John Okada in Detroit History Podcast

Okada at Chrysler Missile (photo: Yoshito Okada family)
Okada at his desk in 1957 at the Chrysler Missile Operations plant in Sterling Township, Michigan (photo: the Yoshito Okada family)

The story of how John Okada migrated to Detroit in 1953 — where he wrote the great American novel, No-No Boy — is told in a new interview for the Detroit History Podcast.

I spoke with host Tim Kiska about the role played by Detroit in providing a place for Okada to earn a better living than he could make in Seattle, and to have the distance from family and friends to focus on writing his novel. I pretty much cover the material about the Detroit years in the biography I wrote for our 2018 anthology, John Okada: The Life & Rediscovered Work of the Author of No-No Boy (University of Washington Press). 

Listen to the podcast here. My remarks on Okada begin at the 11:39 mark. 

The podcast associate producer is Bill Kubota, the Detroit filmmaker of The Registry, which features me talking about Okada’s experience in the MIS. 

My interview is bookended by  an interview with Mika Kennedy, co-curator of the Detroit JACL’s “Exiled to Motown” exhibit, which recently completed a run at the Detroit Historical Museum. The book, Exiled to Motown: A Community History of Japanese Americans in Detroit, was very helpful in getting the Detroit setting right for the Okada biography. You can imagine my surprise when I opened it to the chapter on resettlement and found that it was written by my co-editor on the Okada book – Greg Robinson.

Mika and Celeste at exhibit
Mika Kennedy and Celeste Shimoura Goedert, co-curators of the recent “Exiled to Motown” exhibit at the Detroit Historical Museum. (photo: Toshiki Masaki)

For the exhibition, Kennedy says, “I designed the wall panels/banners and offered historical contextualization for the exhibit, including a timeline that situates the community history in the context of Detroit’s racial/industrial histories, as well as landmark moments in JA history nationally. Celeste contributed artwork of her own to the wall panels, and also conducted additional object interviews and coordinated the community object-lending. Exiled’s most recent exhibition – its first in its expanded form (previously it was a set of 17 posters) – was hosted by the Detroit Historical Museum’s Community Gallery.”

Other episodes of the podcast explore Detroit’s only African-American owned television station; construction of the Detroit-Windsor tunnel 90 years ago; and the Nike Missiles stationed around metro Detroit at the height of the Cold War.

The Detroit History Podcast can be found on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, and this embedded audio player on their website. 

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