Author/Illustrator Allen Say at JANM


Award-winning illustrator and writer Allen Say will be interviewed about his latest book, “Drawing from Memory,” in which he recounts his own struggle to achieve success, in a public program set for Saturday, Sept. 17, at 2 p.m. at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo.

Say will be interviewed by John Mason of Scholastic Books.

Say has been recognized as one of the publishing industry’s top illustrators and authors for many years. His illustration of Annetta Lawson’s book “The Lucky Yak” won him the New York Times Best Illustrated Book Award and his work on Ina Friedman’s “How My Parents Learned to Eat” was recognized with the Christopher Award. Say illustrated Dianne Snyder’s “The Boy of the Three-Year Nap,” which won honors from the Boston Globe (Horn Book Award), American Library Association and Newbery Caldecott.

Beginning in 1988 with “A River Dream,” Say began writing and illustrating his own works exclusively. His books, such as “El Chino” and “Tree of Cranes,” immediately were recognized with numerous awards. In 1993, Say authored and illustrated “Grandfather’s Journey,” which earned him a second Newbery Caldecott Medal. Both “Tree of Cranes” and “Grandfather’s Journey” contain autobiographical information about Say and his family.

“Drawing from Memory” highlights the relationship of Say in his youth and his mentor. Shunned by his father, who didn’t understand his son’s artistic leanings, Say was embraced by Noro Shinpei, Japan’s leading cartoonist and the man he came to love as his “spiritual father.” Part memoir, part graphic novel, part narrative history, “Drawing from Memory” presents a complex look at the real-life relationship between mentor and student.

Born in Yokohama, Say received both Japanese and Western art training growing up. He came to the U.S. at the age of 16 in 1953 and studied at the Chouinard Art Institute and Los Angeles Art Center. He attended UC Berkeley, where he studied environmental design, and eventually attended San Francisco Art Institute, where he studied photography. After working as a successful commercial photographer for almost 20 years, Say decided to follow his earliest desires to be an artist and began painting and illustrating. In 1972, he authored and illustrated “Dr. Smith’s Safari.”

Say’s relationship with JANM was formed when the institution created the exhibition “Allen Say’s Journey: The Art and Words of a Children’s Book Author” in 2000. The exhibition proved illuminating both for museum visitors and the author-artist.

“When I first walked into that hall, my reaction was, ‘Who is this busy guy?’ ” Say recounts. “I had never seen my work displayed in public before. For years I had kept my stuff under my bed, so there was a sense of detachment, almost a kind of alienation. When the shock wore off, I was looking at my diary, and some of the earlier entries were painful. It’s like the time my daughter was looking at ‘A River Dream’ while watching me work on ‘The Sign Painter’ and said, ‘I can’t believe how much better you’ve gotten.’ Wines and artists (get better with age)!”

While at JANM, Say also toured its core exhibition, “Common Ground: The Heart of Community.” The experience left a lasting impression.

“I came to the U.S. in 1953 and so I learned first-hand the prejudice and animosity directed against the Japanese Americans at the time,” says Say. “But their internment experience was a second-hand ordeal for me. Then I saw ‘Common Ground.’ I walked through it four times, went home and reshaped the story I had been working on into ‘Home of the Brave.’ ”

Published in 2002, “Home of the Brave” marked somewhat of a departure from Say’s earlier books. Haunting, surreal and evocative, it explored the complex range of emotions that the children of America’s concentration camps felt as young prisoners.

Besides the conversation between Say and Mason, the museum will feature original art from “Drawing from Memory” on site on Sept. 17 and 18 only. Say will be available to sign books after the program.

JANM is located at First and Central. For more information, call (213) 625-0414 or visit


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