5 Kinds of Nonfiction: Kao Kalia Yang

We begin our tour of the 5 Kinds of Nonfiction with Kao Kalia Yang. Her most recent picture book, The Most Beautiful Thing, draws from her childhood experiences as a Hmong refugee and offers a window into the life of a family with little money and a great deal of love. Read on to find out how important storytelling is to sharing the truth of nonfiction, and learn more about Narrative Nonfiction.

The kind of writing I do in nonfiction is reflective in nature; I like to remember. It is based strongly on a story that has moved me to grow and become more of the person I’ve needed and wanted to be. I focus tightly on moments and string them together to form a narrative.

When I think about my work as a writer in nonfiction, I think often of the people. Sometimes, they are still very much in my life—like my mother or father or sister, and other times, they are no longer here—like my grandmother. I understand that in the space of the past, we are not yet who we are today. My mother, whose face has grown soft with time, used to have firm skin, smooth because of her youth, plump with energy. She, who is now wiser and moves more slowly in the world, in the times before was much faster, driven by the needs of her growing family, the ticking of the endless clock at the factory where she worked.

In my writing, I wonder freely in the space of love, timeless and boundaryless. I endeavor to bring the people of the past to life and to build a possibility where they can meet the people of today and tomorrow. 

In all these ways, in my work, I am always writing to the people of the past, to the people of the present, and the people of tomorrow. In my culture, we believe that we are here because of our ancestors. We believe that we will live on because of our descendants. I occupy only a sliver of moment in actual time. So much of my work in nonfiction is about bridging the gaps in my real life and my imagined one, through the stories that have given to me, and the ones I would share with the world.

It’s a beautiful art: nonfiction writing. It allows me a freedom to explore truths and to live in them, to make room for others who may not feel they belong, to welcome those who have been searching hard for a place to rest, to adventure, to think of love and feel it through.

Narrative Nonfiction is a category of Melissa Stewart’s Five Kinds of Nonfiction. This post is part of a weekly series of guest articles by nonfiction authors about their craft, their process, and their amazing books. Stay tuned each week to learn more by visiting the 5 Kinds of Nonfiction page for poster and flyer downloads, curated booklists and more. You can also follow the Lerner Blog’s 5 Kinds of Nonfiction series, or the hashtag #5KNF on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

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