Last summer, HarperCollins Children’s Books announced the launch of Allida, an imprint at Clarion Books led by Newbery Medalist Linda Sue Park and Clarion editorial director Anne Hoppe. The imprint’s debut title, You Are Here: Connecting Flights, is a middle grade exploration of contemporary Asian American identity told through interwoven stories from 12 East and Southeast Asian American authors. We asked Park and Ellen Oh, co-founder of We Need Diverse Books and editor of You Are Here, to discuss the impetus behind Allida and their work on its inaugural title, which is being released this month.

Ellen Oh: Linda Sue! I’m so excited for this conversation because we get to talk about your new imprint and our collab book, and I have to be honest: I’m just pinching myself over how perfect the synergy for both has been! So, let’s start off by talking about how the whole imprint ideacame about and your initial reaction to it.

Linda Sue Park: Bringing attention to great books by other writers has always been important to me. I used to blog about books I was reading; then I switched to tweeting about books I read and loved. Eventually I ended up creating the kiBooka website, a listing of Korean American and Korean diaspora writers. I wanted to do more, and to support the wide array of creators from historically marginalized backgrounds; I just wasn’t sure how.

On a parallel track: when author imprints started cropping up, I was baffled that the first several I heard about were all helmed by men, when we know that there are far more women creators in the field of children’s books. So, of course, I was delighted for more than one reason when I heard in 2019 that the new Heartdrum imprint at HarperCollins would be headed by Cynthia Leitich Smith.

Oh: I remember! We were at NCTE and you were so excited about it and I remember you wondering out loud if you might run an imprint one day also. And I was like, yes. Haha. I mean seriously, I couldn’t think of a better person. And then…

Park: Then Anne Hoppe asked if I would be interested in establishing an imprint with her. (I began working with Anne when Dinah Stevenson, my editor for more than 20 years, retired in 2019.) Although I was flattered and honored, I was also unsure—I’d never done anything like it before. What happened next: you invited me to contribute to a book celebrating East and Southeast Asian American identity, and that was a huge lightbulb bingo moment! Great writers, writing from the heart about characters who haven’t always been in the mainstream? I knew at once that this had to be the inaugural title on the imprint’s list. While Allida isn’t focused solely on Asian American voices, the excitement I felt for You Are Here helped clarify my vision for the imprint, so I owe you big time!

So let’s talk about our new book. I know that part of the impetus for You Are Here began with another book you edited. What happened there?

Oh: It’s what happens when you are so close to a project that you miss the big blind spot. When we formed We Need Diverse Books, one of our first projects was working on a collection of diverse stories that became Flying Lessons and Other Stories. I was so proud of Flying Lessons and thought it was perfect, until I received an email from an Asian American blogger who rightly pointed out that of all the stories in it, only the East Asian story was not American. I remember Grace Lin and I were so flabbergasted that we had somehow missed this. Grace had written this fabulous girl pirate story set in Asia but all the other stories were set in the U.S. We had unintentionally othered our own East Asian story. So it became our mission to create a collection of East and Southeast Asian American diasporic stories. And then the pandemic happened with its corresponding rise of anti-Asian violence and hate, and it became more important than ever to tell our stories.

You know, I checked my emails and you were the first person I asked to join the project when I came up with the idea for You Are Here! And I have to say, what an amazing lineup of authors we have! But also, I love that 12 authors working together created such a cohesive and collaborative project.

Park: But there are no authors’ names listed on their chapters! Why in the world did you decide to do that?!

Oh: Because we all agreed that this is not an anthology. It’s interconnected storytelling and we wanted it to read fluidly, without any jarring moments of disconnect. So each story is a chapter, with only the character names as titles. And if anyone really wants to know who wrote which one, it's all in the copyright page.

Park: “Interconnected storytelling”—I love that! It’s the perfect description! We all worked together, interweaving our characters and storylines, but, Ellen, you had to write the very last chapter, the one that brings all the pieces together. I can’t even imagine trying to do that! How did you go about it?

Oh: I actually really enjoyed it because I had a very specific vision for this project from the very start and I wanted to make sure to capture it in the conclusion. I was also probably the best person to write it because of how deeply immersed I was in everyone else’s chapters. I knew where every character was situated in the airport setting and what they were doing and at what time their paths would cross with other characters, etc. I had a very detailed Excel spreadsheet and except for one timing error that our brilliant copy editors discovered, I was pretty accurate!

And I’m just so grateful that You Are Here gets to be the inaugural title for your new imprint, Allida!

Which leads me to my next question: how did you come up with the name?

Park: I wish I could say that it floated magically into my mind right at the start... but that’s not what happened at all. I’m not sure how many names were proposed and rejected; it was surely dozens. I wanted something along the lines of the French word voilà—a feeling of both announcement and excitement, and because the imprint is about creative passions, I wanted a word that held personal meaning for me. Finally, I talked to family members and also asked my parents to consult with their Korean-native-speaker friends. Mr. Young-dahl Song suggested allinda, a word that means “to inform” or “to announce.” Oddly enough, the word also includes my name, and I wasn’t comfortable with that. Fortunately, the word has another form, allida, so that’s finally what we landed on.

Then Harper designer Jessie Gang and font designer Lynne Yun worked together to come up with the logo, resonating with the tradition of chops used by Asian artists to sign their work. Lynne invented the font herself, meaning that it’s unique to Allida, which feels so special!

Oh: I love it! When I saw it on the spine of my author copy of You Are Here I was so thrilled! So how do you imagine Allida shaping how young readers see their stories?

Park: Here’s an example I like to use, one that encapsulates a pattern that applies broadly across varied marginalized groups. In the mid 19th century, the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads met in Utah to connect the rail line that went all the way across the continent. In a famous photo of the Golden Spike ceremony, you can see the spike and the champagne bottle and the railway executives posing surrounded by the workers. The *white* workers. The Chinese workers were present at that event, but they were excluded from all the official photos. Erased.

As a child, I read very few stories about Asian Americans, and was taught almost nothing about them in school. The message conveyed is this: Asians didn’t contribute to American history. We didn’t do anything worth remembering or writing about. We don’t matter.

Imagine the cumulative effect of that on a child, book after book, year after year, of erasure and inaccuracy. And not just Asian Americans, of course. My family is Asian, so I have a natural interest in Asian stories. But in the end, marginalization of all groups shares a root cause: dehumanization by the dominant culture. That’s why Allida’s mission extends beyond Asian American writers and illustrators to lift the voices of all marginalized creators.

I want Allida Books to help contribute to the effort of more stories from communities who have been erased, undervalued, disrespected. I want creators from those communities to write their passions, to write stories that defy expectations. And ultimately, I want to produce books for young readers of all stripes that help them appreciate our shared humanity so they can take that appreciation out into the world.

Oh: Beautifully said. I think that shared humanity is what we were going for in You Are Here also. This idea that we all have a place in our worlds, our communities. And I think we did a great job, if I say so myself!

Park: Ditto!