Category Archives: John Okada

Bringing John Okada to the global stage

Scottish International Storytelling Festival logoOur favorite novel is getting more exposure in Europe.

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.

Scottish International Storytelling Festival banner

I’m learning about the rich oral tradition of the Scottish Storytelling Centre, so this will be a much more informal and relaxed event than previous book talks. No PowerPoint, no images, just telling stories around the virtual campfire from Edinburgh, Dublin, Beirut, and Seattle:

“Global Hearth: Walter Scott and City Writers”
Hosted by Anna Fancett (Edinburgh), with Frank Abe (Seattle), Nuala Hayes (Dublin) and Dima Matta (Beirut).

The program is on Thursday, Oct. 21, from 8:00 to 10:00 pm Scottish time. It’s a ticketed event. #SISFImagine

Click on the image for the full program. Ours is on page 18. Thanks to Stesha Bredon and Seattle City of Literature for the opportunity.

program page

How “JOHN OKADA” was born

The Unsung Great coverThe 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

Interview with the French translator of “No-No Boy”

cover of French translationMerci beaucoup  to the readers and independent bookstores in France now discovering the work of John Okada through a new translation of No-No Boy.

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”

Sharing “NO-NO BOY” with teachers in six cities

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

John Okada’s MIS service shared in new PBS film

The story of John Okada’s wartime work in the U.S. Military Intelligence Service is now airing nationwide in a new film on PBS.

Frank Abe in office
photo: Steve Ozone

The filmmakers of The Registry, Bill Kubota and Steve Ozone, flew out from Detroit seven years ago to speak with me about the author of No-No Boy. In particular we focused on the two years Okada spent training at the MIS Language School at Camp Savage, Minnesota, and then flying in the belly of a B-24 out of Guam to intercept and translate Japanese air-to-ground radio transmissions. If my words seem to falter it was because this interview was conducted in 2013, well before I had begun the final round of research and writing on the featured biography in our recent volume, John Okada.
Continue reading John Okada’s MIS service shared in new PBS film

In the pandemic of 2020, echoes of 1942

Greetings from the social distance of Seattle, ground zero for COVID-19 in the U.S. Thanks to those who have checked in to see how we’re doing. We’re all fine, and I certainly hope you and those you know are well — like you, continually checking the phone for the latest domino to fall, unable for these first ten days or so to focus on much of anything besides the massive disruption that has upended our world.

closeup of president's remarks
photo: Jabin Botsford, Washington Post

And in this moment, as we wait for the peak of infections to crest, we are starting to see echoes of 1942 in the great pandemic of 2020. We have a nation under attack from a threat which originated in Asia, and which hit America on the Pacific Coast. Anyone with an Asian face becomes a target for racial retaliation. The occupant of the White House belatedly declares himself to be a “wartime president,” and tries to deflect responsibility for his early disease-denial by inflaming the xenophobia of his base and deliberately  branding COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus.” Continue reading In the pandemic of 2020, echoes of 1942

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

“NO-NO BOY” and “JOHN OKADA” in NY Times and American Book Awards

You’d never expect John Okada and the entire literature of Japanese American incarceration to be featured in the Style magazine of the New York Times … but thanks to the passionate interest of Thessaly La Force, features director for T: The New York Times Style Magazine, her deeply felt essay is now online. It will appear in print in the Sunday Times edition on November 17th.T: The New York Times Style Magazine

Many thanks to Thessaly for reaching out to Shawn Wong and myself to learn more about this history, and the life and work of John Okada in particular. The literature of Japanese American incarceration is a field that JOHN OKADA co-editor Floyd Cheung and I are researching for a new anthology scheduled for 2021.

Floyd was not present, but Greg Robinson and I were, when our volume on John Okada was honored Friday with an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation.

American Book Award recipients onstage

Here are my prepared remarks for the acceptance: Continue reading “NO-NO BOY” and “JOHN OKADA” in NY Times and American Book Awards

UW Press blogs on American Book Award for “JOHN OKADA”

Thanks to M’Bilia Meekers at the University of Washington Press for sharing this blog post, “John Okada: The Life & Rediscovered Work of the Author of No-No Boy” wins the 2019 American Book Award!” 
Continue reading UW Press blogs on American Book Award for “JOHN OKADA”

“JOHN OKADA” among winners of 2019 American Book Awards

We’ve just learned that JOHN OKADA is one of the winners of the 2019 American Book Awards. This honor is especially meaningful as it comes from the Before Columbus Foundation which, as its name suggests, recognizes “literary achievement from the entire spectrum of America’s diverse literary community” and is “a writers’ award given by other writers.”

Our thanks to Ishmael Reed, Justin Desmangles, and Shawn Wong for their lifetime of work to sustain the Foundation. Continue reading “JOHN OKADA” among winners of 2019 American Book Awards