In the past, Charles Yu says he occasionally thought about launching a writing prize to encourage young Taiwanese Americans to pursue their creative dreams.

“I didn’t know exactly how to go about it, or whether anyone would be interested,” says Yu by phone from his home in Irvine.

“But last November, I was lucky enough to win an award,” he says, a modest reference to the National Book Award he won for his latest novel, “Interior Chinatown.”

“And I felt that if ever there was a time to use whatever temporary window of attention I was getting, it would be good to do it now.”

Charles Yu is the author of “Interior Chinatown.” (Cover image courtesy of Penguin Random House/Author photo by Tina Chiou)

The Betty L. Yu and Jin C. Yu Creative Writing Prizes, announced earlier this month, is the program Yu created and named after his mother and father. Their support, he says, was ever-present as he made his way from a molecular biology degree at the University of California to a law degree at Columbia University, and then, eventually, an acclaimed new literary voice.

The inaugural contest is open to writers of Taiwanese or Taiwanese American backgrounds, or whose subject matter is relevant to those communities. Two divisions, high school and college, will each produce a winner and finalist.

The two winners will receive a $1,500 prize, publication online at, and the opportunity for mentorship with judges Yu and fellow novelist and short story writer Shawna Yang Ryan.

Yu, whose parents are first-generation Americans from Taiwan, says he wanted to recognize the work of young writers from that shared background to spotlight their voices in the crowded literary landscape.

“I think there’s a separate sort of experience and identity that goes along with Taiwanese and Taiwanese American or Taiwanese diaspora writers, that’s informed by languages and culture and upbringing,” Yu says. “Whether it’s the writer themselves or their parents or grandparents who grew up in Taiwan versus China or any number of other Asian countries.

“The main point is that this is a subset of a community that already has the challenge of differentiating itself within the United States, in terms of how do you differentiate from Chinese American or Asian American as a whole.

“And so to create this sort of special prize that has this focus, that just feels like it could help people who might otherwise feel, ‘Well, I’ll just get lost in a sea of other writers,’” Yu says.

The contest is open to all genres of literary writing — fiction, poetry, essays, and creative non-fiction. Entries will be accepted through March 31.

For more information and a link to enter, go to and click on the article about the contest.