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2020 Asian Pacific American Award for Literature Winners Announced

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Stacey Megally

Staff Writer

Stacey Megally is a writer, runner, and incurable bookworm. Her writing has been featured in The Dallas Morning News, Running Room Magazine, The Bookwoman, and on stage at LitNight Dallas and the Oral Fixation live storytelling show. When she isn’t knee-deep in words or marathon training, she’s hanging out with her smart, funny husband and their two extremely opinionated dogs. Instagram: @staceymegallywrites

For ten authors and three illustrators, January 27 was no ordinary Monday morning. For them, it was a moment to celebrate the honor of receiving a 2020 Asian Pacific American Award for Literature, which recognizes works written between October 2018 and September 2019. The awards, which are given by the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association (APALA), an affiliate of the American Librarian Association (ALA), were created to “honor and recognize individual work about Asian/Pacific Americans and their heritage, based on literary and artistic merit.

Of the five categories—adult fiction, adult nonfiction, young adult literature, children’s literature, and picture books—three (YA, children’s and picture books) were announced at the Youth Media Awards, held on the morning of Monday January 27, at the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia.

Let’s take a look a closer look at the winners, their works, and a handful of same-day Twitter reactions from the winning authors and their publishers.

2020 Asian Pacific American Award for Literature Winners: Picture Books

Winner: Queen of Physics: How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the AtomQueen of Physics- How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the Atom book cover by Teresa Robeson, illustrated by Rebecca Huang

This is the story of Wu Chien Shiung, who was born in China at a time when girls were not expected to go to school and were not considered to be as smart as boys. Luckily, her parents disagreed and fostered her passion for learning and science. Wu Chien Shiung, whose name means “courageous hero,” became the first woman to teach at Princeton and the first woman elected President of the American Physical Society.

Influenced by both the first moon landing and Star Trek, author Teresa Robeson has a love for science, science fiction, and modern fantasy. Robeson is also the author of Two Bicycles in Beijing.

Illustrator Rebecca Huang works in mixed medium, often experimenting with watercolor and collage, which she then alters digitally. Printmaking and color pencil also frequently appear in her work. Her debut picture book, Bobo and the New Baby, was published in 2018.

Robeson shared the news with her fans on the morning of the announcement:


Honor Title: Bilal Cooks Daal by Aisha Saeed, illustrated by Anoosha Syed

Bilal loves daal—a lentil dish from South Asia that calls for lots of ingredients and all-day simmering. Bilal, who can’t wait to introduce daal to his friends, helps his dad make a big pot to share. But the longer it takes the dish to cook, the more Bilal wonders if his friends will like it as much as he does.

New York Times bestselling author, Aisha Saeed, is a founding member of the nonprofit We Need Diverse Books™. In addition to her other books, Written in the Stars and Amal Unbound, her writing has been featured in several publications, including The Orlando Sentinel, Muslim Girl magazine, and BlogHer.

Anoosha Syed is an illustrator and character designer for animation. She has illustrated numerous books, including I Am Perfectly Designed, Kid Scientists: True Tales of Childhood from Science Superstars, and Look!: Babies Head to Toe.

Both Saeed and Syed tweeted their joy at the announcement:

2020 Asian Pacific American Award for Literature Winners: Children’s Literature

Winner: Stargazing by Jen Wang

Christine and Moon are best friends—and completely different from each other. Impulsive, confident Moon has confided in Christine that she has visions of celestial beings who speak to her from the stars. When Moon gets devastating medical news and ends up in the hospital, Christine wonders if she has it in her to be the kind of friend Moon really needs.

Author and illustrator Jen Wang is co-founder of Comic Arts LA. She is also author of The Prince and the Dressmaker and co-author of the New York Times Bestselling graphic novel, In Real Life.

Wang graciously acknowledged the support of librarians in her announcement to fans:


Honor Title: I’m Ok by Patti Kim

When 13-year-old Ok Lee realizes that his mother could use help paying the bills, he’s determined to earn as much money as he can, as quickly as possible. After starting his own hair braiding business, Ok must navigate an unusual girl who wants to be his friend, a popular boy who has it out for him, and a deacon at church who’s been paying too much attention to Ok’s mom.

Author Patti Kim draws from her experience as a young Korean American immigrant to write fiction for tweens, young adults, and beginning readers. Her other books include A Cab Called Reliable and Here I Am.

