Back to top

Gene Yang, groundbreaking graphic novelist, to speak in Knoxville on March 4 and 5

Gene Yang poster

National Book Award nominee and Printz Award recipient to discuss the creation, merit, and educational value of graphic novels
The comic book has officially grown up. If prestigious literary awards are any indication of ultimate acceptance, the comic book and its younger sister, the graphic novel, are decidedly in.  Knox County Public Library is pleased to partner with the Center for Children’s and Young Adult Literature at the University of Tennessee to present two evenings with award-winning graphic novelist, Gene Luen Yang.

On Monday, March 4, 7 p.m., at University of Tennessee Hodges Library Auditorium, 1015 Volunteer Blvd., Yang will speak to educators about how to select comics for the classroom, and how to use comics to promote literacy, engage students, and help students think critically about media. This event is free and open to the public. Yang will be available to sign books after the talk.

On Tuesday, March 5, 6 p.m., at the East Tennessee History Center Auditorium, 601 South Gay Street, Yang will illustrate how to make comic books, taking students through his creative process step-by-step. This workshop is free, however registration is required. Interested parties should reserve space by calling 865-215-8700 or registering online at

Yang began drawing comic books in the fifth grade. While his dream was to become a Disney animator, his parents convinced him seek a college degree in computer programming and eventually a career in engineering. After working for two years, Yang left engineering to become an educator and successful graphic novelist. In 2007, American Born Chinese became 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 for excellence in young adult literature. It also won an Eisner Comic Industry Award for Best Graphic Album. The Eternal Smile, a collection of short stories illustrated by Derek Kirk Kim, also won an Eisner Award and was selected as a Young Adult Library Services Association’s Best Book for Young Adults in 2010. Recently, Yang has worked on the comic book extension of Nickelodeon’s blockbuster show Avatar: The Last Airbender, and just announced a new graphic novel project to come out in fall of 2013, Boxers and Saints. For more information on Gene Luen Yang, check out his website at or follow him on Twitter @geneluenyang.

“Graphic novels are awesome because they nurture readers’ literacy skills in a subtle yet fascinating way,” says Bess Connally, from the Teen Services Committee at Knox County Public Library. “Whether it’s a biography of a civil rights leader, a high-octane adventure with mutants in spandex, or an adaptation of a well-loved classic, sequential art has become an important format that appeals to all ages, and one that is essential for developing a thriving community of young readers.”

Miranda Clark, Director of UT's Center for Children's and Young Adult Literature explains, "In graphic novels, the images are employed as language.  So reading well done graphic novels is not only a great pleasure, it offers practice with an entirely different kind of literacy needed for today's highly visual world of information. I think young readers in particular enjoy graphic novels because they are so accessible. Readers are able to get meaning from the page almost immediately because of the sequential visual narrative."

Barbara Tversky, professor of Psychology at Stanford University, notes: “Comics use a broad range of sophisticated devices for communication. They are similar to face-to-face interactions, in which meaning is derived not solely from words, but also from gestures, intonation, facial expressions and props. Comics are more than just illustrated books, but rather make use of a multi-modal language that blends words, pictures, facial expressions, panel-to-panel progression, color, sound effects and more to engage readers in a compelling narrative.”

Both events are presented by the Center for Children’s and Young Adult Literature at the University of Tennessee and Knox County Public Library’s Teen Services Committee with support from the Friends of the Knox County Public Library.

About The Center for Children's and Young Adult Literature
The Center for Children's and Young Adult Literature at the University of Tennessee believes that literature is essential to the literacy, learning, social, emotional and aesthetic development of young people.

Guided by this belief, it is the mission of the Center to celebrate and promote literature and to encourage reading through outreach to children and their parents, to current and future teachers and librarians, to members of the community, and to scholars and thinkers across disciplines. The Center is housed in the School of Information Sciences, College of Communication and Information at the University of Tennessee. Interested parties can connect with the Center for Children’s and Young Adult Literature through, or on facebook,

About Knox County Public Library
Since 1885, the people of Knox County have been fortunate to have an impressive collection of library resources. Today, the Knox County Public Library is prouder than ever to offer more than one million books, periodicals, CDs, films, and audiobooks. From innovative programming and reference services to the latest technology, the Library is working hard to make your library experience more convenient and relevant than ever. With over 19 facilities, it's a good time to be a library card holder.

About the Friends of the Library
The Friends of the Library are dedicated to fostering a love of libraries, books and reading in the Knox County area by community outreach, advocacy and support of the Knox County Public Library system and staff. You can learn more at

For interview or photo requests, please contact Mary Pom Claiborne at or at (865) 215-8767