Julia Kuo

Illustrator. Climber. Teacher.

I’m a second generation Taiwanese American illustrator. I’ve illustrated about a dozen children’s and specialty books, including my most recent picture book I DREAM OF POPO, written by Livia Blackburne and published by Macmillan. This book highlights the loving relationship between a young Taiwanese girl and her beloved Popo, no matter how far apart they are.

As an editorial illustrator, I have worked with clients such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, ProPublica and Vox. I’ve taught illustration courses at Columbia College Chicago as well as at my alma mater, Washington University in St. Louis. In 2017 I was the visual arm of Chicago’s March for Science and I have had the honor of being an artist-in-residence twice at Banff Center for the Arts in 2014 and in 2017. I am currently a recipient of the Gray Center Mellon Collaborative Fellowship.

When I’m not drawing, my favorite thing to do is climb, both indoors and outdoors. I love sport climbing at the Red River Gorge in Kentucky and have even gotten the chance to climb at some of Taiwan’s crags – at Rehai, above Beitou’s hotsprings, as well as at the beautiful seaside cliffs of Long Dong. My fiance and I have also been dabbling in some beginner mountaineering, like climbing 14ers in Colorado and even summitting Mt. Rainier in 2019!


How does being Taiwanese/Taiwanese American and/or community ally play a role in your life?

My parents moved back to Taiwan 11 years ago, about the same time that I started freelancing full time. I was able to work out of Taiwan for at least a month every year and live some semblance of a normal life, developing routines instead of trying to fit everything into a short visit. As a result, my Taiwanese identity and experiences have had an outsized role in my adult life.

Every year, I look forward not only to visiting Taiwan but also to bringing back treats like fresh mochi, high mountain oolong tea, and Kavalan whisky to my Taiwanese Americans friends at home. We all have our unique experiences of Taiwan, but I love how our food binds this community together.


If you could teach future generations 1 thing about being Taiwanese/Taiwanese American or Taiwan, what would it be?

I would encourage them to discover for themselves how being Taiwanese American is distinct from being Asian American. The former is rooted in family histories, while the latter was a label created in the 1960s out of a political movement. There were times in my life where it was important to find solidarity in the larger group, and other times where it was important to seek out the nuances in my ethnic identity. As the children of immigrants, we are used to code switching, but I think it helps to be self-aware of how we are making these decisions.


What does the future of Taiwanese America look like to you?

I’m hoping that we’ll have representation in a more sophisticated way, such as more complex/niche #ownvoices stories. I can’t wait to hear about Taiwanese American athletes who do obscure Olympic sports! Or about Taiwanese American journalists who cover the White House! But I also imagine that Taiwanese America will be made up of many more 3rd generation and mixed Taiwanese Americans, which are different identities of their own. And I can’t wait to see what they look like!


Favorite memory of Taiwan/Taiwanese America?

I have so many wonderful memories of Taiwan, but one of the most magical was staying overnight in Taroko Gorge and going on a guided nighttime hike through the forest. At one point we all turned off our flashlights and came to a dimly glowing piece of wood laying on the forest floor. It turned out to be foxfire, which is a bioluminescent fungi that grows on decaying wood!


Favorite Taiwanese food?

Zhua bing with cheese from the vendor at Shilin MRT Station Exit no.1!

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