From the Backstage of Publishing: Memories of Milton Murayama

headshot of Milton MurayamaOriginally this post was a way to mark this month’s Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month by sharing personal memories from an editorial perspective of a pioneering Asian American literary icon, Milton Murayama. It has grown to include other remembrances from a marketing perspective. We are all proud to be the publisher of his bestselling novels.

Masako Ikeda, Acquisitons:

I only met Milton Murayama once, at the Asian American studies conference held in Honolulu in 1991. I tagged along with Sharon Yamamoto, who acquired his manuscripts for Five Years on a Rock and then Plantation Boy. Nothing at that meeting was particularly memorable as I sort of stood in the background, but I ended up enjoying serving as his managing editor for those two books. We wrote letters back and forth and continued to do so even as the century changed. Most of the time all he said in his letters was that he wanted to buy copies of his books or he was writing a new book, which wouldn’t be finished for a while.

After Five Years our production department held onto an old computer drive knowing that Milton had not updated his system and refused to do so. Our marketing staff coaxed him a number of times: “Milton, I’ll help you set it all up.” He kept sending me hard copy manuscripts with perforations on both ends along with five-inch floppy disks. The manuscript wasn’t complete so he wanted everything back, including the floppy disks, which he couldn’t find anymore. Right before he sent the 4 books by Murayama, standing upright on deskvery final manuscript, which eventually became Dying in a Strange Land, we had gotten rid of the drive, and there was no way to read his WordPerfect files. I ended up asking our Production staffer to keystroke everything, which she did in three days.

Communication with Milton was always interesting and often a little strange. He’d call to complain about the copy editor who didn’t understand that “Pidgin English doesn’t have ellipses points, or letter spaces in between.” He would also hesitate to say “Okay bye” and hang up the phone, so our conversation would go on for a long time with several seconds of dead silence breaking our talks in the most uncomfortable way.

Milton passed away in July 2016, and I didn’t know it until a month later when we saw the obituary in the Sunday paper. I felt guilty for not staying in touch. I do think of him quite often just as I think about Sharon, his true editor, whose passing was almost fourteen years earlier.

Steven Hirashima, Marketing:

My fondest memories of Milton would be visiting his fudge brown three-story home in the hillside area of Glen Park of San Francisco. Whenever I was in town I would always make a point to book a visit. The ritual was always the same. I would call to

5 people, including Murayama and wife Dawn, wearing lei.

L to R: Steven Hirashima, Marie Hara, Milton Murayama, Dawn Murayama, Carol Abe after “Revisiting Murayama” presentation, November 2008.

say I’m leaving the hotel and heading for the Union Square BART Station. Once at Glen Park, I would call to say I arrived and no more than five minutes later Milton would arrive in his old Toyota and we would head up the steep and winding road to his “retreat in the hills.”

Overlooking the flatlands of the city with Candlestick Park and SFO to the west, I would always be given a tour as to what was updated or repurposed around the house since my last visit (the actor Lou Diamond Phillips’s childhood family had been a previous neighbor), from a newly reapportioned sunroom downstairs to a section outside with a bed of spring flowers to Milton’s designated writing room where tucked in a corner would be his antique word processor (a Commodore 64), which I almost convinced him to ditch in favor of a newfangled Mac but he never wavered and remained forever faithful to his trusty machine.

Any trip to the Murayamas would invariably end in the kitchen where Milton and Dawn were the most gracious of hosts. We would often gather around the large formal dinner table for spirited conversation from his next book project or his time in the 442nd, feasting on a bowl of delicious Alaskan King crab legs and steamed garlic brussels sprouts, masterfully prepared by Milton only minutes before. Looking back, they were wonderful and precious times. How I long for another afternoon with Milton. Until then, God Speed and Aloha.

Carol Abe, Marketing:

My very first encounter with Milton was in 1975, the year his original edition of All I Asking for Is My Body published, the green one with the bamboo forest on the cover and an overly large “$3” printed on the back All 5 of Murayama's books, surrounded by clippings and letterscover. He and wife Dawn lined up signings at Honolulu Book Shops, at which I was a bookstore clerk (we weren’t called “booksellers” until twenty years later). Of course I bought a copy with my generous employee discount and had it signed, but didn’t otherwise have a personal connection to him. Jump to 2008: I’d been at UH Press for ten years and we released Milton’s fourth and final novel in his tetralogy about the Oyama family. Steve Hirashima had switched to managing our Asian studies list and I did the same for our Hawai‘i, Pacific, and Asian American titles.

