John Okada never received the recognition he deserved in his lifetime. Since then, his work has earned him a place in world literature. I’d like to think Okada would have been pleased to see the turnout in his hometown on the occasion of his 100th birthday and the kickoff of the John Okada Centennial celebration.
By the day of the event on September 26, the Eventbrite tickets had all been claimed and we had a nearly full house to celebrate his life and work at The Seattle Public Library, at the same Central Branch where he once worked on the 4th floor of the old building as a reference librarian.
The love that the audience brought for his 1957 novel No-No Boy could be felt in the room. Literary agent and former book event coordinator Karen Maeda Allman expertly moderated our discussion as I shared how Okada’s writing grew from his adolescence in Seattle through the events of wartime incarceration, military service, and postwar resettlement, and how that all fed into his writing of what I like to call the Great Japanese American Novel. Along the way I was able to present unseen photos that I haven’t shared before.
Attendance was certainly bolstered by the full-page spread in the Sunday Seattle Times written by arts critic Moira Macdonald. She did a thorough job, even reaching out to the Okada family and receiving a nice quote from his daughter Dorothea. Again, the kind of exposure for his story that Okada only dreamed of in his lifetime.
The entire program was recorded by the Seattle Channel, and they have edited in clean images over the ones we projected in the auditorium so you will actually get a better view than those at the event in person! The video of the complete evening is embedded here:
Two more events are coming up for the Okada Centennial: October 24th on the challenges of adapting the novel for the stage, and November 19 on the postwar Seattle Chinatown of John Okada and No-No Boy. Hope to see you there.