“Remix” is integral in Chef Roy
Choi’s work as he uses food to remix culture and communities. What does remix
mean to you and does it apply to your daily work?
JJL: As a food ethnographer, I think about “remix” all the
time! Remix is now the culinary code for good and interesting food, not just in
America but in the world. Remix represents a growing circle of empathy in which
traditional walls between “us v. them” are cracking up and breaking down. We
naturally express our remix identities and experiences by cooking and sharing
foods we know and can imagine. As an immigrant, I am a “remix” of Seoul, Pusan,
“Korea,” Texas, California, and “America.” As a student of cultural
anthropology, remix represents the concept of bricoleur which (I immediately fell
in love with) means someone who takes whatever is on hand to mix-and-match and
create their own identity, meaning and truths. This is me. When Chef Roy
Choi put Korean BBQ in a tortilla with Awesome sauce on a food truck and
announced it on Twitter to the world, he was speaking to me.
M1: As an old school hip-hop head, REMIX to me means
the fresh mixing of music or visual flavor and by flavor I mean style! I
have created many murals and pieces of art where I have taken something
cultural or iconic from my Mexican culture and “remixed” it to make it relevant
to a new generation. It’s a lot of fun to do but also a great way to pass on
legacy to future generations of young people.
Writing THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD & EVIL series is like running
a fantasy corporation. Six years into writing, five books later, I wake up
every day and juggle over 150 characters, 40 plot lines, and a world so big it
feels like it’s outgrowing my own head. But it’s what I was born to do – write
big worlds and sophisticated stories that can keep up with a clever child’s
But there was something else I was born to do, only I never
thought I’d find an outlet to do it: tell my own story.
And my most personal story is about my grandmother, who
without sounding too crass, was a person far more significant in my life than
my own parents. We shared the same birthday. We both liked gourmet food and
fancy hotels, even if we couldn’t afford them. We both were highly suspicious
of my grandfather. And most of all, we were deeply, deeply unhappy.
But Nani didn’t want me to be. And something about my own
unhappiness made her intolerant of her own.
I discovered the joys of theater in middle school for a sad
but simple reason: I was quitting dance. At the age of twelve, I was told by my
teacher that I couldn’t continue at an advanced level without losing a
significant amount of weight. The issue of body policing in the performing arts
comes up in my YA novel Echo After Echo,
specifically for the main character, Zara, who is not the waifish ingénue
people have come to expect. Fortunately, when I chose to leave dance behind, I
fell into theater, and despite being a different body type than many of my
fellow actresses, I found roles and fell in love with acting.
My new life of green rooms and backstage bonding brought my
first queer friends. It’s no real secret that the theater world, from the
professional stages in NYC to the drama clubs in most schools are havens for
creative and hardworking LGBTQIAP folks. Before I even knew I was queer, I
found my people, and they shared my fervor for story-making, a heady mix of
love and ambition that still drives me. We collected, we rehearsed, we
constructed sets with questionable structural integrity, we held our hearts
outside of our bodies night after night, we threw AMAZING cast parties.
Check out our Q&A with Nikki Grimes, author of THE WATCHER (
Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers, October 2017)!
What inspired you to write The Watcher?
few years ago, I was invited to write a Golden Shovel poem for The Golden
Shovel Anthology, a collection honoring the work of Pulitzer Prize-winning
Poet, Gwendolyn Brooks. This new poetry form, created by Terence Hayes
specifically for this anthology, was brand new, and so this was my first
introduction to it. I fell immediately in love with the form and could
not wait to use it again, for a project of my own. One of the first two
ideas that came to me was to apply the form to the exploration of a
Psalm. It seemed perfect. The Psalms are poetry, after all, and the
Golden Shovel is all about borrowing lines from existing poems to create new
ones. The question, of course, was which Psalm. I had a picture
book in mind, and in order for this treatment to work for a picture book, the
Psalm had to be relatively short, and so I searched for just the right
one. Psalm 121 is one of my favorite passages of scripture, and the length
seemed exactly right.
