Shawn Wong’s 49-year journey with “NO-NO BOY”

Shawn Wong with photo of himself at typewriterAdd performance art to the resume of novelist and professor Shawn Wong.  audience at Kane Hall, University of Washington

Before an audience of 500 for the Friends of the Libraries annual lecture at the University of Washington on January 30, he acted out what he called the “mostly true” story of how he brought John Okada’s No-No Boy from 1,500 copies in print to selling more than 160,000.

His story of the rediscovery and republication of the book started with finding it in a used Bay Area bookshop in 1971, contacting and interviewing John’s widow Dorothy later that year, and successfully reprinting the book with the Combined Asian American Resources Project (CARP) in 1976 after being turned down by many publishers, including the University of Washington Press. He gave an interview to The Seattle Times in 1977 meeting  in which he was critical of the Press, and the director called and asked for a meeting. Shawn Wong with photo of conference table “I’m new in town, and I’m already in trouble,” he thought. Shawn reenacted the meeting with the entire staff of UW Press around a conference table, where it turned out the Press wanted to know of other books he thought it should republish. He suggested the titles that are now known as the Classics of Asian American Literature series. No photos were taken of the meeting, so yes, that’s a photo of Vladimir Putin.

Shawn then showed how he brought a major NY publisher to the table for its unauthorized reprinting last year of No-No Boy. After describing how his social media campaign led to major media coverage, Shawn publicly confirmed details of a recent settlement: the publisher is withdrawing all copies Shawn Wong with details of settlement with Penguin of its No-No Boy from distribution in the U.S., and will pay royalties to the Okada family for all copies delivered to bookstores in the U.S. prior to withdrawal and for all copies sold abroad. “This fight could not have been won without the help of all those who put social media pressure” on the interloping publisher, he said, and exclaimed, “Social media is amazing. It’s better than going to court.”

The University Libraries also blogged about Shawn’s appearance. UPDATE: Here’s the video of the hour-long talk, cued to start with Shawn taking the stage.

For more on Shawn’s 49-year journey, read “The Legacy of No-No Boy” by Vince Schleitwiler in the University of Washington alumni magazine. UW Magazine banner

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