Join the Seattle Public Library this fall for a special series celebrating the centennial birth of Seattle native John Okada, author of the seminal Japanese American novel, “No-No Boy.” Okada was born at the Merchants Hotel in Pioneer Square on September 22, 1923.
To honor him, Okada biographer and library guest curator Frank Abe has arranged three programs that explore Okada’s life, place and work, including the reading of scenes from Abe’s new stage adaptation of “No-No Boy,” now in development.
The series, which kicks off on Sept. 26, features speakers including novelist Shawn Wong, Seattle Rep Literary Manager and Dramaturg Paul Adolphsen, Urban and Asian American historian Dr. Marie Rose Wong, and former Seattle City Councilmember Dolores Sibonga.
“’No-No Boy’ is the great JA novel, one that was years ahead of its time in capturing the raw emotion and anger of a dislocated people returning to Seattle from four years of wartime incarceration,” says Abe. “It’s also a great novel of Seattle, with passages evoking the buildings and alleyways of Chinatown that still exist today. Okada once worked at the old Central Library, so it’s fitting the library as an institution that promotes reading and community should recognize the 100th anniversary of his birth with a reconsideration of his life and legacy.”
Below are details about each program. All library events are free and open to the public, but registration is required. The series is co-presented by University of Washington Press and the NAP, and is supported by The Seattle Public Library Foundation and the Gary and Connie Kunis Foundation.
▪️The John Okada Centennial: A Celebration of His Life and Work.” Tue Sep 26, 7 – 8:15 PM, Central Library, Level 1 Microsoft Auditorium.
To kick off the centennial series, Okada biographer Abe will present still-unseen images and stories from Okada’s life. Novelist Shawn Wong will share how he and his friends rediscovered and republished “No-No Boy” in the 1970s (photo), leading to the 2014 edition currently available from UW Press, along with the story of Okada’s unfinished second novel.
Karen Maeda Allman, literary agent and former Elliott Bay Book Company bookseller, will moderate the program.
▪️From Page to Stage: Adapting John Okada’s “’No-No Boy’ for Today’s Theater.” Tue Oct 24, 7 – 8:15 PM, Central Library, Level 1 Microsoft Auditorium.
Writer Abe shares scenes from a new stage adaptation of “No-No Boy” that he is currently developing under license from UW Press. He also engages in a conversation with Seattle Rep Literary Manager and Dramaturg Paul Adolphsen on the challenges of bringing a novel published in 1957 to life for today’s theater audience. They will be joined by actors who will read scenes from the new adaptation and discuss them with the panelists. Co-presented by Seattle Rep.
The Postwar Seattle Chinatown of John Okada. Sun Nov. 19, 2 – 3:15 PM, location TBA.
A strong sense of place in postwar Seattle Chinatown imbues the pages of “No-No Boy.” A final panel will examine the legacy of Chinatown hotels, beginning with those managed by JAs with family historian Shokichi Tokita, whose mother owned three. It continues with stories of Filipino residents and workers in Chinatown from former Seattle City Councilmember Dolores Sibonga, whose mother owned the Estigoy Café. To conclude, Dr. Marie Rose Wong, author of “Building Tradition: Pan-Asian Seattle and Life in the Residential Hotels,” will discuss the history of single-room occupancy residential hotels in Chinatown and the threats they now face. The panel will be moderated by Emily Porcincula Lawsin, 4Culture Historic Preservation Program Manager.
About author John Okada: Okada (1923-1971) was born in Seattle and attended Broadway High School and the UW before his wartime imprisonment in JA concentration camps in Puyallup and Minidoka, Idaho. He volunteered for the Military Intelligence Service and served as a translator in Guam, after which he earned a degree in library sciences and worked for a time in the Business Department of the Seattle Public Library. His only novel, “No-No Boy,” was published in 1957 and has been embraced by generations of readers. Okada died of a heart attack at the age of 47.
About guest curator Frank Abe: Abe is co-editor of a new anthology, “The Literature of Japanese American Incarceration,” coming in May 2024 from Penguin Classics. He is also lead author of the graphic novel, “We Hereby Refuse: Japanese American Resistance to Wartime Incarceration” (Chin Music Press), and a finalist in Creative Nonfiction for the Washington State Book Award. He wrote and directed the award-winning PBS documentary “Conscience and the Constitution,” and won an American Book Award as co-editor, with Greg Robinson and Floyd Cheung of “John Okada: The Life & Rediscovered Work of the Author of ‘No-No Boy’” (UW Press; photo), the first-ever biography of Okada.
Abe studied in the Advanced Training Program of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, and has worked for KIRO Newsradio, the King County Executive, and the King County Council.