Tag Archives: Q&A

Q&A with ‘The Deepest Roots’ author Kathleen Alcalá

In The Deepest Roots: Finding Food and Community on a Pacific Northwest Island, Kathleen Alcalá combines memoir, historical records, and powerful interviews in a charming and timely book that uses Bainbridge Island as a case study for thinking about our relationships with the land and each other. Alcalá meets Japanese Americans imprisoned during World War II, and learns the unique histories of the blended Filipino and Native American community, the fishing practices of the descendants of Croatian immigrants, and the Suquamish elder who shares with her the food legacy of the island itself. We spoke with Alcalá about the book, publishing this fall.

Join us for these events:

October 13 at 7:30 p.m. // Eagle Harbor Book Co., Bainbridge Island Museum of Art auditorium, Bainbridge Island, WA

October 19 at 7:30 p.m. // University Book Store, University District

October 20 at 7 p.m. // Third Place Books-Lake Forest Park

October 27 at 7 p.m. // Hispanic Roundtable of South Sound at South Puget Sound Community College, Latino Youth Summit, Olympia, WA

November 2 at 5:30 p.m. // The Butcher’s Table, “50 Minutes with…” speaker series with University Book Store (2121 Westlake Ave., Seattle)

November 3 at 7 p.m.  // Village Books, Bellingham

November 10 at 6:30 p.m. // Book Larder, Fremont

November 19 from 3-5 p.m. // Seattle7 Holiday Bookfest, Phinney Ridge

December 2 at 7 p.m. // Tattered Cover Book Store, Colfax Avenue, Denver, CO

January 10 at 7 p.m. // Elliott Bay Book Company, Capitol Hill

What inspired you to write The Deepest Roots?

Kathleen Alcalá: In 2010, I wrote an essay about two couples I knew who left other jobs to go into farming. It turned out, each had a fascinating story and philosophy of life to go with that decision. Readers reacted so strongly, I realized I had touched on something fundamental, our relationship to the land, and how people yearn to strengthen that relationship. As a writer of historical, family-based fiction and essays, this was a topic about which I knew zilch. I thought. Then I realized that this was the basis of that family history: our relationship to the land. Understanding this is so important to our survival, and the survival of this island in particular, that I decided to pursue the topic with further interviews and research.

What would you have been if not a writer?

KA: Perhaps an architect, if I had the skills. I am a very visual thinker. I’m very interested in how people relate to their environment through built, or human-made intervention. Architecture is a form of shelter, but how close or how distant it keeps us from nature fascinates me. What the wealthy think they need versus what 90% of the world lives with is also interesting to me, in terms of the built environment. As resources become scarce, or we realize how toxic many of them are, we need to rethink how and where we live and build, so I guess there is some overlap here.

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Q&A with ‘Enduring Conviction’ author Lorraine K. Bannai

In her new book Enduring Conviction: Fred Korematsu and His Quest for Justice, Lorraine K. Bannai brings an insider’s knowledge to the famous legal case of Fred T. Korematsu, a young man who decided to resist F.D.R.’s Executive Order 9066, which provided authority for the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. His was initially the case of a young man following his heart: he wanted to remain in California with his Italian American fiancée. However, he quickly came to realize that it was more than just a personal choice; it was a matter of basic human rights.

After refusing to leave for incarceration when ordered, Korematsu was eventually arrested and convicted of a federal crime before being confined at Topaz, Utah.

He appealed his conviction to the Supreme Court, which upheld the wartime orders in 1944. Forty years later, a team of young attorneys resurrected Korematsu’s case. This time, Korematsu prevailed and his conviction was overturned, helping to pave the way for Japanese American redress.

Bannai, who was a young attorney on the legal team that represented Korematsu in reopening his case in the 1980s, combines her experiences of working on the case with extensive archival research and first-person interviews. She uncovers the inspiring story of a humble, soft-spoken man who fought tirelessly against human rights abuses long after he was exonerated. In 1998, President Bill Clinton awarded Korematsu the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

We spoke with Bannai about her book, published this fall.

Join us for the launch event with Lorraine K. Bannai, Judge Marilyn Hall Patel, and Karen Korematsu:

Thursday, November 19, 4:30-6:30 p.m. // Seattle University, Sullivan Hall, Room C-5

Why did you want to put together this book?

