The Hermit Poet

May 15, 2006

Attended this weekend – Asian American Writers Congress (Los Angeles)

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 11:57 am

I had a great time at the first annual Asian American Writers Congress held at UCLA. The program began with the keynote speaker, Shawn Wong who addressed the where have we been and where are we going aspects of Asian American literature. If this seems vague, it’s because I missed part of his address due my own late arrival (I lost 30 minutes to a bout of directional dyslexia — I kept getting myself confused and turned around while trying to get to UCLA).

There was a panel on publishing and getting the work out. Panelists included representatives from both big publishing (represented by Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency) and independent presses (Kaya Books, Children’s Publishing, and Lee & Lo). The moderator was Naomi Hirahara, and author and editor.

The conversation that was most interesting to me was the discussion between Rick Noguchi and David Mas Masumoto. “Mas” is an organic peach and grape grower, as well as a fiction/creative non-fiction writer. He read a passage from one of his books about farming that dealt with how a junk pile comes to exist on a farm — and how it represents the accumulation of history from not just the present generation owner, but all those who occupied the land before. A farmer will frequently return and find new use for things that sit in the junk pile. And then eventually those things return to the pile or others take their place. In a sense, cultural heritage and memory operate like that junk pile. Some of it is ours, other parts pre-existed. But, we all take and use, and eventually return to that pile. Every use is a dialog or conversation or reinterpretation of those elements we have set aside and which continue to persist through the years.

After the conference, a bunch of us gathered to eat at local restaurant and continue our discussions there. If there’s one thing that I’ve found true about the Asian American literary scene, it is that food also enters into every discussion.

I’ll try to make it back next year if possible. If only to win some more of the famous Masumoto Farm peach jam!

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