Interview with Sara Guo

Meet Sara Guo, a high-school student creating literature pieces to help a young Asian audience connect with their cultural roots. She’s the author of One Point in Time, a book about the shared experiences of East Asian youth growing up in a Westernized country expressed through a collection of poems.

Instagram: @sara_guo_

Link to buy the book:

Tell us about yourself outside of your work

I am an International Baccalaureate student in Toronto, Ontario, Canada with a passion for the arts and business. Outside of my work as a book author, I am a piano instructor, both with the City of Toronto and self-employed, I’ve painted a mural at my local community health centre, worked with local business to increase their brand awareness, and I have been featured on CBC Kids News for my COVID-19 inspired artwork. My hobbies include playing the piano, discovering new music and trying new foods!

What advice would you give to the Asian youth who are struggling with their identity whilst living in a Eurocentric environment?

You should never be ashamed of your culture! Surround yourself with people who are supportive of diversity and who embrace you for who you are. Try to immerse yourself in your culture as much as you can; this could be through listening to music by Asian artists, supporting your local Asian restaurants and stores, participating in celebrations like Chinese New Year and finally, learning about the stories of your culture.

Tell us about your book, One Point in Time, and how you use it to tell a story about your culture?

“One Point in Time” is an anecdotal poetry book created in response to the xenophobia and discrimination towards the East Asian population. East Asians, especially those of Chinese descent were scapegoated, threatened, and some endured physical attacks. Fortunately, none of my family had to experience any of this, but my father told me stories of these instances. I never thought I would be teaching my parents English words to defend themselves if someone were to say something racist or commit an act of violence towards them. With my time at home, I was able to connect and appreciate my culture more, therefore, I wanted to create a collection of free-verse poems inspired by my personal and shared experiences as an East Asian girl in a Westernized country. I hope to create a book that East Asian youth can relate to and show the world how diverse and rich East Asian culture is, especially during these unprecedented times where connectivity seems so hard to achieve.

In my book, I write about the falsification of the Model Minority Myth, highlight the Lunchbox Moment and embrace East Asian foods like Yakult and dumplings! In the Model Minority Myth, the stereotype that “all Asians are smart” can be hurtful because East Asians feel that their hard work is being overlooked as a natural ability. I also write about the expectation that Asians can only be a doctor, lawyer or scientist, in one poem titled “Who are you?”. In this piece, I write about the juxtaposition with the increasing popularity of East Asians playing the piano or the violin to how many of them actually pursue a career in the arts. A career in the arts is often considered as “not being able to put food on the table”, so I wanted to touch on this subject matter in my book.

How did you first take up writing? Was there anyone who inspired you to?

I was never a big fan of writing, especially not poetry, but the biggest inspiration for my writing style in this book is the poet Pablo Neruda. Neruda is a Chilean poet-diplomat famous for creating romantic pieces and for his passionate poetic imagery that depicts the negative effects of the Spanish Civil War. I studied some of his works last year in English class and I was immediately intrigued by the way he used free-verse poetry to tell a story and a reality. Before him, I didn’t know there was free-verse poetry. Free verse poetry is poetry that doesn’t have a regular rhythm or beat. This way, the poet is free to shape their poem however they declare. Neruda’s work had a certain “rawness” to it as he wrote about the blood, the corruption and the beautiful lands in Spain being taken away. I wanted to emulate his articulate use of imagery and free-verse in my book so he was for sure the biggest inspiration.

Which part of the book was the most fun to write?

As much as I loved writing the content in the book, designing was definitely the most fun for me! I’ve always been an art geek growing up and I’m fascinated by how colours and design arrangements impact how a work is perceived. With my book, I got to play around with different colours and styles until I was content but it was the “feel good” moment after seeing the finished product that makes me love what I do.

What inspired the idea for your book?

Initially, I was going to make a children’s book about a small East Asian girl making hotpot and take a creative spin on it by having her put cultural items in the pot. This would provide me with the opportunity to bring awareness to the richness of the culture in a whimsical manner. However, in the designing process, I struggled to illustrate what I had in mind, so I scrapped the entire idea and instead turned to poetry. I had been writing poetry for some time, and so this book was created. Something bad turned out to be positive!

What advice would you give to someone who’s trying to create their own book and design it?

Publishing a book is easier than you think… it all depends on how you want to go with it. If you choose traditional publishing, it will take longer to publish because of the extensive editing and reviewing process needed. However, if you choose to self-publish it will be faster so you should definitely consider the route of publishing you want to go for before you even start writing a book. Finally, make sure you are having fun! You want the reader to feel your passion and your emotions in your writing. If you get to a point where writing/designing the book becomes impossible, take a break; go for a walk and then come back!

Edited by Michelle Nishidera

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