Boxers & Saints: Author Gene Luen Yang's 2014 BGHB Fiction Honor Speech

boxers & saintsThank you to the Horn Book and the Boston Globe. This is an incredible, incredible honor.

Boxers & Saints is a two-volume graphic novel about the Boxer Rebellion, a war that was fought in China in the year 1900. On one side of the conflict were the Europeans, the Japanese, and the Chinese Christians. On the other side was a ragtag army of poor, starving teenagers from the Chinese countryside.

These young people were supposed to be farmers, but there was nothing for them to farm because a drought had killed all their crops. They felt helpless and hopeless, and they were angry that the Europeans and the Japanese had established concessions in their homeland. To empower themselves, the teenagers created a ritual that they believed would summon the Chinese gods, the heroes of the operas they watched every spring at their village fairs. The gods would possess their bodies and give them superpowers. It was like ancient Chinese Shazam.

Armed with these superpowers, the teenagers marched through the countryside, fighting European soldiers and missionaries and their Chinese Christian allies. They made it all the way to the capital city, where they were finally put down by a foreign coalition in the summer of 1900. Here in the West, we refer to these young people as the Boxers.

I’m fascinated with the Boxer Rebellion for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is the way it highlights the importance of stories. The Boxers loved their stories so much that they wanted to become them; they wanted to embody them. Stories can empower us, or they can destroy us.

And that’s why it’s such an honor to be recognized by all of you. You all understand the importance of stories. You’ve dedicated your careers and your lives to promoting good stories.

I owe many, many people my thanks.

First, I thank God for the blessings and the trials.

I also thank my family, especially my lovely wife Theresa. She supports me in all that I do.

I thank my friend Lark Pien, who colored Boxers & Saints. She made my comic look about a million times better.

I thank my agent Judy Hansen for her wisdom and advice.

I thank Mark Siegel, my editor, for dreaming up First Second Books and then making it a reality. First Second has really become a home for me, as it has for many other cartoonists. Mark’s a risk-taker. When I proposed a two-volume graphic novel about an obscure Chinese war, Mark said yes.

I thank all the good people at First Second Books and Macmillan Children’s: Simon Boughton, Calista Brill, Gina Gagliano. I especially thank Colleen AF Venable, a designer who has since moved on from First Second. Colleen is an amazing talent. She designed the beautiful box that Boxers & Saints comes in. I’ve always wanted to see my comics in a box, and Colleen made it happen.

Finally, I thank all of you. Thank you for believing in the importance of story.

For more on the 2014 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, click on the tag BGHB14.

Gene Luen Yang

Gene Luen Yang writes, and sometimes draws, comic books and graphic novels. His most recent titles are Dragon Hoops (First Second/Roaring Brook) and Superman Smashes the Klan (DC Comics). He was the fifth National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and in 2016 was named a MacArthur Foundation Fellow.

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