It’s common in books and articles to see the term “no-no boy” conflated with the Nisei draft resisters of WW2. These are two seperate and distinct groups. A quick primer:
“No-no boys” were among the 12,000 from all ten camps who answered “no” or refused to answer the final two questions on a notoriously misleading government questionnaire in early 1943. This led to their removal from camp and transfer under an administrative process to a War Relocation Authority Segregation Center established as a kind of penal colony at Tule Lake.
“Draft resisters” were the roughly 315 young men from all ten camps who in general answered “yes” or a qualified “yes” to the questionnaire but who, a year later in 1944, refused to be drafted from inside an American concentration camp until their rights were first restored and their families freed to return home. All but 22 were criminally convicted in U.S. District Court of violating the Selective Service Act. The older men were sent to Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in Kansas; the younger ones were sent to McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary south of Seattle.
What blurs this distinction is the title of John Okada’s 1957 novel. It’s titled No-No Boy but it’s clearly about a protagonist who refuses the draft at Minidoka and serves two years at McNeil Island before arriving on a bus back in Seattle at the start of the novel. Despite the book’s title, he’s a draft resister, not strictly speaking a “no-no boy.” However, the term is used in the novel and in conversation at the time as a dismissive slur for any kind of camp dissident.
Please keep these distinctions in mind when writing about this history.
In Seattle, the North American Post is the successor to the prewar Hokubei Jiji newspaper that Fuyo Tanagi helped edit, before she wrote the letter protesting the drafting of Nisei boys from camp for the Mothers Society of Minidoka. So it is an honor to be interviewed by Elaine Ikoma Ko in this wide-ranging exchange on No-No Boy, John Okada and We Hereby Refuse for the cover of the current issue of the Post.
I’m unexpectedly representing Seattle as a UNESCO City of Literature at the Scottish International Storytelling Festival. For the program on Thursday, October 21, I will virtually present two stories about John Okada and the writing of No-No Boy. Continue reading Bringing John Okada to the global stage
“Seattle Now & Then” is a long-time fixture of Seattle media created by historian and photographer Paul Dorpat in 1982. The column is now produced by historian and photographer Jean Sherrard, who published the feature below on our graphic novel in the Seattle Times, online on August 5, 2021, and in the Pacific NW Magazine of the print Times on August 8, 2021. Jean also posted a 12-minute audio interview with Frank Abe on YouTube, shared below.
The moment I saw the portrait of a young John Okada gazing at me from the cover of Greg Robinson’s new book, The Unsung Great: Stories of Extraordinary Japanese Americans, I ordered a copy. It’s a photo used in the eponymous book we wrote and edited called John Okada.
Then when I opened Greg’s book I was floored to discover not one but two chapters devoted to the author of No-No Boy: Greg’s essay on the reviews of the novel upon its first publication in 1957 (previously published by Discover Nikkei), and a new section on the origins of our own 2018 collaboration, together with Floyd Cheung, in a piece called “How John Okada Was Born.”
Continue reading How “JOHN OKADA” was born
Published on October 29 by Valérie Millet of Les Éditions du Sonneur, the new translation is by Paris-based writer Anne-Sylvie Homassel. She reports that bookstores across France reopened last Saturday from the pandemic and they’re eagerly welcoming the new edition, as can be seen in this Facebook post from La Geosphere of Montpelier on the south coast of France.
Continue reading Interview with the French translator of “No-No Boy”
The story of No-No Boy and John Okada is being shared this summer with middle and secondary teachers of history and the humanities in six cities across the nation, as part of a series of place-based online workshops sponsored by the National Japanese American Historical Society of San Francisco and the National Park Service. Continue reading Sharing “NO-NO BOY” with teachers in six cities
An ambitious nine-week online event kicks off today, a virtual camp pilgrimage designed to make up for all the summer site visits cancelled by the pandemic. Among the plethora of programs are two that we’ve agreed to host.
In Week 3, on Saturday, July 4 at 2:00 pm PDT, join me and moderator Erin Aoyama for a live group viewing of Conscience and the Constitution with a twist: while the film is streaming, I will offer the kind of director’s commentary on the making of the film that we were never able to include on the DVD. Tune in for behind-the-scenes stories about the Heart Mountain draft resisters, and leave questions in the chatroom for discussion afterwards. Erin brings her own experience of working on building a forthcoming database with the biographies and archival files of all 63 defendants in the largest mass trial in Wyoming history [UPDATE: Here’s the YouTube video of the Director’s Commentary].
In Week 4, on Friday, July 10 at 5:00 pm PDT, we will have a live book club presentation and discussion of the novel No-No Boy and the story of the author behind it. If you missed our book release events last year for our biography of John Okada, we’ll reprise that presentation while mixing in a fuller discussion of the themes of the novel. Vince Schleitwiler will moderate. [UPDATE: Here’s the YouTube video of the Book Club].