If you told Margaret Chiu Greanias two decades ago that she would become a published author one day, telling stories based on her own experiences and sometimes even about herself—she would’ve never believed it.
Yet a good number of years into what she proudly dubs her “second career,” Greanias has been able to connect with far-reaching audiences across cultures and generations. Earlier this year, Bloomsbury published her second picture book, illustrated by another Taiwanese American, Tracy Subisak. “Amah Faraway” poetically chronicles the emotions of a San Franciscan young girl—inspired by none other than her childhood self—and her nerve-wracking yet fun visit to her parents’ home country of Taiwan. There, for the first time, her Skype-sized grandmother, whom she had only ever known through video calls, becomes a huggable, tangible figure. It’s a change that she has trouble adjusting to at first, but gradually, at her grandmother, her amah’s, gentle beckoning, she comes to embrace what they can share, both faraway and together.
While Amah Faraway can be a call to bravery for all readers nervous about trying something new for the first time, it’s especially resonant with transnational families. At a time when physical connection has been especially fraught, this book is also an ode to the joy of finally being together in person – whether for the first time, or in long-anticipated reunion.
Amah Faraway also delights in imagery that Taiwanese American children will recognize, like the 油條, or Chinese doughnut, that protagonist Kylie puzzles over at first due to its lack of chocolate frosting. The Mandarin phrases are also resonant and useful: 來, 看看! Come see!
In readings, young audience members chant along with Greanias, 來, 看看! Come see! as she flips though Subisak’s watercolor, pencil, and ink illustrations.
The following interview, conducted by guest contributor Jessica Cheng, has been lightly edited for concision and clarity:
Was there a particular moment that inspired you to write Amah Faraway?
There wasn’t a specific moment, but growing up, my Amah was really important to me, because she was my only grandparent that I knew growing up, my end-all-be-all of grandparents. That made our relationship special, but it was hard to stay connected because of the physical distance.
Whenever I would see her in person every two years or so, there was just an awkward sense of distance and unfamiliarity due to my shyness. I would eventually get over that at the end of each visit and hang onto her because I adored her. I wanted to capture that feeling.
What was the most challenging part of the process?
Mining my memories. And just thinking about what my favorite parts were of Taiwan, and how I could share all of that.
I saw on LinkedIn that you were not in fact an English major. What led you to become an author?
Growing up, I wasn’t much of a writer. With the monotony of all of the reports, essays, and term papers throughout high school and college, I just didn’t think writing was my thing.
My last year of college though, I was able to take a creative writing elective. That’s when I realized I loved to write.
I told myself at that point, that sometime later in my life, I would become a writer. But that didn’t happen until I had kids and was reading a lot of picture books to them.
I was like, “Oh, I love this!” I started having all sorts of ideas, partly inspired by my kids’ experiences, and partly by my own, of all the things I could write. From there, I wrote my first story, did some research and got connected to a publisher, and things set sail from there. I guess it became like a second career. A lot more fulfilling than my first.
And finally, as a second-generation Taiwanese American, what are your thoughts on how attitudes towards Asians and Asian Americans have changed over the years?
Obviously with the pandemic, we’ve seen a rise in AAPI hate and crimes against our elders. I think that the racism has always been there under the surface, but in the last five years, people have become emboldened and unapologetic about expressing it.
Unfortunately, people often judge Asian Americans based on appearance. There is no changing that. I think one way to fight against it is to support and advocate for more non-stereotypical portrayals of Asian Americans in books and media. That means more books, more TV shows, more movies that feature varied and fleshed-out Asian American characters—ones that people can relate to and connect to on a human level. Not only would this give non-Asian Americans a window into the Asian American experience and cultures, but it would enable more Asian Americans to feel seen, validated, and valuable to society. It’s really about creating empathy and showing that we are human too.
Do you have a favorite page or scene?
“Probably this one,” Greanias says. “This is the second banquet scene. At the first family banquet, Kylie was super nervous and hesitant. But now she’s so happy and loves the food. I love this expression of Kylie’s amah too—it’s like she’s totally enjoying how her granddaughter has connected.”
Seeing Taiwan through our mothers’ eyes, featuring the creators of Amah Faraway | Hearts in Taiwan (podcast)
Whether you call your grandmother “amah”, “popo”, “waipo”, “nainai”, “mama”, “grandma”, or something else, she plays a key role in your connection to your heritage. Amah Faraway tells the story of how young Kylie transforms from feeling unsure and reluctant to embracing her grandmother and her heritage country. We got to talk with author Margaret Chiu Greanias and illustrator Tracy Subisak and found many common threads that the Taiwanese diaspora will see reflected throughout this delightful picture book.
To purchase Amah Faraway:
About the author:
Margaret Chiu Greanias is the author of Maximillian Villainous. The daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, she grew up in New York, Texas, and California, while her Amah lived faraway in Taipei. This book was inspired by her childhood memories visiting her Amah—exploring night markets, splashing in hot springs, and connecting with relatives—and by her children experiencing Taiwan with their Amah for the first time. She currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, three children, and a fluffle of dust bunnies. Find her online at margaretgreanias.com.