Wigtown YA | Sue Cheung

What the Diverse Book Awards mean to me

14 September 2021
Head shot of Sue Cheung standing against a red brick wall.

Up until the day my memoir Chinglish was published, I felt like an outsider. Not just as a writer (I’d not had any training or background in creating a novel), but because for my entire life, I’d never wanted to be part of the British Chinese community.

You see, I grew up in a Chinese takeaway in England, where we were practically sitting ducks for racist customers walking into the shop. My parents were hostile towards me too, so I began to associate all things Chinese with being negative. In a bid to fit in, I became as Western as possible. 

I didn’t want to write Chinglish at first because the pain was still raw. Then it turned into a sort of therapy, so I carried on. After the book got published I was shocked at the number of British Chinese getting in touch to tell me of their similar experiences, a revelation as I was sure I’d suffered alone. Then Chinglish did something unexpected. It won the inaugural Diverse Book Awards, YA category! 

In a year, I’d gone from completely shunning my ethnicity to being well and truly a voice for the British Chinese community, which at that point, I felt totally unqualified for. In a way, the award win was a final push for me to stop hiding and accept myself for who I really was. Finding myself in this position, it made me realise the importance of showing others the journey I’d made from shame and aloofness, to slowly embracing my heritage. I mean, why else was I there, and why did the Diverse Book Awards choose my story? To show others that they could make it through too, of course.

These awards are a much-needed platform for marginalised voices, which we need to hear for all sorts of reasons. Empathy is a huge one. When we truly understand what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes, we can build a kinder world and future. Reflecting a realistic view of today’s multicultural society is also essential. Repeated exposure to various races, religions, cultures and physical appearances helps them to become more normalised - not to mention the joy that children get from seeing themselves in a book. When we boil it down, humans are simple creatures really, because it doesn’t take much repetition for something to form a habit. The more we experience something, the more we accept it as being normal. 

Another great aspect of the awards are the opportunities it presents to the vast amount of untapped talent out there. As we all know, there’s a glaring lack of representation where writers and illustrators of colour are concerned, so let’s get those numbers up! 

In my mind, being exposed to diversity in all its forms as often as possible is essential: nature, food, travel, art...not only is it exciting, enriching and fulfilling, it also shapes us into broad-minded, well-rounded individuals, who are far less prone to prejudice. 

We’ve all felt like outsiders at some point in our lives, but thanks to the Diverse Book Awards, we can learn to celebrate our differences and feel included.

Sue Cheung is joining us for this year's Wigtown YA festival. You can sign up for tickets to her event here, or purchase a copy of Chinglish from our online bookshop.