I remember when I was a kid that adults would often respond
to my beliefs on social, human, and political positions with some version of: Well, you won’t feel that way when you grow
up. I was raised in a conservative town with conservative ideals (starting,
I suppose, with the belief that kids’ opinions were not of equal value!). But I
remember thinking, even at the time: Oh,
I bet you’re wrong about that. I bet I’ll feel exactly the same way when I grow
Well, I’m grown up! Or I am at least by the measures
specified by the adults of my childhood, and I in fact do feel the same way on
most of those issues. With the confidence of age, I might even maintain some of
my positions more vigorously.
I am currently the writer of a book series for seven- to
twelve-year-olds. The series has some other stuff I still like from childhood:
imagination, mystery, a little bit of adventure. But in these books I also
focus a lot on compassion and understanding. In particular, I extend these
themes to my villains. I do this because my human, social, and political views
are, at their core, founded in the belief that humans are the same. People of all gender, color and
income levels—we’re not as far apart as we sometimes appear. In fact, our
distance is sometimes our shared vulnerabilities and insecurities, just
expressed in different ways.
Every book has a conception story. Mine
begins with the shameless binge-watching of an MTV reality series called “Generation
Cryo.” Over the course of six episodes, the show follows 17-year-old Breeanna, daughter
of a lesbian couple who was conceived via sperm donation, on a search for her
genetic half-siblings. Thanks to the Donor Sibling Registry, Bree connects with
Jonah and Hilit and Jayme and Jesse and Paige and Molly and Will, and
ultimately brings everyone together to track down their biological father.
Prior to watching the show, I had only
a cursory understanding of sperm donation and its effects on families. I
understood the science, but I knew nothing of the emotional fallout—of how
angry and hurt and confused some donor-conceived children could grow up to be,
or how fraught the relationships with the non-biological parents who were
raising them could become. I was fascinated by the idea of a new “insta-family.”
Unlike children conceived via sperm donation prior to the 1990’s, today’s
generation of donor-conceived kids have access to Internet search engines,
registry websites, social media, and video chat technology, all of which allow
them to connect with their genetic half-siblings, and even with their sperm
donor, in a mind-blowingly short amount of time.
As a 21st century mom, psychology
major, and YA author, how could I not write a book about this?
The most important
thing I can do as an author of children’s books is offer stories that open
communication between child and parent. In my Kissing Hand series, it is Mrs.
Raccoon who helps Chester through his many issues and difficulties beginning
with separation anxiety. Other books in the series deal with new siblings,
moving, bullying, dying, fear of speaking in front of others and wanting to
return home during a sleep over. These are issues all children face, but with
the help of books and characters like Chester Raccoon, and the caretakers and
teachers who bring them to life, children can face issues armed with
understanding and a sense of self.
When writing, I
often think about the brilliant diversity of color and sound, shape and size,
and speed and agility that is present in the animal kingdom. Most people
embrace these amazing differences with open minds and without prejudice. It is
because we all too often close our minds to the beautiful diversity in people
that I stay within the animal kingdom when writing my children’s books.
“It’s simple, Susan. Just pick one. Which would you rather be?”
It was my first day of first grade at a
new school, and we were playing a getting-to-know-you game that doubled as a
class-demographics survey. We had divided ourselves into groups based on
favorite ice cream flavor, age, favorite animal, and zip code, laughing over
Then came a question on race. I thought
seriously for a moment as the other kids sorted themselves into groups. But I
quickly found my answer and carefully chose my spot—halfway between the group
of students who identified as white and the group who identified as Asian. I
was proud of my creativity, and excited to share my answer.
So I was shocked when my teacher
disciplined me in front of the class, first asking why I hadn’t chosen a group,
and then, when I explained that I had chosen a group—half one, and half
the other—chastising me for choosing two groups when her survey allowed her to
tick only one box.
Which is when she demanded that I choose
between the two.