By Vaishali Basu, Educator
Linda Sue Park: A Literary Force
On the second day of the Neev Literature Festival, the stage was set for a literary luminary—Linda Sue Park—to take center stage. The Newbery Medal winning author known for crafting literary wonders for children from all age groups, Linda Sue has penned an impressive array of books spanning novels, picture books, poetry collections, and anthologies.
Roots of Inspiration: A Journey into the Past
Linda Sue’s journey into the world of storytelling is intertwined with her family’s immigration tale. Her parents, who arrived in the US in the ’50s, brought with them the gift of a reading culture. Linda Sue reminisced about her father’s visits to government libraries—an amazing concept that allowed one to walk out with a stack of books, an act she humorously notes is something you can’t quite do with anything else. In her childhood home, the culture of reading was tremendous. The assault of media and recreational activities took a backseat as books became companions. However, there was a flip side to being immigrants—Linda Sue’s parents tried desperately to be more American, even going to the extent of speaking only in English, a decision she laments as a tragedy. The struggle to learn Korean showcased a desperate need to connect with her roots—culturally, historically, and linguistically.
Literary Offerings: From When My Name Was Keoko to A Long Walk to Water
Linda Sue’s repertoire is a rich tapestry, weaving stories that traverse cultural landscapes. In When My Name Was Keoko, she explores the impact of World War II on Korea, delving into her parents’ childhood. The book reflects the happy and challenging times, and initially, Linda Sue grappled with the question of whether American children would be interested in the narrative. Eventually, she realized that sharing her family’s experiences had value in itself.
In A Long Walk to Water, Linda Sue takes readers to Sudan, now South Sudan, during the Second Sudanese Civil War. As the narrative unfolds, the reader is presented with the true story of a journey of a family, a refugee, and a lost boy, navigating hardships and terrors that no child should have to endure. This story, set in Rochester, reaches beyond the pages as Salva Dut, the young boy who inspired Linda Sue’s novel grows up to set up a non-profit, Water for South Sudan, to improve access to clean water in the country, inspiring young readers to take action.
Empowering Through Literature: Walking for Water and Beyond
The impact of Linda Sue’s work transcends the realm of literature. The Walk for Water initiative, inspired by A Long Walk to Water, encourages students to raise funds for clean water wells in Sudan. Competitions, prizes, and the involvement of privileged and underprivileged schools have resulted in students raising an astounding 5 million USD.
Linda Sue passionately advocates the power of reading, emphasizing that it leads to better education, better jobs, and ultimately, more comfort, choice, and possibilities. She underscores the responsibility that comes with privilege, encouraging individuals to make as much money as they can and then use it for the greater good.
The Rewriter’s Journey: Linda Sue Park’s Writing Wisdom
Linda Sue Park humbly refers to herself as a “rewriter.” She shared her writing process, acknowledging that the first draft is often terrible, but it’s a starting point—one she can work with. The Pomodoro method, a 12-minute writing sprint, is her secret weapon to combat procrastination and nurture creativity.
Championing Representation: Smiling Eyes and Beyond
Linda Sue has also taken on the task of rewriting narratives to champion representation. Much like how Hair Love seeks to enable the African American community to reclaim their hair, Linda Sue has begun a project called Smiling Eyes, celebrating the great variety of Asian eyes. Scheduled for release in January 2025, this book promises to be a testament to the diversity of Asian identities.
As the day unfolded with Linda Sue Park at the forefront, the audience was not just treated to a literary feast but a profound exploration of culture, identity, and the transformative power of storytelling. Linda Sue’s revelations echoed through the corridors of the Neev Literature Festival, leaving an indelible mark on both young and old hearts, inspiring a new generation of readers and storytellers.