Laurence Yep writes books that draw from his Chinese American background yet speak to common feelings and experiences. In this exclusive video interview with Reading Rockets, Laurence Yep discusses his love for his work and the gratification of writing stories.
"I'd be writing even if I was still bagging groceries in a grocery store," says Laurence Yep, author of 60 books and winner of two Newbery Honor Awards. "That's what I do. I love writing. I think of writing as a special way of seeing."
Laurence Yep's historical fantasy novels see the past in a special way. After meticulous research, Yep breathes life into obscure historical events through memorable characters who are often cultural outsiders. While his writing is most known for engaging an adolescent audience, Yep is just as adept at capturing the imaginations of younger readers. Dragons, Chinese-American immigrants, fantasy, folklore, science fiction, and adventure are just a few of the common threads that are woven throughout Yep's work.
Dedication and imagination
Laurence Yep grew up in an African-American neighborhood in San Francisco in the 1950s. His father worked long hours in their corner grocery store, often with the help of Laurence and his brother. Laurence bussed to a bilingual Jesuit school in Chinatown, even though his family did not speak Chinese at home. Growing up, Yep always felt that he was a cultural outsider — a theme and perspective that would appear throughout his books.
Laurence Yep's writing career started early. At age 18 he published his first story in a science fiction magazine. At age 23 he published his first novel. While his college classmates were going to parties and lying out in the sun, Laurence Yep was either typing in his room or doing research in the library. By age 28, Yep had not only written a long Ph.D. dissertation on William Faulkner, he had also won a prestigious Newbery Honor Award. That award impacted the course of his career, allowing him to quit his itinerant teaching jobs to focus on writing.
As a testament to his popularity and longevity as a writer, Laurence Yep won a second Newbery Honor Award eighteen years later in 1994. Yep's greatest challenge may be that he has more ideas than time. Whether it's a character on the bus, pelicans on the beach, or an old history book at the library, Laurence Yep finds inspiration all around him — and then his imagination does the rest.