Celebrating 35 Years of APALA — Interview With Gary Colmenar

Recollecting APALA’s Past: An Interview with Gary Colmenar, APALA 35th Anniversary Conference Steering Committee Co-Chair

by Melissa I. Cardenas-Dow and Alyssa Jocson

Save-the-Date: APALA 35th Anniversary, June 2015 (San Francisco)

Save-the-Date: APALA 35th Anniversary, June 2015 (San Francisco)

In late March 2014, APALA Web Content Sub-committee members Melissa Cardenas-Dow and Alyssa Jocson conducted a long-distance, asynchronous e-mail-based discussion with Gary Colmenar, prominent APALA member, current ALA Council candidate, and SRRT Action Council member (Social Responsibilities Round Table). We focused on APALA’s upcoming 35th Anniversary Conference, of which Gary is one of the three program chairs. The APALA 35th Anniversary Conference will be a conglomeration of events intended to showcase the bridge that is the past, present, and future of APALA, both as an organizational entity and as a social group of diverse librarians intent on supporting each other and the Asian/Pacific Islander (API) communities in North America. The following article is the first of a three-part mini-series marking APALA’s 35th Anniversary. It also offers an edited version of our conversation. 

Melissa Cardenas-Dow (MICD): Thanks, Gary, for agreeing to do this interview with us. Please briefly tell us about yourself and your position(s) in APALA, especially your role in planning APALA’s 35th Anniversary celebration.

Gary Colmenar (GC): Thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about APALA’s 35th Anniversary. The Anniversary Steering Committee has met several times now, since the call for volunteers was sent last fall. We received a high number of responses from the initial call. Since then, we have met via phone conferences and collaborated over email and the APALA wiki. We also had a meeting at Midwinter in Philadelphia [ALA Midwinter 2014]. Currently, the committees are engaged in the initial stages of planning.

I am one of the co-chairs for the APALA 35th Anniversary Steering Committee. The other co-chairs are Jade Alburo and Florante Peter Ibañez. I am also involved in the Program Planning Sub-committee. I was APALA President in 2002-2003 and Executive Director from 2006-2012. Currently, I am the Editor of the APALA Newsletter. I am a Humanities and Social Sciences Librarian at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

MICD: What do you think is the most important function(s) of APALA?

GC: I’d like to answer this question by going back to the history of APALA and looking at the original goals set by the founders. This history is well-chronicled by Ken Yamashita in his article entitled, “Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association: A History of APALA and Its Founders.” Ken mentioned several critical issues affecting librarians of Asian Pacific American heritage, which the founders wanted to address through a formal body. They wanted to address the lack of visibility and recognition of librarians of Asian and Pacific Islander (API) descent in ALA, to provide a forum through which API librarians could voice and share their successes and concerns related to their work and profession.  The founders wanted to establish an organization that will open lines of communication with ALA, its units, and the public in general.  Furthermore, they wanted to create an organization that welcomed all Asian ethnicities, a place to discuss issues shared by Asian Pacific Americans. In 1975, the Asian American Librarians Caucus (AALC) was formed.  Five years later, APALA was created.

MICD: How do you think these goals and functions evolved over the years? Do you think they did (or didn’t) change?

GC: Yes, I most definitely think these have changed! It seems that evolution or change is a natural trait of a dynamic and working organization. The functions have evolved also with increase in membership, changes in the composition of the Executive Board, and with more resources. As a result, the organization has expanded in what it does. For example, APALA has been engaged in giving scholarships and other types of awards. APALA has become more involved in philanthropic work, making donations to API organizations, communities and libraries. APALA has made donations to the Asian American Federation WTC in the aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001. APALA has made donations to groups in other countries. APALA also has made great strides in developing professional relationships with other library organizations, especially the various ethnic library affiliates and ALA units. Most recently, the Executive Board, with input from membership, voted to endorse the joint statement of ALA and BCALA regarding Florida as the site of the 2016 ALA Annual Conference.

