Frank Abe biography

Frank Abe, photo by Kayla Isomura
Photo by Kayla Isomura

FRANK ABE most recently edited an anthology with Floyd Cheung on The Literature of Japanese American Incarceration (Penguin Classics, May 14, 2024).

He is lead author of a graphic novel on Japanese American resistance to wartime incarceration, We Hereby Refuse, a Finalist in Creative Nonfiction for the Washington State Book Awards, in collaboration with Tamiko Nimura, Ross Ishikawa, and Matt Sasaki. He won an American Book Award for JOHN OKADA: The Life & Rediscovered Work of the Author of No-No Boy (University of Washington Press, 2018), co-edited with Greg Robinson and Floyd Cheung, and with Shannon Gee made the award-winning PBS documentary, Conscience and the Constitution, on the largest organized camp resistance.

With writer Frank Chin, Abe helped produce the first-ever “Day of Remembrance” in 1978, and together they invented a new Japanese American tradition by producing car caravans and media events in Seattle and Portland that publicly dramatized the campaign for redress. “Days of Remembrance” are now observed as an annual event wherever Japanese Americans live. With Karen Seriguchi in 1980 he helped produce a series of successful public symposiums, “Japanese America: Contemporary Perspectives on the Internment,” funded by the Washington Commission for the Humanities.

Abe contributed the afterword to Nisei Naysayer: The Memoir of Militant Japanese American Journalist Jimmie Omura (Stanford University Press), contributed a chapter to Frontiers of Asian American Studies (Washington State University Press)and has written for Ishmael Reed’s Konch, The Bloomsbury Review, Case Western Reserve Law Review, Amerasia Journal, International Examiner, Nichi Bei Weekly, Rafu Shimpo, and Pacific Citizen, among others. He blogs at Resisters.com.

He was an original member of Frank Chin’s Asian American Theater Workshop in San Francisco, studied at the American Conservatory Theater, and was featured as an incarceration camp leader in John Korty’s 1976 NBC-TV movie, Farewell to Manzanar.

Abe worked 14 years as a reporter and editor for KIRO Newsradio, the CBS Radio affiliate in Seattle, served as a National Vice-President of the Asian American Journalists Association, and taught broadcast writing at Seattle University. For 25 years he served as communications director for King County (Washington) Executives Gary Locke and Dow Constantine, and the Metropolitan King County Council, and as a communications aide for Executive Ron Sims.

FEATURE BIOGRAPHY

Frank Abe, a third-generation Japanese American, grew up being told that his parents’ generation had passively submitted to the wholesale denial of their rights during World War II in order to prove their loyalty.

The early question of his generation, “Why didn’t you resist?,” was usually answered by a pat on the head and an admonition against applying the values of today to events of the past.

Later as a journalist, Abe was astonished to learn that the area where he grew up, the Santa Clara Valley in Northern California, was once the home of many who later resisted the draft at Heart Mountain. Any mention of an organized resistance had been left out of the books he had read by the unofficial keepers of Japanese American history.

Feeling he had been misled, Abe sought out stories of the resisters and felt compelled to share them. He wrote an article for a community paper reclaiming the resistance as part of his heritage. Thus began the ten-year journey to the film Conscience and the Constitution.

After interviewing as many of the survivors of the resistance at Heart Mountain as he could, and investigating their stories, Abe feels the question for Japanese Americans is not “Why didn’t you resist,” but “Why did you turn your backs on those who resisted?”

As a reporter for KIRO Newsradio in Seattle, Washington, Abe won numerous regional and national awards during his broadcasting career. He was honored as a co-founder of the Seattle chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association and served as a National Vice-President for Broadcast. He is currently Director of Communications for the King County Executive in Seattle.

For the campaign to redress the wrongs of the camps, Abe helped create and produce the first “Days of Remembrance” in Seattle and Portland in 1978 and 1979. To continue the campaign, he was instrumental in creation of the National Council for Japanese American Redress in Seattle in 1979, which lobbied for a redress bill and later sued the government for reparations. With the American Friends Service Committee, he helped direct a series of symposiums, “Japanese America: Contemporary Perspectives on the Internment.”

With a B.A. in theater directing from the University of California at Santa Cruz and professional actors’ training at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, Abe was an original member of the Asian American Theater Workshop in San Francisco. He was featured as a concentration camp collaborator in John Korty’s 1976 NBC-TV movie, Farewell to Manzanar.

Abe’s own father was incarcerated at Heart Mountain. Only after making this film did he learn that his father donated $2 to the Fair Play Committee and subscribed to the Rocky Shimpo newspaper where James Omura’s editorials appeared.

2 thoughts on “Frank Abe biography”

  1. Frank, did you briefly attend Eisenhower Elementary school in 1961 or 1962? If so, I was in Mrs. Achterman’s 6th grade class, and I remember you.
    Congratulations on a wonderful career!

    1. Yes, in fact my mother still lives there so I walk the halls of Eisenhower every few months. I remember you were one of the few who was friendly to me, so it’s a warm memory. Thanks for reaching out.

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The history and literature of Japanese American resistance to wartime incarceration