I sold the manuscript for my second book, A Suitcase of Seaweed, in 1994. At the time, it was an unstructured, unthemed, and unillustrated collection of poems due to be published in Fall 1996.
In Summer 1995, I was one of the writers-in-residence at the USC Writing Project (part of the National Writing Project). Each day I joined a group of teachers to write and talk about writing. One of our daily projects was a journal that prompted me to want, desperately, to have illustrations in A Suitcase of Seaweed. I called my editor Margaret McElderry to ask if this was possible. She explained that my poems "didn't require" illustrations and, in fact, illustrations would interfere with the reader's imagination. I begged. She said I could have "three, black-and-white, very small; you can draw them yourself; and they must be finished next week." Three! How could I choose only 3 poems to illustrate?!
And then it hit me: my identity was clearly divided into 3 parts--my Korean self (from my immigrant mother), my Chinese self (from my immigrant father), and my American me (born and raised in California). I wrote three prose introduction pieces for each section, did three line drawings, and then sorted the poems quickly, trying not to think too much, and indeed putting some poems in one category versus another for purely whimsical and even arbitrary reasons.
Pretty ridiculous, really--but the way we choose to define ourselves (and the way others choose to define us) one day versus another can be a ridiculous thing, too, sometimes purely whimsical and arbitrary.
How do you define yourself? If you had to limit your whole self to 3 black-and-white drawings, what would you draw? If you had to divide all of your identity and experience into three categories, how would you label those categories?