Outraged by the exponential increase in hate crimes targeting Asian Americans since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, a group of Asian American children’s authors has sought to make change—literally.
For Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature winner Stacey Lee, “The last straw was when my cousin told me she was spit on in public as she was taking a walk on her birthday.” Lee, a co-founder of the nonprofit organization We Need Diverse Books, immediately contacted her friend Kat Cho, founder of the Asian Author Alliance—“a group of Asian kid lit authors of which I’m a member”—to brainstorm if there was anything to be done. “Within a day,” Lee said, “[Kat] was already putting a plan into action.”
The duo decided upon an auction because of successful precedents, such as Kid Lit Says No Kids in Cages. “Auctions are brilliant,” Lee explained, “because they can raise funds quickly, and also bring together communities—in this case, the book community, writers, readers, publishers, illustrators.” After announcing the call for donations on the Asian Author Alliance Twitter page on February 21, Lee and Cho, along with National Book Award finalist Traci Chee, Debbi Michiko Florence, and Van Hoang, got to work bringing the auction to life.
The group took to Wordpress, creating individual posts for 450 items ranging from calls with authors, editors, or agents, critiques, copyedits, advance readers copies, framed illustrations, signed books, and more. Interested parties could bid on the items between February 26 and February 28 by commenting under the appropriate post. Winners received their prizes after sending proof of their donated bid amount to either Stop AAPI Hate or Hate Is a Virus.
Lee had been following Stop AAPI Hate “ever since its inception in 2020,” as “they provided one of the first reporting systems to monitor” the increasingly common crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, she said, as well as offering multilingual resources and supporting “community-based safety measures and restorative justice efforts.” Cho brought to Lee’s attention #HateIsAVirus, another movement founded to combat xenophobia and racism against Asian Americans and raise funds for BIPOC community organizations, and so they decided to benefit both.
Lee said she was “astounded” by the results of the auction, during which people bid “down to the wire.” She added, “I figured we would raise $4,000 to maybe $12,000. I was pretty overcome when Kat told me we had made over $50,000.”
The top three items, Lee revealed, were a picture book mentorship with Chronicle editor Melissa Manlove ($2,010), an advance readers copy of Lee’s forthcoming novel Luck of the Titanic ($1,000), and a manuscript critique by Anne Ursu ($910).
But the authors’ efforts became even more efficacious when people began matching donations. “I felt so grateful [when Cho told me],” Lee said. “People were showing that they cared.”
“The kid lit community is an intricate network of diverse opinions and perspectives, but one thing we can agree on is that there is never a place for racism,” Lee concluded. “As an Asian American who writes about Asian Americans, the issue hits close to home, and I'm so thankful for all the people who came together to support this cause.”