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The Seattle Public Library celebrates the John Okada Centennial

John Okada © Yoshito Okada familyNovelist John Okada would have been 100 years old had he lived to September 22, 2023. To celebrate his legacy and honor his work in writing the great Japanese American novel, The Seattle Public Library has engaged me to curate a series of programs around the John Okada Centennial.

Here is their announcement:


Okada biographer and dramatist Frank Abe guest curates a three-part series of programs honoring the seminal Seattle author

Join The Seattle Public Library this fall for a special series that celebrates the centennial of the birth of Seattle native John Okada, author of the seminal Japanese American novel, “No-No Boy.” Okada was born at the Merchants Hotel in Pioneer Square on September 22, 1923. To honor him, Okada biographer and Library guest curator Frank Abe has arranged three programs that explore Okada’s life, place, and work, including the reading of scenes from his new stage adaptation of “No-No Boy” that is now in development.

The series, which kicks off on Sept. 26, features speakers including novelist Shawn Wong, Seattle Rep Literary Manager and Dramaturg Paul Adolphsen, Urban and Asian American historian Dr. Marie Rose Wong, and former Seattle City Councilmember Dolores Sibonga.

“’No-No Boyis the great Japanese American novel, one that was years ahead of its time in capturing the raw emotion and anger of a dislocated people returning to Seattle from four years of wartime incarceration,” says Abe. “It’s also a great novel of Seattle, with passages evoking the buildings and alleyways of Chinatown that still exist today. Okada once worked at the old Central Library, so it’s fitting the Library as an institution that promotes reading and community should recognize the 100th anniversary of his birth with a reconsideration of his life and legacy.”

Below are details about each program. All Library events are free and open to the public, but registration is required for these programs. Find more details and information at www.spl.org/calendar. The series is co-presented by the University of Washington Press and the North American Post and is supported by The Seattle Public Library Foundation and the Gary and Connie Kunis Foundation.

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  • The John Okada Centennial: A celebration of his life and work.” From 7 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023. Central Library, Level 1 Microsoft Auditorium.
    To kick off the centennial series, Okada biographer Frank Abe will present still-unseen images and stories from Okada’s life, and novelist Shawn Wong will share how he and his friends rediscovered and republished “No-No Boy” in the 1970s, leading to the edition currently available from the University of Washington Press, along with the story of Okada’s unfinished second novel. Karen Maeda Allman, literary agent and former Elliott Bay Book Company bookseller, will moderate the program. Free registration here.

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  • From Page to Stage: Adapting John Okada’s “No-No Boy for today’s theater” From 7 to 8:15 p.m., Tuesday, October 24. Central Library, Level 1 Microsoft Auditorium. Writer Frank Abe shares scenes from a new stage adaptation of “No-No Boy” that he is currently developing under license from the University of Washington Press, and engages in a conversation with Seattle Rep Literary Manager and Dramaturg Paul Adolphsen on the challenges of bringing a novel published in 1957 to life for today’s theater audience. They will be joined by actors who will read scenes from the new adaptation and discuss them with the panelists. Co-presented by Seattle Rep. Free registration here.
  • Okada Centennial bannerThe Postwar Seattle Chinatown of John Okada. From 2 p.m. to 3:15 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 19. Central Library, Level 1 Microsoft Auditorium.
    The sense of postwar Seattle Chinatown as a place imbues the pages of John Okada’s 1957 novel “No-No Boy,” and in this panel we will examine the imagined world of the novel along with the real history behind it. Family historian Shox Tokita shares the legacy of Chinatown hotels managed by Japanese Americans, including three owned by his mother;  former Seattle City Councilmember Dolores Sibonga tells stories of Filipino residents and workers in Chinatown, including that of her mother and her Estigoy Café; and Dr. Marie Rose Wong, author of “Building Tradition: Pan-Asian Seattle and Life in the Residential Hotels,” examines the history of single-room occupancy residential hotels in Chinatown and the threats they now face. The panel will be moderated by Emily Porcincula Lawsin, 4Culture Historic Preservation Program Manager. Free registration here.

The Library frequently works with guest curators to develop community-responsive programming. See our guest curator page for more information.

About guest curator Frank Abe: Abe is co-editor of a new anthology, “The Literature of Japanese American Incarceration,” coming May 2024 from Penguin Classics, and lead author of the graphic novel, “We Hereby Refuse: Japanese American Resistance to Wartime Incarceration” (Chin Music Press), a finalist in Creative Nonfiction for the Washington State Book Award. He wrote and directed the award-winning PBS documentary “Conscience and the Constitution,” and won an American Book Award as co-editor with Greg Robinson and Floyd Cheung of “John Okada: The Life & Rediscovered Work of the Author of ‘No-No Boy’” (University of Washington Press), authoring the first-ever biography of Okada. He studied in the Advanced Training Program of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, and has worked for KIRO Newsradio, the King County Executive, and the King County Council.

About author John Okada (1923-1971): Okada was born in Seattle and attended Broadway High School and the University of Washington before his wartime imprisonment in concentration camps in Puyallup and Minidoka, Idaho. He volunteered for the Military Intelligence Service and served as a translator in Guam, after which he earned a degree in library sciences and worked for a time in the Business Department of The Seattle Public Library. His only novel, “No-No Boy,” was published in 1957 and has been embraced by generations of readers. Okada died of a heart attack at the age of 47.


The Seattle Public Library brings people, information and ideas together to enrich lives and build community. One of our guiding principles is to promote literacy and a love of reading.

(For more information, contact Laura Gentry, head of the Communications Office, at [email protected] or 206-915-9028.)

2 thoughts on “The Seattle Public Library celebrates the John Okada Centennial”

  1. My father, James Okamoto, was a DB Boy and we learned about it after he passed. Would love any info and we have Linda Tamuras book.

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