For a close-up look at transgender expression in another time and place, this Pride Month we wanted to share a selection from Maki Isaka’s book Onnagata: A Labyrinth of Gendering in Kabuki Theater. Onnagata, usually male actors who perform the roles of women, have been an important aspect of kabuki since its beginnings in 17th-century Japan. Isaka examines how the onnagata‘s theatrical gender “impersonation” has shaped the concept and mechanisms of femininity and gender construction in Japan. The implications of this study go well beyond the realm of theater and East Asia, informing theory about gender more broadly.
—Lorri Hagman, Executive Editor
Quatercentenary kabuki theater in Japan is a “queer” theater. That is not so much to say that kabuki is an all-male theater, in which male actors play women’s roles, as to note how radically this art form has altered the connotations of the word “kabuki.” Just as with the word “queer,” the implication of which has changed fundamentally over the years, the meanings of the word “kabuki”—nominalized from a verb, kabuku (to lean; to act and/or dress in a peculiar and queer manner)—have transformed dramatically. Not only did it shift from a generic word (that which is eccentric, deviant, queer, and the like) to a proper noun (this theater), but its connotations also altered tremendously from something negative to something positive. That is, kabuki theater was born as a kabuki thing—merely another stray entertainment among many, which was considered akin to prostitution—and ended up proudly styling itself the kabuki theater. With a checkered past marked by bans, shutdowns, exile, and even capital punishment for the parties concerned, kabuki—once a theater of rebellion for the common people—is now one of four classical genres of Japanese theater that the nation proudly presents to the world, along with noh (a medieval Buddhist theater a few centuries older than kabuki), kyōgen (a theater of mime and speech that accompanies noh), and bunraku (a puppet theater), all of which are all-male theater.
“The World of a Tiny Insect,” by Zhang Daye, translated by Xiaofei Tian
“Penguins,” edited by Pablo Garcia Borboroglu and P. Dee Boersma
UW Press remembers Leroy (Lee) Soper, longtime member of the advisory board, who passed away on Tuesday, February 2, on the eve of his ninety-second birthday.
The four presses involved in the Mellon University Press Diversity FellowshipProgram are now all actively recruiting for positions (see joint announcement). If you know of excellent candidates, please send them our way (applications due March 15)! Read a piece by UW Press editor in chief and Principal Investigator Larin McLaughlin at the UW Press blog and an interview with the MIT Press editorial director Gita Manaktala at the MIT Press blog.
The Association for Asian Studies has announced the winners of this year’s AAS book prizes. Xiaofei Tian is winner of the Hanan Translation Prize for World of a Tiny Insect. Author Wai-yee Li (one of the translators of Zuo Tradition / Zuozhuan and a coauthor of The Letter to Ren An) has won the Levenson Prize (Pre-1900 China) for her latest monograph (published by Harvard Asia Center). Congratulations to our authors and all involved!
P. Dee Boersma, author of Penguins, is a finalist for the prestigious Indianapolis Prize for conservation, sponsored by the Indianapolis Zoological Society (UW Today; Daily). Boersma and the five other finalists have been awarded $10,000 each and the winner will receive $250,000 and a medal. Listen to a recent interview with Boersma about iGalapagos on KUOW’s “The Record,” as well as in National Geographicand Smithsonian.com.