Kerry Young was born in Kingston, Jamaica, to a Chinese father and mother of mixed Chinese-African heritage. She came to England at the age of ten.
Kerry’s background is in youth work where she worked both locally and nationally, and has also written extensively. Kerry has a Master’s degree in organization development from Loughborough University and a PhD in youth work from De Montfort University. In 2005, Kerry completed the MA: Creative Writing at Nottingham Trent University.
Kerry’s first novel Pao, was published by Bloomsbury in June 2011 and Bloomsbury US in July 2011. It was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award in 2011. She is currently completing work on her second novel for Bloomsbury.
Kerry Young is a Buddhist in the tradition of Vietnamese Zen Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh. Her interests include Tai Chi, weight lifting and golf. She also loves jazz and plays alto and tenor saxophone.
Me and the boys was sitting in the shop talking ‘bout how good business was and how we need to go hire up some help and that is when she show up. She just appear in the doorway like she come outta nowhere. She was standing there with the sun shining on her showing off this hat, well it was more a kind of turban, like the Indians wear, only it look ten times better than that. Or maybe it just look ten times better on her.
She got on this blue dress that look like it must sew up with her already inside of it, it so tight, and a pair of high heel shoes I never before seen the like of. I almost feel embarrassed that she come here and find me like this, sitting on a empty orange crate, in my vest with the beer bottle in my hand.
So we all three of us quickly jump up and ask her how we can help. And what she want is for me to go visit her sister in the hospital so I can see what some white sailor boy do to her.
“What he do to her?” Hampton ask.
“He beat her. He beat her so bad I can hardly recognise her, my own sister.”
“So what he beat her for?”
“Just go see her. That is all I am asking of you.” And then she look directly at me and say, “Can you do that?”
And I just say “Yes” even though I don’t know why.
From: Pao, Bloomsbury, 2011.
Pao is a book about Yang Pao, who comes to Jamaica at the age of 14 with his mother and brother after his father has died fighting for the Chinese revolution. They live with Zhang, the ‘godfather’ of Kingston’s Chinatown, who mesmerises the young Pao with stories of glorious Chinese socialism on one hand, and the reality of his protection business on the other. As Pao grows and takes over the family affairs, he becomes a powerful man and earns for himself the title of Uncle.
Pao was inspired by my early life with my father, a businessman who operated within Kingston’s shadow economy. It comes out of two things – firstly, a love of my father and secondly, my love of Jamaica. My father died very young and I wanted for him a better life than the one he had so I created Yang Pao as a gift to him – the gift of a life and a man who was more successful, more inventive and a lot funnier than my father ever was. So Yang Pao is fictional but he comes from somewhere. He comes from my father, partly remembered but mostly imagined.
As Jamaicans, I think we are misunderstood. In writing Pao I wanted to help people understand some of the reasons behind the difficult and sometimes violent journey we have had; how colonialism and slavery left us with a society divided by race, class and colour; and how that has impacted on us - what it has meant to us as a nation. I also wanted to make visible the diverse nature of Jamaican society - not just the Africans who came as slaves, but the Chinese shop-keeping middle-class, as well as the Indians and white Jamaicans all of whom are part of building Jamaica. I wanted to show why it is that, for us, our national motto ‘Out of Many, One People’ is so very important.
Yet, despite the seriousness of its themes, Pao is, in essence, a book to be enjoyed. It has a kaleidoscopic bunch of characters, a wicked story, and a lot of wisdom. For me though, its underlying message is this - as human beings we are both complex and flawed. We enter into circumstances not of our making but created by history and given to us, and we try to do our best.