I would also emphasize that while the functions have expanded and changed, the original principles established by APALA’s founders still remain at the core of APALA’s activities.  This is evinced from the activities and initiatives APALA officers have engaged in over the years, such as the creation of an Executive Director position to improve workflow within the Board, the development of a strategic plan to capture APALA’s vision, mission and goals. These changes allow APALA’s Executive Board and committees to continue to grow and develop the organization, to focus on achieving our original goals through programs and new projects.

MICD: What role(s) has APALA played within the larger organization of ALA during its 35 years of existence? How has this changed over the years?

GC: As an ALA member for over a decade, I have seen the number of APALA members elected or appointed in various ALA units and committees increase during the last ten years.  Our members have been elected to the ALA Executive Committee, ALA Council, ALA Divisions, Round Tables, and Task Forces. These are important committees where policies, programs, and standards of practices related to library services, information access, and many other issues important to the library profession are discussed, developed, and decided. Moreover, APALA members on these committees engage with members from other ethnic affiliates and Round Tables to address common concerns.

As an ALA affiliate, APALA has received tremendous assistance from the ALA Office for Diversity (ALA OFD) and the ALA Office for Literacy and Outreach Services (ALA OLOS).

“History is not the past. It is the stories we tell about the past. How we tell these stories–triumphantly or self-critically, metaphysically or dialectally–has a lot to do with whether we cut short or advance our evolution as human beings.” — Grace Lee Boggs, “The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism For the Twenty-First Century,” 2011, p. 79.

MICD: In considering the past 35 years of APALA’s work, what would you consider its highlights?

GC: Since I joined APALA in 1998, a lot of memorable and important events have happened. The first National Conference on Asian Pacific American Librarians in 2001 was a major event for both APALA and CALA. Ken Yamashita from APALA and Ling Hwey Jeng from CALA were conference co-chairs. With their leadership and hard work, the conference was a major success. Literary awards were presented at the conference, which APALA now presents each year. The APALA 30th Anniversary celebration held in Washington, D.C. was a memorable event, which included tours of the White House and Library of Congress.

MICD: What about in terms of specifically promoting and advocating for API information professionals and patrons?

GC: I think many of APALA’s activities promote and advocate for our colleagues. The APALA scholarship and travel awards first come to mind. We have supported the ALA Emerging Leaders program since its inception. The mentoring program provides a formal structure that connects new librarians with more seasoned members.  Outside of the formal structure, I would like to think that mentoring happens everyday in APALA, within committees and in the Executive Board. It happens informally and serendipitously at social gatherings. APALA has sponsored several programs on leadership and management.

But, I also think that we could do more, especially in the area of advocacy for colleagues related to finding employment and other work-related issues. We also need to be vigilant and conscious regarding representations of API people in literature and advocate against stereotypes. The presentations from our guest speakers at the APALA social dinner in Philadelphia addressed this issue very well.

MICD: With regards to building bridges with other ALA groups, especially those that focus on cultural and ethnic diversity, could you describe for us the collaborative projects APALA has engaged with?

GC: There are many.

  • The collaboration with CALA, which was the first national conference on Asian Pacific American Librarianship.
  • The Joint Conference of Librarians of Color (JCLC) held in 2006 and 2012 were huge undertakings and I am pleased to say that many APALA members volunteered to collaborate with AILA, BCALA, CALA and REFORMA to make these events successful, informative and entertaining.
  • The Talk Story joint project with the American Indian Library Association (AILA) is one of the projects our organization is engaged with currently. It is also a funded project.
  • On a smaller scale, APALA has co-sponsored programs at ALA Conferences numerous times, with other ethnic affiliates and ALA units such as the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table (LGBTRT) and the Social Responsibilities Round Table (SRRT).
  • It is important to mention that APALA, through the initiatives of some of its members, has been engaged in social justice issues in recent years. I am happy to see this trend, especially given the intentions of APALA’s founders.

Our organization has also been successful in collaborating with Asian Pacific American organizations, cultural institutions and communities through the tours we hold at ALA Conferences.  The tours of the Newberry Library (Chicago), Versailles Vietnamese community (New Orleans), Chinatowns (Boston Chicago, and Philadelphia), Tri-state Denver Buddhist, Little Saigon (Orange County, CA), South Asian American Digital Archives and Asian Arts Initiative (Philadelphia), and the International District and Wing Luke Museum (Seattle) were all successful events.

MICD: What do you think were the biggest challenges APALA tackled during its 35 years of existence?

GC: In my opinion, some of the biggest challenges APALA has tackled since its establishment were related to membership participation, financial stability, and leadership transitions. Given the smaller size of APALA’s membership, calling on volunteers for elected positions and committee work was especially difficult. I am pleasantly amazed that APALA has accomplished a lot with few resources every year. This demonstrates the quality and dedication of APALA’s membership, which I hope will continue into the future.

Losing the historical memory of our organization is another major challenge for us as an organization. This is an important source of the organization’s collective identity and inspiration.

One of APALA’s unique traits, and its strength, as many have already pointed out, is the diversity of its members. This engenders a climate, a sensibility and an awareness of differences in people’s perspectives and experiences. At the same time, these differences–in race and ethnicity (I include mixed races here), gender and class, just to name the most visible forms of differences–that APALA members embody presents a significant challenge for the organization.

MICD: How will the APALA 35th Anniversary Conference highlight APALA’s history to new members and non-members?

GC: The Steering Committee and the Sub-committees have been brainstorming ideas for a while now. Here are a few that I can mention at this time:

  • We plan to involve several individuals to take part in the events to talk about APALA’s history.
  • There is a plan to include a plenary speaker to address the theme of the symposium, which is on building bridges, the past, present and future.

The Steering Committee will consider other ideas as we plan for this event scheduled in June 2015.  More importantly, we will seek participation from APALA members as we plan for the symposium.

I greatly appreciate the fantastic work of the members of the Web Content Sub-committee [a sub-committee of the APALA Newsletter & Publications Committee], who have been engaged in conducting interviews with and doing historical research on the founders and original members of APALA. These articles will be posted on the APALA website.

MICD: Thanks, Gary, for the shout-out! What message do you hope attendees will get out of the APALA 35th Anniversary Conference?

GC: The overarching theme of the symposium/anniversary is building bridges and making connections. We intend to capture the spirit of this theme through programs and workshops that identify the connections between librarianship and community as well as, the links between APALA’s past, present, and future.  I hope that the symposium would provide a space for attendees to articulate and develop these linkages in as broad a manner that will be useful to them.

MICD: Any last words for our readers? What message would you like to leave them with, regarding APALA’s past and history?

GC: I hope to have shared some of APALA’s rich past related to service, advocacy, and support for API librarians, API communities and the library profession, beginning with the initial intentions of its founders. But, like any organization, APALA has encountered its shares of struggles and internal strife as well.  All these combined throw into sharp relief the commitment and passion of its members, especially its officers and committee members who volunteer their time and effort in the service of APALA’s mission and goals.

I have shared with the readers my perspective and thoughts on APALA. I am certain that each member has a story to share and all of these individual stories, good and bad, combine to present a more-complete version of APALA.  I am also hopeful that more stories will be told because APALA has a mission to uphold.

I end by sharing a quote from a lifelong activist, scholar, and Asian American feminist Grace Lee Boggs. She is the subject of a film documentary entitled, “American Revolutionary: the Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs”:

“History is not the past. It is the stories we tell about the past. How we tell these stories–triumphantly or self-critically, metaphysically or dialectally–has a lot to do with whether we cut short or advance our evolution as human beings.”

 

Questions created and interview conducted by Melissa I. Cardenas-Dow. Editing and writing support provided by Alyssa Jocson.

 

Special APA Library Leaders — APALA Founders, Dr. Sharad Karkhanis and Dr. Suzine Har Nicolescu

by Jeremiah Paschke-Wood

APALA lost two of its primary founders in 2013 with the passing of Drs. Suzine Har Nicolescu and Sharad Karkhanis. In addition to helping create the organization, the two were well-respected librarians, administrators, authors and champions of free speech, social justice and the fight against racial discrimination.

Image of Suzine Har Nicolescu

Dr. Suzine Har Nicolescu. Image courtesy of National Institute of Informatics (Japan).

 

Suzine Har Nicolescu

Suzine Har Nicolescu was born March 21, 1931 in Seoul, Korea. A lover of language and the arts, she received a Bachelor’s in English Language/Literature and Fine Arts at Ewha Womans University in Seoul before moving to the United States. There she received her Master’s in Modern Languages/Literature and Comparative Linguistics from the University of Denver, where she also obtained her Master’s in Library Science. She would eventually add a Ph.D. in Library Information Systems from Simmons College.

After beginning her career in the library field as a foreign languages cataloger/bibliographer at the University of Denver, Nicolescu made stops at Illinois State University, Stony Brook University and The City College of New York before assuming the role of instructor/chief of instructional services at CUNY Medgar Evers College, where she would also serve as registrar, director of information systems, chief librarian and director of library services before retiring in 1999. At the time of her retirement, Dr. Nicolescu was one of only 30 Asian American directors in the United States. Nicolescu was also active in ALA, ACRL, LLAMA, American Library Trustees Association, International Relations Round Table and various other round tables and regional and state associations. She was president of APALA in 1985-1986.

Dr. Nicolescu was a proponent of dealing with discrimination with patience, objectivity and effort (Yamashita, 2000, pg. 99). She wrote articles and made presentations internationally on the topic of multicultural librarianship, including an article on the formation and goals of APALA for the journal Ethnic Forum and co-authored “Needs Assessment Study of Library Information Service for Asian American Community Members in the United States” with Henry Chang.

In his history of APALA and its founders, Dr. Kenneth Yamashita said,

“Her Asian ancestry espoused the advantages of hard work and perseverance, influencing her artistic ability, and sustained the ethical and moral values in her relationship with others.” (2000, pg. 99)

Dr. Suzine Har Nicolescu passed away Feb. 22, 2013 at the age of 81 in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

 

Image of Sharad Karkhanis.

Dr. Sharad D. Karkhanis. Image from The Palm Beach Post.

Sharad Karkhanis

Sharad Karkhanis was born March 8, 1935 in Khopoli, India. Karkhanis earned a diploma in library science from the Bombay Library Association before even receiving his bachelor’s – which he would earn in economics from the University of Bombay (now University of Mumbai). After his first job at USIS Library (now American Library, Mumbai), Karkhanis moved to the United States in 1960 and enrolled at Rutgers University, where he received his MLS. He also earned a Master’s in International Relations/American Government from CUNY Brooklyn (now Brooklyn College) and a Ph.D. in American Government from New York University. Dr. Karkhanis served as Professor of Political Science and Libraries at Kingsborough Community College of the City University of New York from 1974-2005.

Image of signed title page of Indian Politics and the Role of the Press by Dr. Sharad Karkhanis.

Signed title page of Indian Politics and the Role of the Press by Dr. Sharad Karkhanis.

In 2008, Dr. Karkhanis was named Educator of the Year by the Democracy Project, who cited his “lifetime history of standing up against repression and censorship,” in giving him the award (Orenstein, 2008). An avid author, Karkhanis wrote a number of books and articles, including “Indian Politics and the Role of the Press” and “Jewish Heritage in America: A Bibliography.” In addition, he was the founder and editor of “The Patriot Returns,” a newsletter taking on CUNY administration and faculty. As editor, he fought a long legal battle against censorship regarding his criticism of university establishment and faculty.

Serving as the first APALA president, Karkhanis sought to develop APALA as a long-standing and functional organization through membership drives and published conference proceedings (Cardenas-Dow, 2013). He was also heavily involved with ALA’s Council Resolutions Committees, Bogle Pratt International Travel Fund, and was involved in various regional and university organizations.

Karkhanis was an advocate for young librarians, saying that they could become the agents of change the profession needs.

“He would encourage young Asian Americans to pursue a career in librarianship by promoting the opportunities for fresh ideas, assertive leadership, and intellectual growth that would change the status quo. He believes that new librarians can be the change agents the profession needs.” (Yamashita, 2000, p. 101)

Dr. Sharad Karkhanis spent his later years between Brooklyn and Boca Raton, Fla., where he died March 28, 2013, at age 78.

 

References

Cardenas-Dow, M. (2013). APALA Remembers Dr. Sharad D. Karkhanis. Unpublished article. Retrieved Dec. 6, 2013.

Orenstein, P. (2008, Jan. 1). Dr. Sharad Karkhanis Educator of the Year. Queens Village Eagle. Retrieved Dec. 6, 2013, from: http://democracy-project.com/2008/01/dr-sharad-karkhanis-educator-of-the-year/

Yamashita, K. (2000). Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association—A history of APALA and its founders. Library Trends, 49(1), 88-109. Last retrieved April 7, 2013, from: http://www.apalaweb.org/wpsandbox/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/apalahistory.pdf

 

Editing assistance provided by Alyssa Jocson.

APA Collections — DPLA (Digital Public Library of America)

DPLA: A Vast Ocean of Information

by Jaena Rae Cabrera

screen-capture image of DPLA front page

Digital Public Library of America front page

I first learned about the Digital Public Library of America while studying for my MLIS at Syracuse University. When I heard about their call out for Community Reps, I figured it would be a good way for me to learn more about the DPLA, as well as an opportunity to meet others with similar interests in open access, digitization, etc. For DPLA, the community reps program helps them connect with local communities. Community reps assist with community outreach, not content recruitment, aggregation, or digitization.

From their FAQ page: DPLA “brings together the riches of America’s libraries, archives, and museums, and makes them freely available to the world. It strives to contain the full breadth of human expression, from the written word, to works of art and culture, to records of America’s heritage, to the efforts and data of science. The DPLA aims to expand this crucial realm of openly available materials, and make those riches more easily discovered and more widely usable and used.”

As a community rep, I also see an opportunity to explore DPLA’s definition of “America’s heritage” and how much (or how little) it includes the APA community, perhaps with the help of the APALA community.

This first post is meant as an introduction or overview of the DPLA.

 

The DPLA homepage highlights its function as a portal of discovery. Through the DPLA, students, teachers and the public have access to over 5.6 million items—photographs, manuscripts, books, sounds, moving images, and more—from libraries, archives, and museums around the United States.

Users may browse and search the DPLA’s collections by timeline, map, visual bookshelf, format, and topic; save items to customized lists; and share their lists with others. Users can also explore digital exhibitions curated by the DPLA’s content partners and staff.

 

Where does DPLA content come from?

One important distinction to note is that the DPLA aggregates metadata records—the information that describes an item, such as its creator, date, place, provenance and so forth—not the content itself. Each record in the DPLA links to the original object on the actual content provider’s website.

Content providers are either service or content hubs.

Content Hubs

The content hubs are large digital libraries, museums, archives, or repositories that maintain a one-­to-­one relationship with the DPLA. Content hubs provide more than 250,000 unique metadata records that resolve to digital objects (online texts, photographs, manuscript material, art work, etc.) to the DPLA, and commit to maintaining and editing those records as needed.

As of December 2013, the content hubs include the following institutions:

  • ARTstor
  • Biodiversity Heritage Library
  • David Rumsey Map Collection
  • Harvard Library
  • HathiTrust Digital Library
  • National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
  • New York Public Library
  • Smithsonian Institution
  • University of Illinois at Urbana—Champaign
  • University of Southern California libraries
  • University of Virginia

Service Hubs

Conversely, service hubs are state or regional digital libraries that aggregate information about digital objects from libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural heritage institutions within its given state or region. Each service hub offers its state or regional partners a full menu of standardized digital services, including digitization, metadata assistance and training, data aggregation and storage services, as well as locally hosted community outreach programs, bringing users in contact with digital content of local relevance.

As of December 2013, DPLA’s service hubs include the following institutions:

  • Digital Commonwealth (Massachusetts)
  • Digital Library of Georgia
  • Empire State Digital Network (New York)
  • Kentucky Digital Library
  • Minnesota Digital Library
  • Mountain West Digital Library (Utah, Nevada, Southern Idaho, Arizona)
  • North Carolina Digital Heritage Center
  • Portal to Texas History
  • South Carolina Digital Library

Here’s an analogy to help visualize the service hub relationship: Imagine your local historical society or public library as a pond, containing unique cultural content. Ponds send their content through tributaries to lakes, the service hubs, which aggregate data from the various cultural heritage institutions across their state or region, the ponds. The service hubs then feed this content through rivers to the ocean, the DPLA.

Pond             –>                           Lakes                              –> Ocean

Local public library –> Service hubs like Digital Commonwealth –> DPLA

 

The DPLA API

A unique characteristic of DPLA is it also acts as a platform that enables users to creative new and transformative uses of digitized cultural material. With an application programming interface (API) and maximally open data, the DPLA can be used by software developers, researchers, and others to create novel environments for learning, tools for discovery, and apps.

Through the DPLA’s powerful, open API, developers can build tools, programs, widgets, and plug­-ins.

(An API is a set of routines, protocols, and digital tools for building software applications. A good API makes it easier for a developer to create an application that makes use of a particular set or sets of data by providing all the building blocks needed to integrate into his or her design. For example, Twitter releases its API to the public so that other software developers can design products that are powered by its service.)

The DPLA App Library contains applications built by independent developers interested in seeing what open cultural heritage data can look like in different contexts.

OpenPics, for example, is an open source iOS application for viewing images from multiple remote sources, including the DPLA API.

Culture Collage is another simple tool that lets you search the DPLA’s image archives and view the results in a stream of images. Just keep scrolling to fetch more. You can click on an image to save it to a scrapbook without losing your position in the stream.

image of Jaena Rae Cabrera

Jaena Rae Cabrera

So far, being a DPLA community rep has been pretty low maintenance, but it is still in the early stages of the program. This post is really my first foray into community outreach for DPLA, although I am looking in to doing presentations or webinars for local library branches. I think it would also be fun to view and use the DPLA through a variety of lenses and information uses. It has so many different access points that the results could be pretty fascinating. On Twitter, I also plan to start posting interesting APA finds with the hashtag #DPLAfinds.

In future posts, I will explore DPLA’s access to APA collections via its different search options. If you have used DPLA for research before, please feel free to share your experiences with me at jaenarae@gmail.com, or tweet me @jaenarae with the hashtag #DPLAfinds. Please feel free to contact me with any more specific queries about DPLA, or if you might be interested in a webinar or presentation. 

 

Editing assistance provided by Alyssa Jocson.

Member Highlights Showcase — Miriam Tuliao

Miriam Tuliao is currently the Assistant Director of Selection at BookOps, the shared technical services organization for The New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library.  She received her Master’s in Library Science degree from Pratt Institute.

Miriam joined APALA in 2010 and is a member of the Publications/Newsletter and Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature committees.

Of her cultural heritage and background, she writes:

I am Filipino. I was born in the United States and lived in Manila for eight years as a child.

When asked about the satisfaction she derives from her professional position as a librarian, Miriam said she is invested in her work and in honoring mentors who help others in their library careers.

I am privileged to currently work on a team that helps develop collections for 150 neighborhood libraries across the four boroughs of New York City: Brooklyn, Manhattan, Staten Island and the Bronx. The group is deeply committed to supporting the mission and enjoys the daily challenge of meeting library users’ diverse needs.

I’ve been fortunate to have several mentors throughout my library career. A few years back, I set a personal goal of honoring and publicly thanking at least one mentor every year through a fundraiser swim for ALA’s Spectrum Scholarship. Training for the annual swim is both my “utang ng loob” and raison d’être.

Thank you for all you do for APALA, Miriam!

 

Article written by Jaena Rae Cabrera, with editing assistance by Jeremiah Paschke-Wood.

APA Author Interview — Nina Revoyr, Los Angeles, Calif.

Bridging Communities of Color Through Nina Revoyr’s Fiction

by Ann Matsushima Chiu

 Ann Matsushima Chiu (AMC): Please introduce yourself and briefly describe your literary work and career path to date.

Nina Revoyr (NR): I’ve published four novels and am well into my fifth. On the surface, the books are all very different. The first two (“The Necessary Hunger” and “Southland”) are set in urban, inner-city Los Angeles; the third (“The Age of Dreaming”) is set in Little Tokyo and Hollywood during the silent film era; and the fourth (“Wingshooters”) takes place in rural Wisconsin. I try to do something new and maybe surprising with each book—if I’m not at least a little nervous about tackling a new project, I’m probably not pushing myself hard enough.

I also have a full life outside of writing. I’m the Executive Vice President of Children’s Institute, Inc., which is a large nonprofit organization in Los Angeles that serves children and families affected by trauma and poverty. I’ve also been a visiting professor at several colleges and universities—most recently Occidental College here in L.A.

As for libraries, it’s a big concern that there have been so many cuts—in California there are libraries being consolidated, having hours cut, being closed altogether. And libraries are not just places to get books; they are vital parts of communities. I would not be the writer I am without libraries.

Book cover of "Southland" by Nina Revoyr. Image courtesy of Akashic Books.

Book cover of “Southland” by Nina Revoyr. Image courtesy of Akashic Books.

AMC: Please describe your work and any associated goals you may have for each.

NR: Although all my books are different, they do have some things in common. With each book, I try to tell stories that haven’t been told before. Often this includes writing not just about communities of color, but also about how those communities interact with each other—like the Japanese American and African American characters in “The Necessary Hunger” and “Southland.” Or about people in unexpected or unusual situations—like the Japanese silent film star in “The Age of Dreaming.” Several of the books are also set in the past and could be considered historical, and two of them have a noir-ish flavor. No matter what the setting or structure is, though, I always try to create strong characters and tell good stories. I want to write books that people enjoy reading. By virtue of who the characters are and the situations I put them in, I hope to compel readers to think about issues of race, community, love, family, the things we have in common, and the things that make us different. I hope to complicate and deepen what we think we know about people. But none of that can happen if I don’t do the fundamental thing first—create characters whose stories readers care about, and want to read.

AMC: How does your own personal diversity influence your writing? The diversity of your readership?

NR: I’m diverse in a number of ways, and I don’t easily fit in pre-determined boxes. I’m a mixed-race Japanese American who was born in Japan, and whose family is still largely there. I then lived in rural Wisconsin in a very homogeneous white environment. From there I moved to Los Angeles, and lived in an area that was largely African American and Latino. I’m gay. Because of all this, my own life—and the stories I write—don’t necessary jibe with expected experiences or narratives. I have been deeply shaped by all of those contexts—Japanese, blue-collar white, Japanese American, urban black and Latino. I feel enriched by all of them. So the worlds I write about—

image of book cover for The Age of Dreaming

Book cover for “The Age of Dreaming” by Nina Revoyr. Image courtesy of Akashic Books.

like the worlds I live in—reflect these different influences and mixtures. One of the reasons I love the Crenshaw area—the community at the heart of “Southland”—is because of this very organic, not-forced mixture of people from different races and cultures, and particularly the deep ties between the African American and Japanese American residents. The settings I feel most comfortable in are multi-racial settings, with people who have all sorts of backgrounds, experiences, religious and political beliefs, sexual orientations. And yet I can and do move in more mono-racial settings as well. The readers of my first few books were largely people of color and progressive whites. With “Wingshooters,” though, the readership expanded. In addition to the folks who’d read the other books, there was a really large response from white readers, particularly Midwestern readers, some who were very different from me politically—very conservative. I met many of them during my book tour, and it was truly wonderful and humbling. I think the working class white characters in that book—and the ways I portrayed how people grapple with race—allowed readers to have discussions about race and community they might not have had otherwise.

AMC: What has writing taught you? 

NR: A lot! It’s taught me patience and faith—the belief that doing work in increments, but doing it consistently, will eventually lead to a larger good. It’s taught me the importance of enjoying the process itself, because you never know what will happen once a book is published in terms of response, or if it will be published at all. It’s taught me that—despite what you often hear from teachers of writing—inspiration is just as important as perspiration. Maybe even more so. Without passion, without vision, without a reason to write, it doesn’t matter how much time you put in: the writing itself will be flat. Writing has also taught me to really look at the world—to observe and enjoy it, to appreciate what it has to offer. And it’s made me live in a fuller way, too. Writing is wonderful, and I love it, but sometimes sitting at my desk can’t compete with a gorgeous sunrise or a hike through the mountains or even a football game. And that’s fine. It’s a big wonderful world out there, and I like to be in it.

AMC: What advice would you give librarians and information professionals, especially those from diverse backgrounds, who work with diverse populations, promote literacy and readership?

Book cover of "Wingshooters" by Nina Revoyr. Image courtesy of Akashic Books.

Book cover of “Wingshooters” by Nina Revoyr. Image courtesy of Akashic Books.

NR: I’d say, share what you love. Your enthusiasm is contagious. And also draw connections for readers. A potential reader might think, well, the characters in this book are of a different background than me, so I won’t connect with them. The librarian—or the independent bookseller, or the book group leader, or the teacher—can help make those links for people. Readers—especially those who are fairly new or who haven’t been exposed to a lot of fiction—sometimes need a translator or a tour guide. And you’d be surprised at the results. I’m thinking, for example, of a program we did through my agency, a variation of the National Endowment for the Arts “The Big Read” program in prisons. It was amazing to see how the young men connected with books like “The Call of the Wild” and “To Kill A Mockingbird.” They identified with Buck in “The Call of the Wild”—his fight for survival, his honor, the brutality of his world. And they identified—the guys!—with Scout in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” because of her pluck. They also all yearned for an Atticus, since so many of them didn’t have fathers. These are books that they might not have picked up on their own. But they did, with a teacher, and in some cases the young men changed their lives.

AMC: What current trends in publishing, reading habits, and distribution of library materials concern you the most? What thoughts do you have on these trends?

NR: Honestly, I don’t know enough about trends in publishing to speak much about them. But I can say that I’m blessed to be published by a great independent press that has always been very supportive of me. I keep hearing—as we all do—that reading is dead, that people’s attention spans are shot because of the Internet and constant connectivity. And yet book clubs and book festivals are doing better than ever, so I’m not sure how that computes. For me, the Internet is a mixed blessing—a great resource, but also a time suck. I actually disconnect completely when I write—I hole up in the mountains where there’s no cell phone reception and no Internet access for miles. Fortunately, those places still exist! As for libraries, it’s a big concern that there have been so many cuts—in California there are libraries being consolidated, having hours cut, being closed altogether. And libraries are not just places to get books; they are vital parts of communities. I would not be the writer I am without libraries. Library staff are my heroes—which is why I made one of the main characters in “The Age of Dreaming” the programming director at the L.A. Public Library.

 

Editing assistance provided by Jaena Rae Cabrera.

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