Kim expressed her surprise and gratitude on Twitter that morning:

2020 Asian Pacific American Award for Literature Winners: YA Literature

Winner: They Called Us Enemy cover imageThey Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, and Steven Scott; illustrated by Harmony Becker

Based on Takei’s experiences as a child in an American concentration camp, this historical graphic novel tells the story of a young boy who suddenly finds himself and his family imprisoned by the U.S. government along with more than 100,000 other Japanese Americans during World War II.

George Takei, most well known for his portrayal of Mr. Sulu on Star Trek, is also the author of To the Stars: The Autobiography of George Takei, Oh Myyy! There Goes The Internet, and its sequel, Lions And Tigers And Bears: The Internet Strikes Back.

Co-author Justin Eisinger is Editorial Director of Graphic Novels & Collections at IDW Publishing and has adapted television episodes and film for properties such as My Little PonyTransformers, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Co-author and comic book writer Steven Scott has written for publications by Archie Comics, Arcana Studios, and Heavy Metal Magazine, as well as for sites such as Forces of GeekGreat Scott Comics, and PopMatters.

Artist and illustrator Harmony Becker is the creator of the comics Himawari Share, Love Potion, and Anemone and Catharus.

On Monday, publisher Top Shelf Productions shared its excitement:


Honor Title: Frankly in Love by David Yoon

Frank is a Korean American high schooler whose parents have a lot of specific expectations for him—including ending up with a nice Korean girl. So when Frank falls for a smart, funny non-Korean girl, he and his Korean friend Joy—who’s facing a similar dilemma—come up with a plan to keep their parents from finding out about their significant others.

David Yoon‘s debut novel, Frankly in Love, was a New York Times bestseller, and his short story, “Rabbit in the Arcade,” appeared in The New York Times Viewfinders section.  He’s currently working on his next novel, Version Zero.

Yoon—and his fans—were thrilled about the announcement:

2020 Asian Pacific American Award for Literature Winners: Adult Nonfiction

Winner: Ghosts of Gold Mountain: The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad by Gordon H. Chang

Thousands of workers came to America from southern China in order to work on the Transcontinental Railroad. After years spent dynamiting tunnels through snow-packed cliffs and laying tracks across the desert, their lives and memories have been mostly forgotten until now. Award-winning scholar Gordon H. Chang reveals their stories, which he draws from his unprecedented research.

A professor of American history at Stanford University, Gordon H. Chang has long been interested in studying the historical connections between race and ethnicity in America. He has written numerous works in the areas of U.S. diplomacy, America-China relations, the Chinese diaspora, Asian American history, and global history, including Fateful Ties: A History of America’s Preoccupation with China.

Honor Title: Chop Suey Nation: The Legion Cafe and Other Stories from Canada’s Chinese Restaurantschop-suey-nation by Ann Hui

In this story of Chinese restaurants across small-town Canada, the author weaves her own family’s history in restaurant ownership with the experiences of dozens of other Chinese restaurant owners. In her exploration, she learns the history of “chop suey” and comes to gain an appreciation of its role in the history of Canadian cuisine.

As a national food reporter for The Globe and Mail, author Ann Hui explores public policy, health, the environment, and agriculture through food.

2020 Asian Pacific American Award for Literature Winners: Adult Fiction

Winner: The Atlas of Reds and Blues by Devi S. Laskar

When an unfounded police raid descends upon the wealthy suburban home of an American-born daughter of Bengali immigrants, the woman—known only as Mother—finds herself, for the first time in her life, refusing to be complacent. While bleeding from a gunshot wound, the events of her life race through her mind, from childhood visits to cousins in India, to her time working in the newsroom before she had children of her own, to her relationship with a husband who spends more time traveling than at home.

Devi S. Laskar is a novelist, poet, photographer, and artist. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net and has published, among other works, two volumes of poetry: Gas & Food, No Lodging and Anastasia Maps.

Laskar tweeted her excitement about the award on Monday morning:

Honor Title: On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous cover imageOn Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

Written as a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read, this is the unfolding story of Little Dog, who is in his late 20s. An honest exploration and reflection on race, masculinity, love, and survival, the letter slowly reveals aspects of Little Dog’s life that his mother has never known.

Ocean Vuong is the recipient of numerous literary awards and honors, including the Whiting Award, the T.S. Eliot Prize, the Thom Gunn Award, and the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. His works have been featured in The Atlantic, Harpers, The Nation, New Republic, The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Village Voice, and American Poetry Review. He is the author of the poetry collection Night Sky with Exit Wounds.

Congratulations to all of these deserving winners! For more details about the award and the award committees, read the full press release from the APALA.

If you’re looking for more reading around literary awards, we’ve got you covered!