Recently, former students from Oshkosh North High School made it to the big time. 2018 graduate Tyrese Haliburton plays in the NBA. 2013 graduate Kenneth Beasley’s (famously known as KennyHoopla) song “Survivor’s Guilt” peaked at #8 on the Billboard Alternative Airplay chart.
2001 alumnus Lori Lee, a Hmong author from Oshkosh who writes Hmong fantasy for young adults, just published her 5th book under the Rick Riordan Presents label this September.
Despite wanting to be a writer in elementary school, Lee did not write a story with the intent to publish until after college.
She started by entering in the National Novel Writing Month (NANOWRIMO) challenge. She finished the book within the month allotted but did not publish it.
“Fortunately it did not get published cause it was kind of a mess, actually,” says Lee.
Still, Lee was still happy with the experience.
“I did learn a lot from the experience. It’s actually one of the best things I did for myself in terms of my writing. It taught me a lot about what works for me and what doesn’t work for me.”
A couple months after doing the NANOWRIMO challenge, Lee began working on her debut novel “Gates of Thread and Stone” and published it in 2014.
During her early writing career, Lee witnessed a change in the publishing world, specifically with the diversity of authors.
Lee says, “When I was publishing in 2012 you could count on one hand how many the number of Asian YA (young adult) authors and how many books that had been written about Asian culture. There were so few of them. Then the We Need Diverse Books movement happened in 2015 I wanna say, and that was just a huge deal, and it transformed the landscape of publishing. Now, this year and next year, we have a lot of YA books inspired by Asian cultures or Asian fantasies”
Even though Lee is one of the Asian authors who has experienced a lot of success, she says she still has feelings that she does not belong.
“Impostor syndrome never goes away. It’s just a matter of giving myself that credit. It’s just reminding myself that I’m not here by accident,” Lee says.
Something else that did not happen by accident was her partnership with Rick Riordan.
“I found out about the Rick Riordan Presents imprint several years ago when they first announced it, and I thought immediately this would be the coolest imprint to write for. But it was one of those things that would be cool but would never happen. But when I came up with Pahua, Pahua the Soul Stealer, I just thought, ‘I guess if I am going to do this, I better not be afraid to shoot big,’” Lee says.
Rick Riordan Presents ended up accepting the proposal, and the imprint can be found on Lee’s newest book, Pahua the Soul Stealer.
However, her journey is more than just writing a couple books. It consisted of having a tough road to becoming an author.
Lee was born on Feb. 12 in Laos. She moved to Oshkosh at age 3 and stayed there through High School. While she was in elementary school, she spent a lot of time outside and exploring with her siblings. She did not experience much racism at the time, but she felt that people were wary of her because she was Asian.
Lee says,” When I was a kid, people were still getting used to seeing Asian faces in the community, and not everyone was welcoming.”
This was echoed in her feelings about her teachers.
“For the most part, the majority of my teachers I’ve had have been very cool and didn’t treat me any differently. There were just a couple teachers who didn’t actively do anything, but I could just tell from their attitude towards me that they were just a little colder.”
In high school at Oshkosh North, Lee remarked that she lived in her own friend group, but it was not enough to escape feelings of being unwanted. She felt like while some people were nice to her face they still went behind her back and said mean things about her.
“[My friend] had a boyfriend who I thought was pretty cool, and then I found out later that he had said some pretty awful things about my race and so that really sucked.”
While having to deal with the coldness from a few teachers and students, Lee still found a love for writing. She enrolled in the University of Eau Claire, where she majored in creative writing. However, she did not publish during that time.
Lee says, “I always knew I wanted to be a writer, but I knew my writing was not at a place yet where it would be worth trying to get published. I just didn’t think it was good enough.”
After her experience she wrote and published the aforementioned “Gates of Thread and Stone” and began her journey as a writer.
Lee’s story is one of perseverance and working past racism and writing challenges and shows that with enough hard work, you can achieve your dreams.