“My Chinese name is Xuan, or Forget-All-Sorrow. It is also Chinese for ‘lily of a day,’” notes Belle Yang. “If life spans a mere day, why spend it in worry?” Indeed, the author-illustrator of Hannah Is My Name recalls a seemingly worry-free childhood in Taiwan and Japan, where she “doodled and fiddled around with words” and discovered they were her life. Now an author and painter, Belle Yang has developed a remarkable style that draws on her rich cultural background, influenced not only by childhood memories of Taiwan and Japan and her experience of immigrating to the United States at age seven, but also by her studies in Scotland and China.
It was Belle Yang’s homecoming from China to the U.S. after the Tiananmen Massacre that precipitated a new dedication to her art. “I returned with gratitude in my heart for the freedom of expression given me in America,” she says. “I returned convinced that I would firmly grasp this gift with both hands.” And since officially becoming an artist “sometime in the early nineties,” Belle Yang’s work has consistently garnered widespread acclaim for its vividness and authenticity.
Notes Amy Tan, author of The Joy Luck Club, “Belle Yang is an American writer who writes in English and thinks in Chinese. Her writing feels Chinese. . . . It is as though we, the readers of English, can now miraculously read Chinese.”
Hannah Is My Name perfectly captures the essence of this Chinese-American fusion. It is an immigrant story especially close to the author’s own: “Hannah Is My Name is based on our first years in San Francisco,” she says. “I missed my old friends and teacher, but it was not a miserable yearning. It was a great privilege to come to the United States, and we didn’t look back.” Like the author, Hannah and her family move from Taiwan to San Francisco, where she takes a new name, begins a new school, learns a new language, and starts to adjust to a new way of life.
Illuminated by Chinese-influenced paintings in jewel-like colors, Belle Yang’s immigration tale represents one of the many facets of the American dream. Belle Yang has written and illustrated four books and has participated in solo museum shows. She lives in California.