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OCA Weekly Author Feature: Cynthia Chin-Lee
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OCA Weekly Author Feature: Cynthia Chin-Lee  

As a part of the OCA National APA Heritage Month Children's Book Tour, OCA will do weekly interviews with participating authors on their experience as an APA children's book author. This week, we are featuring author Cynthia Chin-Lee.

Cynthia Chin-Lee and her four older siblings were born and raised in Washington, D.C. by a medical-doctor father and a homemaker and artist mother. Cynthia began writing for fun when she was in the sixth grade. "I liked writing poetry and scribbling in my journal because I found it comforting and therapeutic. I still write for that reason and because I like playing with words."

Cynthia attended Harvard University, where she studied East Asian Languages. She spent her junior year abroad at the Mandarin Training Center of National Taiwan Normal University. After graduating from Harvard magna cum laude, Cynthia accepted a graduate fellowship at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, and studied at the University of Hawaii.

She began a technical writing career by writing for banks and high-tech companies. Cynthia has also written freelance articles for magazines and newspapers, as well as taught writing classes at community colleges and universities. She currently works as a technical writer and documentation manager at Sun Microsystems, Menlo Park, CA. She lives in Palo Alto, California with her husband and two children.

Before writing children's books, Cynthia published It's Who You Know: The Magic of Connections in Person and on the Internet, a ground-breaking work on the importance of social networking.

Cynthia's first children's book, Almond Cookies & Dragon Well Tea (Polychrome Publishing 1993) is an autobiographical tale of friendship. She is also the author of A Is For Asia (Orchard Books 1997), which Ruminator Review called one of the "Best 100 American Children's Books of the Century," and A is For the Americas (Orchard Book, 1999), which earned an award from the National Council for Social Studies and Children's Book Council as a Notable Children's Book in Social Studies in 2000 and earned recognition as an Americas Award Commended Book. Her newest books are the award-winning Amelia to Zora: Twenty-six Women Who Changed the World, and Akira to Zoltan: Twenty-six Men Who Changed the World, both illustrated by Megan Halsey and Sean Addy.

Who or what inspired you to write your first book?

My first book was "It's Who You Know" and I wrote it because I believe in the power of people in social groups to create change (just like OCA). I found networking to be so effective for my career and my personal life.

How did you come up with the plot and title for the book you’re reading for the book tour?

I'll be reading from my kids books, Amelia to Zora: 26 Women Who Changed the World and Akira to Zoltan: 26 Men Who Changed the World. I've always been a feminist and wanted to write a book to celebrate the accomplishments (as well as struggles) of women. I got the idea for Amelia when I was going thru a divorce.

I've since remarried and my second husband, Peter Ching (whom I met thru OCA!) encouraged me to write a book on accomplished men. Many of the men in my book are peace-makers. They are the kind of people who truly change the world, including Gandhi, Mandela, and so on. 

Are the characters/plot based on your own experiences? If so, how much? 

My books are mostly non-fiction. My children's book, Almond Cookies and Dragon Well Tea, has characters and elements that are autobiographical. 

Have you always wanted to be a children’s book author?

No. No idea I would do it.

What were your favorite children’s books growing up?  

I loved The Little Prince by Antoine St. Exupery. I also loved biographies. 

Do you have a favorite APA author?

I love Amy Tan.

What challenges do you face when writing your books?

The biggest challenge is getting published and making the time to write and promote the books.

Can you share any projects in the works with us? 

I have a green alphabet book that is circulating but still looking for a publisher. I have a new picture book that is in negotiation with a publisher on gay marriage. 

What do you like to do in your free time outside of writing?

Biking, swimming, being with my family and friends. Travel! 

Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

I was president of the San Mateo Chapter in the late 80s. I've been assosicated with OCA since I was 16.


Cynthia just had a great event at Key Elementary School on Friday, May 7. Come see Cynthia speak at the Foster City Public Library on Saturday, May 22:  

OCA-San Mateo Chapter
Foster City Public Library
1000 East Hillsdale Boulevard, Foster City, CA 94404
Saturday, May 22
Author: Cynthia Chin-Lee   

Or attend one of the other many events in our APA Heritage Month Children's Book Tour:

OCA-Greater Washington, D.C. Chapter
Roscoe Nix Elementary School
1100 Corliss Street, Silver Spring, MD 20903
Friday, May 14
Author: Pooja Makhijani

D.C. Mayor’s Office on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library
901 G St. NW, Washington, DC 20001
Saturday, May 15
Author: Pooja Makhijani

OCA-Wisconsin Chapter
Wauwatosa Public Library
7635 West North Avenue, Wauwatosa, WI 53213
Saturday, May 8
Author: Milly Lee

OCA-Greater Los Angeles Chapter
Alhambra Civic Center Library
101 S. First St, Alhambra, CA 91801
Saturday, May 15
Author: Icy Smith

Los Angeles Chinatown Branch Library
639 N. Hill Street
Saturday, May 29
Author: Lisa Yee

OCA-St. Louis Chapter
Chinese Culture Day
Missouri Botanical Garden
4344 Shaw Blvd, St. Louis, MO 63110
Saturday, May 15

OCA-New Jersey Chapter
Forest Avenue School
118 Forest Ave, Verona, New Jersey 07044
Friday, May 21
Author: Kam Mak

OCA-Central Illinois Chapter
Thomas Metcalf School
7000 Illinois State University Normal, IL 61790-0001
Time: Monday, May 24
Author: Kam Mak

OCA-Las Vegas Chapter
Paseo Verde Library
280 S. Green Valley Pkwy, Henderson, NV 89012
Saturday, May 22
Author: Milly Lee


Hudson Valley Chapter Asian Pacific American Heritage Festival
Kensico Dam Plaza County Park, Valhalla, New York 10595
Saturday, May 29
Author: Pooja Makhijani

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