And I want there to be enough books and a diversity of books published today so that we can find those classics within a broader array of books, and so that those classics will down the line reflect what we see now, and we’re not so limited to one particular type of experience. 

Minh Lê: We need diverse books because …

We need diverse books so that tomorrow’s classics reflect the diversity of today’s society.









"Oh, magic hour, when a child first knows she can read printed words!" — A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, 1943