"A good story should alter you in some way; it should change your thinking, your feeling, your psyche, or the way you look at things. A story is an abstract experience; it's rather like venturing through a maze. When you come out of it, you should feel slightly changed."-Allen Say
Author and illustrator Allen Say didn't need to look any further than his own colorful life experiences to find inspiration for his award-winning books. Born in 1937, he spent his early years in Yokohama, Japan. When his Korean father and Japanese-American mother divorced in 1945, Say went to Tokyo to live with his grandmother. As unable to coexist with her as with his father, Say moved into his own apartment at the age of twelve. Due to his interest in art, Say sought and obtained an apprenticeship with a prominent cartoonist, Noro Shinpei. This period led to the writing of his book The Ink-keeper's Apprentice later in his life.
Say's time with Shinpei ended when Say was sixteen. His father and stepmother were moving to California, and took Say along. To Say's dismay, he was shipped off to military school by his father immediately following his arrival in the U.S. The lingering post-war anti-Japanese sentiment made his school experience miserable, however, and he was soon expelled for a minor infraction. He finished his high school education in Azusa, California, and then studied art at Cal Arts and the Art Center Collage of Design. He returned to Japan for a short time after earning his degree, sure he would never return to America. Post-war Japan proved to be much different than he remembered it, however, and he came back to America. Upon his return to The States, he entered into a short-lived marriage to a Jewish woman from Los Angeles which resulted in a daughter, named Yuriko. Despite being enrolled as a architectural student at the University of California, Say was drafted during Vietnam due to a legal snag. He was stationed in Germany for two years, and contributed to the military newspaper Stars and Stripes.
After his discharge from the army, he worked as a professional photographer. Eventually, his love for illustration, born while working with Noro Shinpei, reasserted itself. He did the art work for several different books before writing and illustrating own work, Dr Smith's Safari, in 1972. Seven years later and two more picture books later, his only novel, the autobiographical Ink-Keeper's Apprentice won several awards including the Best Book for Young Adults Award. More books followed, including The Bicycle Man in 1982 and The Lost Lake in 1989. Critics praised his luminous illustrations and his spare, elegant prose.His books often explored cultural alienation and family relationships, as Say drew on experiences from his own life. His picture book, Grandfather's Journey, published in 1993, won the Caldecott Medal from the American Library Association, the highest honor for the artist of an illustrated children's book.
Allen Say currently lives in Portland, Oregon, and continues to write and illustrate his own works.
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