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TED Radio Hour / When Stories Collide | TED Radio Hour

When Stories Collide | TED Radio Hour

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In this episode of the TED Radio Hour, host Guy Raz explores the power of storytelling with graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang. They discuss Yang’s groundbreaking graphic novel, “American Born Chinese,” its impact on immigrant children, and its adaptation into a Disney Plus series. They also delve into Yang’s journey as a comic book lover turned writer and teacher, as well as his thoughts on the representation of Asian-American stories in Hollywood.

Main Takeaways

The Power of “American Born Chinese”

  • Gene Luen Yang found a racist cartoon from his childhood and turned it into the graphic novel, “American Born Chinese,” which became a finalist for the National Book Award and a required reading in many middle schools.
  • The book resonated with children of immigrants, addressing the divide between their home life and school experiences.
  • “American Born Chinese” has been adapted into a Disney Plus series, opening doors for more diverse storytelling.

Yang’s Journey as a Graphic Novelist

  • Yang shares his path from a comic book-loving kid to a writer for DC Comics, drawing inspiration from his experience as a high school teacher.
  • Comics have educational potential, teaching visually and allowing readers to control the flow of information.

Controversy and Adaptation

  • The controversial cousin character in “American Born Chinese” brings attention to stereotypes, evoking discomfort and starting conversations.
  • The TV adaptation of the book reflects changes in the conversation about Asian-Americans, introducing Chinese mythological characters and highlighting the immigrant experience.
  • Hollywood’s openness to diverse stories has increased after the success of films like “Black Panther” and “Crazy Rich Asians.”

Exploring Other Stories

  • Yang’s graphic novel “Dragon Hoops” explores the story of a high school basketball team, showcasing the power of sports in inspiring courage and perseverance.
  • Non-fiction graphic novels, like Yang’s “Boxers and Saints,” draw parallels between historical events and present-day experiences, addressing tensions between Eastern and Western cultures.

Identity and Storytelling

  • Yang believes that identity is necessary in telling our stories, but the goal is to reach a point where it’s not the defining factor.
  • Storytelling is a way to understand and reconcile tensions, working out what it means to be human.


Gene Luen Yang’s Impactful Graphic Novels

Gene Luen Yang’s graphic novel, “American Born Chinese,” has made waves in the literary world, resonating with children of immigrants and becoming required reading in many schools. The book’s adaptation into a Disney Plus series marks a new era of storytelling that embraces diverse perspectives. Yang’s journey from a comic book-loving kid to a writer for DC Comics has shaped his approach to graphic novel creation, incorporating educational potential and visual storytelling. Controversy surrounding the cousin character in “American Born Chinese” sparks important conversations about stereotypes. The TV adaptation reflects changes in the Asian-American conversation and highlights the immigrant experience. Yang’s exploration of other stories, such as the high school basketball team in “Dragon Hoops” and the historical tensions in “Boxers and Saints,” showcases the power of storytelling to inspire and address cultural complexities. Through his work, Yang emphasizes the importance of embracing identity in storytelling while striving for a future where it’s not the defining factor.


Gene Luen Yang’s graphic novels have had a profound impact, bridging gaps and starting conversations about identity and representation. From “American Born Chinese” to “Dragon Hoops,” Yang’s storytelling captures the essence of the immigrant experience and explores the power of embracing multiple worlds. As Hollywood becomes more open to diverse stories, Yang’s work serves as a catalyst for change, paving the way for more inclusive narratives. Through his graphic novels, Yang continues to inspire readers and challenge societal norms, reminding us of the endless potential of storytelling.

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