Graphic Novelist, ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ and ‘Superman’ Comic Author Gene Luen Yang to Keynote JBU’s Writing and Arts Festival

John Brown University welcomes award-winning graphic novelist and comic book author Gene Luen Yang to speak on Thursday, Sept. 21 at 6:30 p.m. in the Cathedral of the Ozarks. Yang, who won the L.A. Times Book Prize for his graphic novel “Boxers & Saints” and wrote 18 comics for the Nickelodeon cartoon “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” is the keynote speaker for JBU’s 11th annual Giving Voice: A Festival of Writing and the Arts.

Yang, a strong proponent of greater diversity in stories and media, is a 2016 MacArthur Fellow and the first graphic novelist to be named a National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. His first-ever graphic novel “American Born Chinese” was named a finalist for the National Book Award. Having spoken out against the lack of diversity in the casting of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” movie, Yang was commissioned to write the “Avatar: The Last Airbender” comic books and later co-wrote “Superman” for DC Comics.

JBU’s Giving Voice Festival, funded in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, celebrates writing and the arts through workshops, readings and presentations from acclaimed writers. This year the festival welcomes Yang, creative nonfiction writer Lisa Ohlen Harris and author, preacher and spoken word poet David Bowden.

“We are thrilled to welcome these talented writers and artists to our festival,” Traci Manos, JBU instructor of English and director of Giving Voice, said. “As a young person, I had the opportunity to shake hands with a writer I respected and have her sign a book for me. I can’t overstate the

impact the experience had on my life. I’m excited to see what these young people will be inspired to create as a result of meeting this year’s guest authors.”

Harris will kick off the festival on Wednesday, Sept. 20 at 5 p.m. with a book signing at the Siloam Springs Public Library. On Thursday, Sept. 21, Yang will speak and Bowden will perform for an opening convocation at 10:30 a.m., and a talk and concert at 6:30 p.m. in the Cathedral of the Ozarks.

The evening talk and concert is open to the public and costs $5, which includes Pure Joy Ice Cream at intermission. Pre-registration secures priority seating and is available online through Sept. 18 at

The festival will end Friday, Sept. 22 with over 200 local high school students attending workshops taught by guest writer Harris and JBU faculty in a variety of genres including poetry, nonfiction, songwriting, calligraphy, theatre, stop motion film and screen printing.

For more information about the event, visit

John Brown University is a leading private Christian university, training students to honor God and serve others since 1919. Arkansas’ top ranked regional university (U.S. News Best Colleges, 2017), JBU enrolls more than 2,700 students from 40 states and 37 countries in its traditional undergraduate, graduate, degree completion and concurrent education programs. JBU offers more than 39 majors, with top programs including business administration, graphic design, engineering, construction management, counseling, teacher education and nursing.

photography by Albert Law :