Northgate hosts graphic novelist

Northgate Middle School students Vito Pascale, Kiersten MacBay, Elisabeth Scanlon and Angelica Barbarino meet up with author Gene Yang following his simulcast presentation. Photo by Tom Steiner for The Citizen

Northgate middle schoolers joined students from six area schools -- North Allegheny and Norwin high schools, Pittsburgh Sci-Tech, Obama Academy of International Studies, Environmental Charter School, and University of Pittsburgh’s Falk School -- for a Monday morning conversation with Gene Luen Yang, an award-winning graphic novelist and the 2016 Library of Congress National Ambassador for young people’s literature.

The simulcast, based at Northgate and shared with the others via Polycom conferencing technology, introduced students to Yang, whose book, “American Born Chinese” is the first graphic novel to be nominated for a National Book Award and the first to win the American Library Association’s Michael L. Printz Award which “… honors a book that exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature.”

For those not familiar with graphic novels, they basically are book-length comics. The Internet Public Library further defines, “Sometimes they tell a single, continuous narrative from first page to last; sometimes they are collections of shorter stories or individual comic strips. Despite the name, not all comics are funny. Many comics and graphic novels emphasize drama, adventure, character development, striking visuals, politics, or romance over laugh-out-loud comedy.”

While Yang’s novel has its humor, it also includes serious messages as the story, told in three parts, “…follows a Chinese American teenager’s struggle to define himself against racial stereotypes.”

Yang said that the story has also attracted readers who are not Chinese. “It resonates with immigrant kids and with kids who feel like outsiders in their schools and with kids who feel bullied. Everyone’s an outsider at some point in life,” he said.

Following Yang’s discussion of the novel’s details, the session opened to students tuned in from all of the schools, with each school having the opportunity to ask two questions. Stephanie Flom, Executive Director of Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures, fielded questions that ranged from students wanting to know how Yang starts his novels, to what writing process he follows, to his views on recent immigration issues.

Northgate middle school English teacher Nicole Smith coordinated the event, which was sponsored by the Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures Series.

Seventh graders gave an enthusiastic thumbs up to the presentation, Vito Pascale saying, “I found it very interesting to get to meet an author who is very well known. I thought he was a really nice person, and he gave good advice to anyone who wanted to write in the future.”

Corrine Pasko added, “I liked how I got to learn about someone who writes such great graphic novels. It inspired me to do some writing of my own.”