Lorraine K. Bannai: There are several reasons. First and foremost, I wanted others to know Fred’s story. Fred was a 22-year-old welder in Oakland, California, at the time the government ordered Japanese Americans removed from the West Coast. He chose not to obey and chose instead to remain with the woman he loved in the area that was, and had always been, his home. For that, he was convicted of a federal crime. In 1944, in one the most infamous cases in its history, the Supreme Court upheld his conviction and, in doing so, the removal of over 110,000 persons of Japanese ancestry to desolate camps in the interior United States. Forty years later, on proof that the wartime government had lied to the Supreme Court, Fred reopened his case and gained vacation of his conviction; in related proceedings, two other wartime resisters, Gordon Hirabayashi and Minoru Yasui, gained vacation of their convictions, as well. Fred then went on to speak nationally about the constant need to be vigilant to protect civil rights, especially during times of fear. Many people know of Fred’s case; it’s taught in most every law school Constitutional Law class in the country. I wanted to share the story of the good man behind the case and his commitment to protecting others from the type of ignorance and scapegoating that resulted in the wartime Japanese American incarceration.

Further, I wanted to use Fred’s story to illuminate other themes. Fred’s story is also one about the Japanese American community, or at least my experience of the community. I am a third generation Japanese American—a sansei. My grandparents, parents, aunts, and uncles were incarcerated at Manzanar in the Mojave Desert. In examining Fred’s life, I hoped to share the experience of this community, an experience unfortunately not unlike the experience of many immigrant communities of color—met by hostility, treated as suspicious and forever foreign. And I hoped to show that, while Japanese Americans share, in many respects, a common culture and historical experience, they are a community of diverse individuals who had multiple different responses to their incarceration—obedience, fear, hurt, anger, defiance—each response unique and understandable.

In addition, as a lawyer, I wanted to use Fred’s story as a case study about the law and legal system—how oftentimes law and justice aren’t the same thing; the need for government officials and the courts to protect the most vulnerable among us; our own roles and responsibilities as citizens to speak out against injustice; and what happens when we fail to live up to our national ideals. The incarceration of Japanese Americans was called for by civic organizations, officials at every level of government, and the popular media. Few spoke out against it. Most who called for the incarceration believed they were acting the best interests of the country. But we now know that the incarceration was an egregious violation of civil liberties.

At the same time Fred’s case can teach us about the ways in which the legal system and its actors can fail us, it also shows examples of ways in which they can be instruments of justice and the promotion of healing. I was privileged to serve on Fred’s legal team in reopening his case. Working with that team of committed, talented lawyers was one of the most rewarding and inspiring experiences I’ve had in my career.

Q: Describe the process of putting together Enduring Conviction.

LKB: It was a long process. I don’t know if it was unusually long, but it certainly seems like it was! It had been simmering in my mind for a number of years, but did not have room to grow until my home institution, Seattle University School of Law, provided me sabbatical time to really dig in. Much of the work involved research in various depositories, including the national archives, libraries, museums, and the like. For example, it was amazing to see the 1942 handwritten entry checking Fred into the San Leandro Jail, in a log now kept by the San Leandro History Museum, as well as the photos of Fred’s parents in his mother’s immigration file at the National Archives in San Bruno. And it was moving to see the wartime letters between Fred and his ACLU legal advocate Ernest Besig at the California Historical Society in San Francisco. But most meaningful were the dozens of interviews I was able to conduct with people who knew Fred—his wife, Kathryn; his children, Karen and Ken; and other members of his family, his friends and acquaintances, and members of his legal team. There were a lot of trips to the Bay Area to do this work. And there were lots of hours at my dining table surrounded by books and papers. It’s nice to now have use of my dining table again.

Q: Who do you see as the audience for your book?

LKB: There are a number of books about Fred for younger audiences. I wrote this book for a college-age/adult audience. I hope that this book will reach readers interested in the Japanese American incarceration, American history, American ethnic studies, Asian American studies, civil rights, race and the law, constitutional law, and legal history. I am most hopeful, however, that this book reaches a general audience interested in the story of someone who simply took a stand against injustice, despite what others thought. In the end, I think that Fred speaks to each us and tells us that we each have both the responsibility and ability to help this country live up to its ideals, which includes vigilance in protecting the marginalized.

Q: Your book tells such a powerful and important story. How did you come up with the title?

LKB: Perhaps like many authors, I struggled to come up with a title that I felt really captured what this book was about (see above—I was trying to do a lot with this book). I spoke with friends and colleagues and just couldn’t seem to come up with anything that seemed quite right. For example, I didn’t want anything along the lines of “Justice Won,” because, while Fred won the vacation of his conviction, we, as a nation, are a long way from achieving justice of the type Fred sought, particularly racial justice.

I was very lucky to have a small, trusted group who read the manuscript (numerous times) and gave me great feedback from diverse points of view. One of these individuals was Uncle Sam Eng, a very wise, very smart, very well-read, and very exacting 80-year-old. He called me one day and said, “I have a title.” And it’s a great one, I think. I’m eternally grateful to Uncle Sam.

