The Writer Without a Hometown

Before I came to Japan to teach English” for one year,” before I met and married a native son and settled here with my family, I lived in South Carolina, land of Palmettos and peaches, alligators and Gullah women selling handmade baskets at the side of the road, hurricanes and pampas grass and hush puppies. I’ve written about South Carolina, too, especially in my most recent novel, Screaming Divas, which is about an all-girl punk rock band in 1980s underground Columbia. These girls attend art shows in abandoned warehouses and dance in clubs with graffitied walls. Wanna-be punks with Southern accents, they eat plates of grits at 2AM in a café, across the street from the, capitol building pocked with Union bullets. (To continue reading, click hereScreaming Divas FINAL.indd.)

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Review of KAMI AND KAZE by Wena Poon

Kami and Kaze by Wena Poon, Sutajio Wena, (2014), pp. 136

 

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As the novella begins, Kate, an independent American woman arrives in Occupied Kyoto to do public relations work for the U.S. Army. Specifically, she has been assigned to deal with the fallout from the deaths of 68 Japanese infants who’d been vaccinated for diphtheria by American Army medics.

Against her will, Kate is assigned a Japanese driver, Shinji Nakamura, who gradually becomes not only her window into Japanese culture, but also her friend, and then something more.

The title refers, of course, to the Japanese pilots who were sent on suicide missions during World War II. For Kate, “kamikaze” is “Fourteen-year-old boys brainwashed, put in junk planes – retired planes that didn’t even work properly – so that they could crash themselves into our ships. Stupid, stupid.” But for Shinji, the word is more complicated:

“Kami is God, It is the power that you feel around you in a mountain forest. It is the empty heart of the shrine. Even saying the word, kami, creates a feeling of wonder, of being watched and protected by something big, a giant…Kaze is wind. Kaze can be a typhoon that destroys a village, or a gentle spring breeze on your face. But now, because of the war, kami kaze, two beautiful ideas put together, has become one dirty word…It’s very painful.”

Although this is an historical novel, Poon’s breezy writing style gives it a contemporary feel, as does Kate’s preoccupation with wheat, and the occasional up-to-date slang. Poon would be the first to tell you, however, that she isn’t interested in being entirely accurate. As she writes in the notes at the end of the book, “It is annoying to think that some smart aleck reader would write in or review this saying ‘you are an ignorant author, for the earthquake did not happen in winter, it was actually summer…In some parts I have deliberately chosen to depart from known facts in order to advance the story, or adhere to certain aesthetic preferences.” Sticklers to historical fact are welcome to refer to Poon’s list of bibliography at the back of the book.

Neither American, nor Japanese, Poon is a Singaporean of Chinese descent, and a Harvard graduate, now living in Texas. Even as an outsider, she has managed to create a believable, bittersweet story.

 

An Interview with Me on Reading, Writing, and Diversity

img084“Suzanne Kamata has become a respected author for teens and adults, probing issues of physical ableness and cultural identity. An experienced anthologist, she has also edited short fiction about Japan, as well as nonfiction about multicultural motherhood and raising children with special needs. She lives in a farming community in Shikoku. In this interview for SWET, Kamata describes her published writing and some of her experiences promoting her works. She also previews her current projects.” Read more.

My Profile of Ama Ata Aidoo

Over the seven decades of her career, Ghanaian writer Ama Ata Aidoo has published award-winning novels, plays, short stories, children’s books, and poetry, and influenced generations of African women writers. Before Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie of the award-winning bestselling novels and viral TED talks, before Doreen Baingana, Helen Oyeyemi, Sefi Atta, Taiye Selasi, NoViolet Bulawayo and any other of the number of rising female literary stars out of Africa, Aidoo was blazing trails. In fact, in her endorsement of Aidoo’s most recent book, Adichie writes “I occupy the space of a ‘Black African Happy Feminist’ because writers like Ama Ata Aidoo came before me. Her storytelling nurtured mine. Her worldview enlarged and validated mine.” – See more at: http://www.literarymama.com/profiles/archives/2016/02/a-profile-of-ama-ata-aidoo-draft.html#sthash.qgOfgt7Q.dpuf

 

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10 Novels-in-Verse That You Should Read

In honor of National Poetry Month, I’d like to introduce some of my favorite novels in verse for young adults, in no particular order.

 

 

  1. Up From The Sea by Leza Lowitz

 

Lowitz imagines the earthquake and tsunami which devastated Northeastern Japan five years ago through the eyes of Kai, a biracial Japanese boy. At turns harrowing and heartbreaking, this book is ultimately hopeful.

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  1. Purple Daze by Sherry Shahan

 

Set in 1965, this book follows the lives of a group of high school friends whose lives are impacted by the war in Vietnam, riots, and assassinations. But they also go to drive-in movies, fall in love, and go to parties.

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  1. The Language Inside by Holly Thompson

 

Third Culture Kid Emma Karas finds herself in Massachusetts after living in Japan for many years. She begins to volunteer at a long-term care center, helping a poet with locked-in syndrome get her poems down on paper. Meanwhile, Emma stats spending time with a Cambodian dancer who is a fellow volunteer.

 

  1. Dust of Eden by Mariko Nagai

 

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Mina Tagawa and her Japanese-American family are rounded up and sent to an internment camp in the middle of the desert. Nagai presents a shameful slice of American history with beauty and grace.

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  1. Impulse by Ellen Hopkins

 

Talk about gritty, realistic fiction! Tony, Vanessa, and Connor battle self-destructive impulses ranging — pill-popping, cutting, and suicidal urges. Hopkins is the queen of intensity.

 

  1. Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham

 

One day Jane has just about everything a fifteen-year-old girl could want, the next, a shark bites off her arm while she’s swimming. Bingham explores disability and self-acceptance in this stand-out novel.

 

  1. The Good Braider by Terry Farish

 

Cultures clash in this story of Viola, a young woman refugee from South Sudan who tries to adjust to her new life in Portland, Oregon.

 

  1. Karma by Cathy Ostlere

 

This book is epic adventure set in India, just after the assassination of Indira Gandhi. Fifteen-year-old Canadian Maya is visiting India with her father after her mother’s suicide, when she gets swept up in the mayhem.

 

  1. Fishtailing by Wendy Philips

 

Philips captures all of the angst of high school in this story of four teens in a Canadian classroom. Through distinct poetic voices, Natalie, Kyle, Trish, and Miguel share stories of domestic violence, sexual abuse, step-families, and rebellion.

 

  1. T4 by Ann Clare Lezotte

 

Lezotte, who is deaf herself, wrote this story of Paula Becker, a deaf teen in Nazi Germany, where people with disabilities were systematically eliminated, along with Jews and others. Sometimes the most difficult subjects are best expressed in the simplest words.

 

Heartbeats on Teshima

The day after my family forgot my fiftieth birthday, I decided to travel to the island of Teshima and record my heartbeat. If my husband and children weren’t going to do something special for my milestone, then I would find a way to mark it myself. I took a bus from our home in Tokushima to Takamatsu and walked to the ferry terminal where I bought a roundtrip ticket to Teshima. The early autumn weather was perfect: not too hot, not too cold. Fleecy white clouds floated across the azure sky. – See more at: http://coldnoon.com/heartbeats-on-teshima/#sthash.gnwx2buY.dpuf

 

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