We are thrilled to announce that John Okada: The Life & Rediscovered Work of the Author of No-No Boy edited by Frank Abe, Greg Robinson, and Floyd Cheung is a winner of the Before Columbus Foundation’s 2019 American Book Awards.
This compelling collection offers the first full-length examination of John Okada’s development as an artist, placing recently discovered writing by Okada alongside essays that reassess his lasting legacy.
Part of the University of Washington Press’s Classics of Asian American Literature series, No-No Boy, John Okada’s only published novel, centers on a Japanese American who refuses to fight for the country that incarcerated him and his people in World War II and, upon release from federal prison after the war, is cast out by his divided community. In 1957, the novel faced a similar rejection until it was rediscovered and reissued in 1976 to become a celebrated classic of American literature. As a result of Okada’s untimely death at age forty-seven, the author’s life and other works have remained obscure.
With meticulously researched biographical details, insight from friends and relatives, and a trove of intimate photographs, this volume is an essential companion to No-No Boy that illuminates Okada’s early life in Seattle, military service, and careers as a public librarian, aerospace technical writer, and ad man.
Upon receiving the award, co-editors Frank Abe, Greg Robinson, and Floyd Cheung spoke about Okada’s legacy and impact, former University of Washington Press winners, and the significance of receiving this award.
“No-No Boy became a foundational work in the emerging field of Asian American Studies when the Combined Asian American Resources Project (CARP) rediscovered it in the early 70s,” said Abe. “It joined a broader literary movement that included establishment of the Before Columbus Foundation itself, so to now have our study of John Okada honored by the foundation brings us full circle. I hope this recognition brings new readers to Okada’s novel as well as our own book, which opens new avenues of scholarship for a new generation of students.”
Cheung added, “If the Before Columbus Foundation were around in 1957, when No-No Boy was published, I imagine that Okada’s novel would have won the American Book Award. I interpret this honor as a posthumous prize for John Okada as well as a kind acknowledgment of the work that Frank, Greg, and I did to tell the story of his life and recover his unknown works.”
“In 1984 Miné Okubo won the American Book Award for the University of Washington Press edition of Citizen 13660, her powerful graphic memoir of Japanese American camp life,” Robinson said. “Now, 35 years later, John Okada has won that same award. It makes me even more proud to feel that Frank, Floyd and I are following in Okubo’s footsteps.”
Since the 1970s, the University of Washington Press has published great works of Asian American literature, including America Is in the Heart, Citizen 13660, No-No Boy, Nisei Daughter, as well as the third edition of Aiiieeeee! (forthcoming in October 2019)—the anthology that reintroduced No-No Boy to readers in 1974 with an excerpted chapter and whose enthusiastic reception prompted CARP to reprint the entire novel in 1976. Launched in 2014, the Classics of Asian American Literature series ensures that current and future generations of readers will have access to significant, foundational titles for years to come, and the press continues to seek opportunities to elevate key voices in Asian American literary history.
The American Book Awards were created to provide recognition for outstanding literary achievement from the entire spectrum of America’s diverse literary community. The purpose of the awards is to recognize literary excellence without limitations or restrictions. With no quotas for diversity, the winners list simply reflects diversity as a natural process. The Before Columbus Foundation views American culture as inclusive and has always considered the term “multicultural” to be not a description of various categories, groups, or “special interests,” but rather as the definition of all of American literature.
The 2019 American Book Award winners will be formally recognized on Friday, November 1, 2019, from 1:00-4:00 p.m. at the Koret Auditorium, San Francisco Public Library, 100 Larkin St., San Francisco, CA. This event is open to the public.