NüVoices Podcast #72: Messy Roots, a Conversation with Laura Gao

Graphic novelist and cartoonist Laura Gao joins the podcast this week to discuss her new memoir, Messy Roots: The Graphic Memoir of a Wuhanese-American.  

Wuhan, China captured the world’s attention as the first epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. In reaction to the disgust and racism directed toward her hometown, Laura penned the comic strip “The Wuhan I Know“. The comic went viral and was featured in outlets like NPR, Huffington Post, and more. “The Wuhan I Know” became the basis for Laura’s graphic memoir, released on March 8, 2022.

Credit: HarperCollins

A Wuhan native, Laura immigrated to Texas when she was four years old. Messy Roots is a wholesome and heartwarming tale of Laura’s journey navigating their many ~strands and identities~ from being an immigrant, a Chinese-American growing up in a conservative, predominantly white community, and coming out as queer in college. 

This conversation was hosted by Megan Cattel (usually the editor of this podcast!) They talked about internalized racism, coming out (or not) to family, Laura’s favorite childhood memories in Wuhan (involving water buffalo), Asian-American mental health, and delve into some Eileen Gu/Nathan Chen discourse.

Show notes:

24:12 Love, Simon film trailer

39:23 Op-ed by NüVoices member Tiffany Ap in Quartz, “Stop Asking Winter Olympian Eileen Gu About Her Political Views”

40:16 Tim Koleto, American ice dancer who represented Japan in the 2022 Olympic Games

48:00 Anonymous op-ed in The Guardian, “Depression is why I’m writing this. Shame is why I’m writing it under a pseudonym”

About Laura: Laura Gao is a 25-year-old queer artist, author, and bread lover. Originally from Wuhan, China, Gao immigrated to a small town in Texas when she was four. Gao’s art career began by doodling on Pokémon cards and has since blossomed to be featured on NPR, the MOCA in NYC, and most notably, her parents’ fridge. Her debut graphic memoir, Messy Roots, was on March 8, 2022 with HarperCollins.

About Messy Roots: After spending her early years in Wuhan, China, riding water buffalos and devouring stinky tofu, Laura immigrates to Texas, where her hometown is as foreign as Mars–at least until 2020, when COVID-19 makes Wuhan a household name. In Messy Roots, Laura illustrates her coming-of-age as the girl who simply wants to make the basketball team, escape Chinese school, and figure out why girls make her heart flutter.

Insightful, original, and hilarious, toggling seamlessly between past and present, China and America, Gao’s debut is a tour de force of graphic storytelling.

About Megan: Megan is a radio and print journalist currently based in NYC. Usually she is the editor of the NüVoices podcast but went behind the mic to host this episode. She has written for Teen Vogue, SupChina, the Center for Public Integrity, and more. Most recently, Megan produced podcasts for Foreign Policy. You can see more of her work here.

Recommendations: Laura recommends watching SNL, the Netflix show Sex Education, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong, and Squad by Maria Tokuda-Hall

Megan recommends What My Bones Know: A Memoir of Healing from Complex Trauma by Stephanie Foo

Self-care tips:

Laura recommends meditation. Megan recommends long bike rides to take a break from work.