Dying in a Strange Land had a pub date of June but Milton called and said he would wait to visit in the fall, when it’d be cooler, and he only wanted to do low-key promotion of a few bookstore signings. Then, as now, the Press had no travel funds to support a book tour anyway. He finally decided November would be a good time to come and would do Maui and O‘ahu signings, but no readings or talks. So I booked a combination of Barnes & Noble and Borders stores that followed his wishes and filled his itinerary. We corresponded by snail mail and exchanged letters. In one of these, Milton revealed some of the real-life equivalents to the characters in his books. He wrote, “There’s more fact than fiction in my stories.”

After a fan of his scolded me for not paying for his travel and doing him justice, a series of serendipitous things happened that culminated in an event more befitting of a literary icon, “Revisiting Murayama: From Plantation to Diaspora.” Gary Pak, as it happened, had videotaped an interview with Milton that he still needed to screen; the amazing Marie Hara agreed to be co-organizer and was a conduit to both UHM English department and Bamboo Ridge; Craig Howes put me in touch with Phyllis 3 books opened to page showing author signed the bookLook, who had directed a play of All I Asking. The program developed further by recruiting Arnold Hiura, Lee Cataluna, and one of our student employees, Tricia Tolentino, all tied together with Steve as emcee. (And, by rolling the dice, we obtained funding from SEED and Hawai‘i Council for the Humanities, including an honorarium for Milton.)

During their visit, I had chauffeured Milton and Dawn to four or five appearances, perhaps being a bit manic in my driving. At the end, I asked Milton to sign my copy of Dying in a Strange Land. We all laughed warmly as I read his inscription: “It’s been fun getting to know you. I love smart flaky women, who’re also good drivers.” It was my honor and pleasure to have been a tiny part of his life.

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Each of Milton’s novels can be read separately and not in sequence. Dying in a Strange Land is on sale now, at a very special price—click here to order.

Samuel Hideo Yamashita on the “Japanese Turn” and Hawaii Regional Cuisine

Five people after library talk, including Samuel Yamashita and Roy Yamaguchi, with librarians

(L to R) Tokiko Bazzell, Monica Ghosh, Mire Koikari, Samuel Yamashita, Roy Yamaguchi

Pomona College history professor Samuel Yamashita‘s lecture on what he calls the “Japanese Turn” in fine dining drew a full house to University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Hamilton Library last week (April 17). Audience members included well-known chef Roy Yamaguchi, who was part of this “turn” during his years in Los Angeles when he pioneered Euro-Asian cuisine. As a tie-in, advance copies and flyers were displayed of Professor Yamashita’s cover of book, Hawaii Regional Cuisinenew UH Press book, HAWAI‘I REGIONAL CUISINE: The Food Movement That Changed the Way Hawai‘i Eats. His talk was related to the library’s exhibit by Japan collection librarian Tokiko Bazzell, “Washoku: Japanese Foods & Flavors,” Yamashita next to Washoku displaywhich is on display until May 27 in Hamilton Library’s First Floor Elevator Gallery.

Read the wonderfully comprehensive information and view more photos on the event here. Yamashita will be returning to Honolulu in mid-July to launch Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine; meanwhile, order the book here. If you would like to be notified of the July events, contact Carol Abe in the UH Press marketing department. Mahalo to the UH Libraries and other sponsors for hosting Professor Yamashita during his UH Mānoa visit: UHM Center for Japanese Studies, UHM Department of American Studies, UHM Department of Women’s Studies, Kapi‘olani Community College, and UHM Student Equity, Excellence and Diversity (SEED).

In the Footsteps of Frank Chin on Maui

McMillin_CONOS&magMany of the characters and locations featured in Frank Chin‘s The Confessions of a Number One Son are based on the author’s experiences living on Maui over four decades ago. In 1969, Chin taught at San Francisco State, but decided to take a break from teaching and move to the island, where he worked as a carpenter with some old friends from Berkeley. Over time, Chin grew anxious to return to the mainland, but found that he couldn’t afford a plane ticket home.

As fate would have it, he learned of a playwriting contest sponsored by the East West Players, a showcase theater for Asian American actors in Los Angeles. The top prize was a thousand dollars. Over the course of several weeks, Chin wrote and submitted a play, and eventually found himself sharing the award with Momoko Iko—thereby earning half of the prize money, which was more than enough to buy a plane ticket back to California. That prize-winning play was The Chickencoop Chinaman and the rest, as they say, is history.