Q&A with ‘Too High and Too Steep’ author David B. Williams

TooHigh-WilliamsIn his new book Too High and Too Steep: Reshaping Seattle’s Topography, David B. Williams tells an engaging story about the radical ways in which the leaders and inhabitants of Seattle have altered the landscape to better accommodate their visions for the city. Williams uses his science and nature writing background, extensive research and interviews, and deep knowledge of Seattle to illuminate the real physical challenges and sometimes rather startling hubris of these large-scale transformations: the altering of the original shoreline and lowering of the inconvenient bluffs; the filling in of the vast tideflats at the mouth of the Duwamish to make new, flat land; the creation of the ship canal to link Puget Sound with Lake Union and Lake Washington; and the removal of millions of cubic yards of earth in order to lower Denny Hill at the north end of downtown. He also helps readers connect the landscape of today with the landscape of the past and find the visible traces of the ways the topography has been changed. Senior acquisitions editor Regan Huff spoke with Williams about the book, published this fall.

Join us for these events:

Saturday, October 10, 2:00 p.m. // Seattle Public Library with Elliott Bay Book Company

Thursday, November 12, 7:00 p.m. // Third Place Books, Lake Forest Park

Regan Huff: Topographic change is an unusual subject. What led you to it?

David B. Williams: I have long been interested in Seattle and its landscape. In particular I am intrigued by how our geologic past has influenced and continues to influence the city in many ways, from where we build to how we move through the landscape to why Seattle even came into existence. Several years ago I got involved with The Waterlines Project, a Burke Museum endeavor that focuses on Seattle history through an examination of its shorelines. Working with them, I realized that the incredible story of topographic change—of regrades, tideflat filling, and waterway replumbing—had never been told in a detailed, accessible manner. As I dug deeper into the topic, I became more and more fascinated with the stories, people, and engineering and how they provided an intriguing way to tell a history of Seattle.

Q: Do you see any relationships between the subject matter of your book and the current much-publicized woes of Seattle’s urban tunnel project?

David B. Williams: Yes, on several levels. The first is that the problems we’ve had with groundwater and sinking buildings are due precisely to our history of altering the landscape. If the city were built on bedrock instead of a stew of fill, including sand, coal, old lumber, piles, and cinders, those concerns would not exist. Hard rock does not have the hydrology and building stability issues that are creating our present-day problems.

Author David Williams. Photo by Andrew Croneberger.

Author David B. Williams. Photo by Andrew Croneberger.

The second relationship has to do with how we view landscape. I think that altering our topography has become part of our collective DNA. So many projects took place in the past that it created the mentality that large scale engineering was the only way to deal with our challenging topography. This is certainly what we are seeing with the new tunnel, the removal of the Viaduct, and the new seawall. Each is a response to the landscape, both natural and human created.

Q: You have said that one aim of your book is to help Seattle readers become better observers of their city; in other contexts you’ve expressed a lot of enthusiasm for urban walks and urban exploration. Why do you think this is important?

David B. Williams: On the most basic level, getting out and exploring the city and paying attention to what one sees simply makes this a more interesting place to live. It allows one to make connections between disparate areas and ideas and also promotes a stronger connection to the place itself. By discovering these stories of the land and people, we have richer and I would argue happier lives. Research even shows that such connections make us healthier, more creative, and smarter.

In addition, by getting to know the city more intimately, we are better able to understand the issues it faces, whether it’s salmon in our streams, troubles with tunnels, or too many geese. For instance, consider the recent news about sinking buildings. Walk around Pioneer Square and you cannot help but notice that there is something odd underfoot. Tilting sidewalks, buckling streets, and below grade sinking foundations all point to the fact that the city has been settling long before Bertha. That does not mean that the tunnel is not problematic, but that it is not the lone issue challenging the engineers.

Q: Did you come away from your research admiring or questioning the hubris of Seattle’s past efforts to change the urban landscape?

David B. Williams: It’s hard not to be both amazed and flabbergasted by our predecessor’s projects. None of the large-scale changes I write about could take place today. We have too many regulations and too many people who would protest. Back in the day, all it took was a person with an idea and the ability to raise money and the project could begin. Nor can we even fathom the scale of these projects. Filling the tideflats, cutting down hills, and rejiggering lakes were epic, landscape-scale changes with profound consequences economically and ecologically. Nothing taking place at present compares.

I am not saying that I approve of the projects but I cannot condemn them either. The people who undertook them truly believed that they were making Seattle a better place to live. Yes, they often benefited financially, but that was not typically what drove them. You have to remember that these endeavors were undertaken when Seattle was not the hip, trendy, financially successful place it is now. It was a relatively small city, or even a town, on the edge of the continent. These projects developed because their proponents often thought they had no other choice; in their minds, these projects were essential for growing and developing the city’s business and industry. Without them, Seattle would not survive.