About Author Thanhha Lai
I wrote Inside Out & Back Again, published in 2011. My second novel Listen, Slowly, was published February 17, 2015.
Butterfly Yellow, my third book, will be available in Fall 2019. I was born in Saigon, Vietnam, immigrated to Montgomery, Alabama after the war in 1975 and currently live north of New York City.
Click HERE to learn how to pronounce my name, Thanhhà Lại.
It is an honor and surprise to become #1 on the New York Times best seller list for Inside Out & Back Again and win various awards, including National Book Award and a Newbery Honor. It is wonderful to hear that readers enjoy my work and I appreciate you. I hope to hear from you and thank you for letting me know your feelings when reading my books.
About the past...
I wrote an ESSAY for a peer-reviewed periodical - National Council of Teachers of English -entitled: From Awkward to Still Awkward, but More Chill - which illustrates some of the frustrating and funny experiences from my past with writing. The following is an excerpt, and the entire essay can be found here:
"I was kicked out of AP English. A senior in 1983, I had been dabbling in English for eight years, having come from Viet Nam without knowing one word of this improbably illogical language. I thought I was managing just fine; after all, I was coeditor of the yearbook and talked constantly.
Talking, though, was ephemeral. Mistakes floated away. As long as the essence of the meaning landed, all was forgiven. I was in Fort Worth, Texas, where aint and reckon and Wranglers reigned supreme. No one was going to have a cow over some misspoken words.
By Jocelyn Frierson, Devon Garcia, Jennifer Lopez, and Victoria Miller
"Thanhha Lai was born in Vietnam in 1965. She was the youngest of nine children, and states that life in Saigon, South Vietnam was good. Things would change drastically for Lai though, when she turned ten and North Vietnam won the war. Lai and her family were forced out of their little home in Saigon and told to board a tightly packed Navy ship in order to escape the turmoil in their homeland. With only the remembrance of their father, who had been captured by the Viet Cong, the journey would be long and sorrowful.
The torturous journey from Saigon to Montgomery, Alabama would forever shape Lai’s outlook on life. Upon arriving in Alabama, Lai was forced to acclimate herself to a life unknown. Customs that were natural in Alabama were completely foreign to Lai and her family. Lai faced immense prejudice from her fellow classmates. It would be ten years before Lai learned to speak English in a way that satisfied her.
Lai pushed through, though, and graduated from the University of Texas. Shortly after graduating, Lai worked for the Orange County, California newspaper The Register, where she covered news surrounding the small Vietnamese communities of Little Saigon in Garden Grove and Westminster, CA for two years.
During her time at The Orange County Register, Lai stated that she “got this insane idea that [she] should quit and write fiction” (HarperCollins 5). She did just that. Before beginning her debut novel Inside Out and Back Again, Lai began writing a novel that she describes as being “whiplashed by hundreds of overly dramatic, showy sentences” (Wolff 9). Lai had been writing that novel for fifteen years before she switched gears and decided to get “inside the mind of a 10-year-old girl who feels as much as any adult but can’t express the emotions yet” (Wolff 14). In doing so, Lai focused on simple imagery in a process she likens to “boiling down sap to make syrup” (Wolff 13). What came from this process of getting to the core of her characters was her first novel Inside Out and Back Again, published in 2011 by HarperCollins.
The novel sprung Lai to literary stardom as she went on to win the 2011 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and was runner-up for a Newbery Honor. The novel told in verse is semi-autobiographical and thus holds a special place in Thanhha Lai’s heart. The novel mirrors her experiences as a young Vietnamese girl living in a mostly white America. Lai hopes to teach children and their parents that different isn’t bad, and she urges her own five-year-old daughter to “go stand next to [that person] and observe. That person just brought another world to your door without you having to travel” (Wolff 17). Thanhha has done exactly that for readers with her book, Inside Out and Back Again..."
“Thanhha Lai: About the Author.” HarperCollins Publisher. N.p., 1 Jan. 2012. Web. 18 Feb. 2013.
Martell, Scott. “Ha! How Former Register Reporter Thanhha Lai Turned Childhood Rage into a National Book Award.” 2012. Orange Coast Magazine, Newport Beach. Web. 18 Feb. 2013.
“Thanhha Lai.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Web. 18 Feb. 2013.
Wolff, Virginia E. “The Inside Story: It took Thanhha Lai 15 years to write her first novel, but it was well worth the wait.”School Library Journal (2012). Web. 18 Feb. 2013.