McMillin_IaoNeedleThis August, forty-five years after Chin left Maui, editor Calvin McMillin decided to travel to the island to investigate the writer’s old haunts, especially those featured in the novel. He visited Wailuku, located at the mouth of ‘Iao Valley and near the landmarks of ‘Iao Needle and ‘Iao Stream (historically known as Wailuku stream). As Calvin reported after his trip, seeing the lush and beautiful natural environment in person added a new understanding of the novel’s Hawaiian backdrop.

McMillin_IaoTheaterAfter visiting the historic Iao Theater, Calvin followed in Frank Chin’s footsteps (and more recently, those of Anthony Bourdain) by eating at Tasty Crust, an old-fashioned local diner in Wailuku, and concluded that the startling similarities between Tasty Crust’s breakfast menu and the main character’s diet in The Confessions of a Number One Son was unlikely to be just a coincidence.

“I ate in restaurants. Spam and eggs, canned Vienna sausage and eggs, canned corned beef hash and Portuguese linguica and eggs, and canned ham and eggs out of a typical greasy spoon for breakfast. The mass eats of the white missionary culture and U.S. military now a part of island culture. The wonders of canned processed meat—a part of life every morning—sealed up hunger with grease.” (page 43)McMillin_TastyCrustdiner

Calvin also visited many of the beach locations featured in the novel and drove to Lahaina’s Wo Hing Museum, which offers information about Chinese immigration to Maui in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

To see more of Calvin McMillin’s trip to Maui, visit the official Facebook page for The Confessions of a Number One Son. You can also follow him on Twitter @roninonempty.

Celebrating the “Wonderfully Subversive Power of Libraries and Librarians” as Robert Ji-Song Ku’s Dubious Gastronomy Wins APALA Literature Award for Adult Nonfiction

APALA-raffle_bracelet

One of the raffle items at the APALA awards dinner—a bracelet with mini book covers of the winning titles.

APALA-logoIn conjunction with the American Library Association annual conference in San Francisco, the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association (APALA) literary awards were presented at a lively dinner ceremony on Saturday, June 27. Dubious Gastronomy: The Cultural Politics of Eating Asian in the USA by Robert Ji-Song Ku, associate professor of Asian American studies at Binghamton University–SUNY, received the top honor in the adult nonfiction category. While Professor Ku regrettably was unable to attend the event, his prepared remarks were read by UH Press development director Colins Kawai, who accepted the award on his behalf. The speech is worth sharing here:

“It is a privilege and an honor to win the 2014-15 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature in the adult non-fiction category. I am especially honored to receive this award from an association of librarians because, you see, I was practically raised by librarians since I was eight years old when my family immigrated to Hawaii from Korea in the early 1970s.

Ku-Dubious Gastronomy cover imageHaving to work several jobs between them from before sunrise to long after sunset, my parents could not afford any sort of childcare, after-school programs, or summer camps for their three children. My mother’s solution was to drop us off at the public library for hours on end. And this is how I fell in love with books, which plunged me into the world of dinosaurs, great white sharks, and faraway galaxies. It also led me to C.S. Lewis’s Narnia, JRR Tolkien’s Middle-earth, Thomas Hardy’s Wessex, and Maxine Hong Kingston’s girlhood among ghosts, white tigers, and shamans.

I believe it was the filmmaker Michael Moore who said of librarians: “They are subversive. You think they’re just sitting there at the desk, all quiet and everything. They’re like plotting the revolution, man. I wouldn’t mess with them.”

Ku,Robert faceI couldn’t agree more. The fact that I went on to earn a PhD in English literature, become a professor of Asian American studies, and author books about Asian Americans is a testament to the wonderfully subversive and revolutionary power of libraries and librarians. No, I don’t mess with librarians; I give them props!

I thank the University of Hawai‘i Press for publishing my book, and especially my editor, Masako Ikeda, for believing in my book from the very get-go. I thank my family—my wife Nancy and twin boys Eliot and Oliver—for everything under and above the sun. But most of all, on this day, I thank the members of APALA for bestowing upon me this incredible honor.”

All of us at UHP join him in giving props to librarians everywhere!

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Popular Culture Association | UHP in New Orleans

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Popular Culture Association
American Culture Association

2015 Annual Conference | New Orleans, Louisiana | April 1-4

Contact Acquisitions Editor Stephanie Chun: chuns@hawaii.edu


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Javaphilia: American Love Affairs with Javanese Music and Dance

Henry Spiller

278 pages | 41 illustrations | Music and Performing Arts of Asia and the Pacific

Cloth | 978-0-8248-4094-5 | $42.00


 

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Eating Korean in America: Gastronomic Ethnography of Authenticity

Sonia Ryang

208 pages | 12 color illustrations | Food in Asia and the Pacific

Cloth | 978-0-8248-3935-2 | $39.00