I Write the Books I Needed: Author An Na and KIS Creative Writers on Why They Write
Author An Na was born in Korea and emigrated with her family to the United States as a young child. Growing up she occupied a unique space familiar to many KIS students, living between different cultures. She read books to understand her world. “Stories are windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors,” Ms. Na says, citing Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop’s work on how readers interact with literature. Ms. Na learned about America from narrators who did not look or sound like her and her family.
But then The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston and The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros offered Ms. Na voices similar to her own. Kingston explores Chinese family dynamics and Cisneros creates vignettes of immigrant life. Ms. Na felt seen.
Ms. Na did not think of herself as a storyteller until a college professor gave her a choice to write either an essay or story. She wrote a story. She had found a way to say what she wanted to say and continued writing as she began teaching too. Each of her young adult books explore identity and her first novel, A Step From Heaven, was nominated for the National Book Award. “I write the books I needed when I was young,” Ms. Na says.
In September, Ms. Na visited KIS middle school for a few days to lead writing workshops and address the student body. At her middle school presentation, Ms. Na showed several photographs from her childhood and adolescence and told stories her readers could recognize from character and scenes in her books. She acknowledges self-doubt and uncertainty, the fear that our life is too boring to be a story. Ms. Na wants each of us to know that we are living a story worth sharing.
With small, grade-level workshops, Ms. Na encouraged writers to work from questions and memories. “Questions emerge from memories,” she says. Ms. Na’s approach to writing resonates with Jared Wood’s creative writing class. “I thought about how she viewed her own background,” Kaiden says, “and how her life showed up in her books. We can apply that too.” Rachel is a writer who likes to come up with new ideas. She appreciates Ms. Na’s challenge to generate stories from questions and memories.
“When you write, you can do anything,” Emmanuel says. “You can imagine anything.” Fellow writers agree. Lynn writes the stories she wants to read, primarily fantasy and horror pieces. Kit shares that writing helps her understand the ideas in her head. “It’s like opening a bottle and pouring out thoughts,” Kit says. Jia adds that it can be easy to hide from others but when you write, you are honest with yourself. Sean cites one more reason writers open their notebook: it’s fun.
Ms. Na continues to experiment and grow as a writer. She writes young adult, middle grades, and children’s literature and teaches at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She believes that people yearn to create and that educators can integrate creative elements in their disciplines. A few of her current favorite books include The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, Everything Sad Is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri, and Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson.
Thank you to Jared Wood’s middle school creative writing class for offering your perspective and sharing feedback on this story. Learn more about An Na’s work.