Writing is Rewriting: An Interview with Kelly Yang
Kelly Yang has quickly become a very recognizable name in the world of middle-grade and YA books, starting with her debut middle-grade novel Front Desk, which has since become a fantastic series of books that also includes Three Keys, Room to Dream, Key Player, and the forthcoming Top Story, due out in September of this year from Scholastic. Her other middle-grade novels are New from Here and Finally Seen, and her YA books include Parachutes and Private Label.
Besides being an author, she is a master at being active in the wider publishing and library community. She was this year’s ALA honorary chair of National Library Week, she runs her own YouTube channel, has accounts on most of the big social media sites (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok), and manages to stay sane, which is no mean feat. However, she says that “If I’m being honest, it’s not always easy to balance because maintaining a social media presence takes a lot of work. I’m not someone who can make a video in 10 seconds; for me, it usually involves multiple takes and let’s face it, washing my hair. But what I love about having a social media presence is the ability to stay extremely connected with my readers. I’m able to speak to my readers in real time about matters that I care about, such as protecting our freedom to read, something I write about in Finally Seen. I’m able to have conversations, raise awareness, and support librarians, and that makes it well worth washing my hair for!”
We promise, Kelly, no one is judging your hair. What readers love is the writing, which is, let’s face it, really good. Yet the responses to her books have been incredibly varied, from starred reviews in the big literary magazines to being banned in some schools. So, what does an author who’s seen every type of feedback really want? “I think the response I’d LOVE to get is a celebratory potluck,” she says, “where the entire community comes together, and everyone celebrates reading through food! Food is a huge part of all my books. In the Front Desk series, Jason and Hank are always cooking up deliciousness. In Finally Seen, there’s a WONDERFUL dinner party they have with the enigmatic Old Man Pete where they finally get to know each other a little more. In New from Here, the kids run around delivering food in hilarious dinosaur costumes. So I’m a writer who loves food and what better way to celebrate cultures than sharing your favorite dish?”
While she was on the topic of favorites, we asked her what her favorite part of the writing process was, since in other interviews she had said writing was how she processed the world. She told us that her “favorite part of the writing process is revision. I’m always saying to students during school visits, writing is re-writing. I really believe that. I love that during revision, I have a chance to look at my manuscript from a bird’s eye perspective, and figure out how best to polish each scene!”
Clearly, she is very good at polishing, so of course, everyone wants to know what she’s polishing next, preparing to show the world. “I’m working on a novel right now, which I’m really excited about! It’s a book that has been kicking my butt, taking me multiple drafts, but I’m hopeful it will be well worth it in the end. I’m excited to get back to it after my Finally Seen book tour! I also have a new picture book coming out called Little Bird Laila, about a girl who translates for her immigrant parents! She’s the funniest little translator you’ll ever meet!”
The description for Kelly Yang’s forthcoming book Top Story says that “if anyone can tell a top story, it’s Mia Tang,” but we think that if anyone can tell a Top Story (did you see what we did there?), it’s Kelly Yang.