The BKBF Interview: Yao Xiao

The BKBF Interview continues this week with author Yao Xiao. This weekly series of Q&As features some of this year’s Festival authors. BKBF interviews Yao Xiao, debut author of the graphic novel, Everything Is Beautiful, And I’m Not Afraid. Tune in on Sunday, October 4 as Yao Xiao joins fellow creators in a BKBF panel discussion. 

Where is your favorite place to read/illustrate and why?
In my apartment, where it is quiet and without distractions.

What’s the last book that had you reading past your bedtime?
Honestly my bedtime has become very “flexible” due to all the reading I’ve been doing lately. I recently finished Are Prisons Obsolete? and have taken it to bed daily. I remember reading Kinder Than Solitude by Li Yiyun and the story picked up in darkness and pace three-quarters of the way, and I just had to stay up and finish it. 

Who made reading/illustrating/creating important to you?
I am heavily influenced by my mother who is a writer. She didn’t exactly push me to write or draw, but she demonstrated for me the richness and independence of a life and career filled by writing and researching. 

What books are currently piled in your “To Be Read” stack … and where can the stack be found in your home?
I have Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde, Almost American Girl: An Illustrated Memoir by Robin Ha, When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön, and Graphic Women: Life Narrative and Contemporary Comics by Hillary L. Chute. This stack is on the table where we eat, so I’m constantly reminded to read them.

How have the pandemic and anti-racism protests of 2020 affected your reading and/or writing/illustration?
The pandemic has reduced most of my freelance work, so I have an abundance of time to read. I worked down a list of 16 books I’ve been meaning to read, and I wrote for an hour everyday. Many of the books tackle issues of racism and identity, and each left me feeling that I wish I had read them sooner. I go through periods of feeling inspired to write and times when I feel deflated and defeated. Overall, I felt that I have more reason to interrogate my own work now, and not just put out something that is comfortable and acceptable, but something more aware of my place in the world.

Yao Xiao is a cartoonist and illustrator living in New York. Yao was born in China and emigrated to the United States in 2006. After graduating with a degree in Illustration from the School of Visual Arts, Xiao sought a way to document her experiences as a queer immigrant and developed a series of comics incorporating illustration and writing. Her debut graphic novel, Everything Is Beautiful, And I’m Not Afraid, was published in 2020 and has received praise by Publishers Weekly and Ms. magazine. Her work has been nominated for the Ignatz Award and recognized by the Society of Illustrators.