Alumnus, Artist, Author, Honorary Doctor

  • BY Cal State East Bay
  • April 23, 2019

Cal State East Bay alumnus Gene Luen Yang is an author and illustrator of comic books and graphic novels. As the Library of Congress’ fifth National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, he's advocated for the importance of reading, especially reading diversely.

Next month, Yang will be able to add another accolade to his resume — an honorary doctorate which will be presented at Cal State East Bay’s May 19 commencement ceremony.

Born in Alameda and raised in the South Bay, Yang graduated from Cal State East Bay’s online master’s in education program in 2003. He taught computer science at Oakland's Bishop O’Dowd High School, when he decided to dedicate more time to his writing and drawing. He now lives in the East Bay and is working on “Superman” for DC Comics as well as his own young adult book series.

His first graphic novel “American Born Chinese” was a National Book Award finalist along with being named to NPR’s Top 100 Best Comics and Graphic Novels list and also received the Printz and Eisner awards. Having grown up with a love of comic books and illustration, Yang conceived a project which would reflect his unique experiences growing up as one of the few Asian-Americans in a predominantly white suburb. Starting as self-published pages produced from the local copy store, "American Born Chinese" became the first graphic novel nominated for a National Book Award.

In 2016, Yang also received a MacArthur “Genius" award from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, given to extraordinarily talented and creative individuals as an investment in their potential.

Despite the many accolades Yang has earned from his books, he says hearing from readers who enjoy is even more meaningful. 

"One of the most gratifying responses that I get to the book is children of immigrants coming up to me and saying that [the book] resonated with [them]," he said during a 2016 visit to campus. "That even though we have two different cultural backgrounds that they felt a lot of those same emotional realities. That's more than a compliment."