In our latest spotlight interview for Women’s History Month, WFYP alum Emily Inouye Huey shares some of her literary inspirations, the challenges of balancing writing and parenting, and the passion behind her upcoming novel, Beneath the Wide Silk Sky. Check out what she has to say below!
EMILY INOUYE HUEY – WRITING FOR YOUNG PEOPLE, JUNE 2011
Emily Inouye Huey is the author of BENEATH THE WIDE SILK SKY (Scholastic, Fall 2022). She holds an MFA from Lesley University, where she had the privilege to study with Chris Lynch, David Elliot, and Anita Riggio, and is a creative writing instructor at Salt Lake Community College. Besides books, her passions include education, the arts, the outdoors, and her family.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Yes, and I still have it, actually. It’s a book titled “My Dog” that I wrote in first grade. We’d just rescued a boxer from the pound, and I was completely enamored. I showed it to my kids recently, and it reminded me how important it is to have passion for our subjects!
What made you decide to apply to the Lesley MFA program, and what did you find most valuable about your experience there?
A professor suggested I look into an MFA program and advised that I specifically look for one that supported those who want to write for children. I researched every program in the country with a focus on writing for young people. But as I learned more about the faculty, I was drawn to Lesley.
I had studied books by Chris Lynch and Chris Crutcher in a teen lit class I’d taken as an English teaching major. And I went to the library and checked out books by all the other Writing for Young People professors. The interdisciplinary studies component was also alluring to me. But when it came down to it, I chose Lesley based on the quality of its professors’ books. I wanted to work with people who knew how to write like that.
I’ve never regretted that decision. The opportunity to be mentored—both pushed and supported—by the professors each semester was the most helpful part of the MFA for me. I also loved the concentrated, immersive element of the residencies. And I made dear friends that I’ve shared this writing journey with for over a decade now. Lesley was pivotal for me.
Who are some of your literary inspirations?
My family is probably my number one inspiration. I come from a giant extended family, and there are a lot of storytellers in it—uncles and aunties who tell the funniest stories and string memories into family narratives. And for my whole life, they’ve been my most important community. So when I look back, there’s something about my family, at least tangentially, in everything I write.
As far as books that are inspiring to me, I just read two incredible novels: Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park and Beyond the Mapped Stars by Rosalyn Collins Eve. Both challenge the current narrative of the historical American West, expanding it to make something more inclusive and accurate. That’s a mission that I find really inspiring.
Your debut novel, Beneath the Wide Silk Sky, is being published by Scholastic Press in October 2022. What were your first thoughts when you found out they’d accepted your work?
I was excited… and a little scared. I had read and loved books that my editor, Lisa Sandell, had edited. So I was thrilled about getting the chance to work with her. But I also had a moment where ALL my self-doubts—I guess what people call “imposter syndrome”—crashed over me.
But the next morning, I took a deep breath, sat down, and wrote. And I realized that as huge as publication seemed, the much larger part of the process is what I’ve been doing for years. Sitting down, wrestling with the page. That hadn’t changed.
I’m excited about the fact that the book is being published and will be read. It’s something I have hoped and worked for. But in the end, I’m in this for the process. So that was a lesson for me.
Your novel was inspired by your own family’s incarceration in Japanese American prison camps in 1942, a part of American history that a lot of people may not know about even today. What does it mean to you to have this story out in the world, with characters that show, as you say on your website, “the courage and perseverance characteristic of the many Japanese Americans interned during WWII”?
I remember as a kid, in fourth grade, reading the one paragraph in our school textbook that touched on the Japanese American internment. We didn’t even talk about it in class. I just saw it in the book. I think the next time I saw anything about it was in my 10th grade American history class. Again, it was a small text box on the side of one page. As I look back, I remember wanting to talk about it, wanting to tell my class and my teacher what had happened to my family. I had this urge to speak up.
Now we have a societal conversation going on about a more inclusive history. But I didn’t have those words to describe what I was feeling. It was just that some instinctive part of me didn’t want my family’s experience to be invisible. So that was one of my main goals with this book.
I also wanted to create a story where, even though the main characters were going to be stripped of their freedoms, as was the case historically, they still got to exercise agency and drive their own stories. Because though my grandparents and other family members were victimized, they refused to let that define their identities.
And along with that, I wanted to address the question of how a society can make such a choice. I think, in a way, we’re always at that point before injustice. Whether it happens or not is up to us, as we determine the things we’ll allow, the things we’ll stand against, the causes we’ll support. So that’s something I wanted to explore.
What are some challenges you’ve encountered while writing and how have you overcome them?
On a day-to-day basis, I find balancing writing and parenthood to be a consistent challenge. I have four young children, with two still home during the school day, so carving out time is always a challenge. The other day, my husband found me lying in the middle of the floor with my laptop in front of me, typing as two of my kids bounced up and down on my back. He took a picture, and it’s a pretty true portrait of my work-life balance during this phase of my life.
But, you know, it’s such a privilege to have to balance two things you love in your life! When I look back on the last few years, I don’t regret the time I’ve spent doing things like laundry and changing diapers. I don’t enjoy those things. But I don’t regret them—they’re part of building a life and a family, and they’re worth it.
What I do regret are times when I’ve spent too long scrolling social media or watching Netflix. I’ve learned that those are activities that can take too much away from my writing time and my creative energy. I’ve had to learn to limit them and set boundaries for myself.
Are you already thinking about your next project or are you focusing on promotional work for your novel?
I’m in that lull where I’ve finished my edits and proofs, but the book is still months from coming out. So I’m diving into my next project. It’s another YA historical, also inspired by my family. After Japan surrendered, Japanese Americans were expelled from the prison camps, but in most cases, they still weren’t allowed to return to their hometowns on the West Coast. They were given $25 and a bus ticket and told to find somewhere to go. My family ended up in Utah, and that’s the starting point for the story I’m working on now.
Listen to Emily read an excerpt from her upcoming novel, Beneath the Wide Silk Sky: