Seattle is organizing a series of programs to commemorate John Okada, the celebrated native author renowned for his groundbreaking 1957 Japanese American novel, “No-No Boy.”
Literary luminary’s legacy: Okada, the son of Japanese immigrants, was born in Seattle on Sept. 22, 1923, at the Merchants Hotel in Pioneer Square. His seminal work “No-No Boy” delves into the life of Ichiro Yamada, a young Japanese American living in Seattle during World War II. He chose to not join the U.S. Army and answered “no” to two specific loyalty questions (question #27 and #28) on the Leave Clearance Application Form given to the Japanese Americans incarcerated during the war. The title was derived from his “no” responses to both of the questions.
At the time, many feared that those who answered “no-no” would be placed in a separate camp from the “yes-yes” respondents and that refusal to be transferred could result in deportation to Japan.
The programs are set to kick off with “The John Okada Centennial: A celebration of his life and work” on Sept. 26 at Central Library. This event will feature a presentation of rare photos from Okada’s life and insights from novelist Shawn Wong, who played a pivotal role in republishing “No-No Boy” in the 1970s. Wong will also share the story of Okada’s unfinished second novel.
Bringing “No-No Boy” to life: The series continues on Oct. 24 with “From Page to Stage: Adapting John Okada’s ‘No-No Boy’ for today’s theater,” co-presented by the Seattle Repertory Theater.
Frank Abe will unveil select scenes from his stage adaptation of the novel, with local actors lending their voices to breathe life into this timeless narrative. The conversation will also touch upon the challenges of reviving a novel from the past for today’s theatergoers.
Seattle’s Chinatown legacy: On Nov. 19, organizers will present “The Postwar Seattle Chinatown of John Okada,” a program that will delve into the legacy of Seattle’s Chinatown as depicted in “No-No Boy.”
Panelists will include family historian Shox Tokita, former Seattle City Councilmember Delores Sibonga and author Dr. Marie Rose Wong, shedding light on Asian American businesses that have thrived for generations.