In a special program organized by Visual Communications — the nation’s premier Asian Pacific American media arts organization — and the Japanese American National Museum, ten locally based literary artists will perform original works inspired by media arts works featured in the ongoing VC founders’ photographic exhibit, “At First Light: The Dawning of Asian Pacific America” on Thursday, Sept. 19, in Little Tokyo.
The special program, “Reflections/Refractions: 10 Works Inspired by ‘At First Light,’” aims to consider the impact of the still images and artifacts contained in the exhibit through the impressions and creative interpretations of Asian Pacific American literary and performing artists.
Inspired in part by a unique literary challenge published in June 2019 in the **New York Times’** “Books” section, “Reflections/Refractions” draws upon the creativity, inspiration, and imagination of artists whose specialty is not perceived by most to be associated with visual or cinematic arts.
“‘A picture is worth a thousand words,’ or so the saying goes,” remarked Eddie Wong, VC co-founder and co-organizer of the “At First Light” photo exhibit, who was inspired to organize “Reflections/Refractions” with poet/essayist Amy Uyematsu and VC staff member Abraham Ferrer. “But as the images and artifacts featured throughout the ‘At First Light’ exhibit make clear, pictures can inspire new ways of interpreting our lives and experiences in America.
“We’re thrilled to enhance our ongoing partnership of ‘At First Light’ with our friends and colleagues at the Japanese American National Museum, and to invite just a small sampling of our communities’ many artists to be inspired to create new and original works based on VC’s sizable visual legacy.”
“The Japanese American National Museum is gratified with its ongoing partnership with Visual Communications that produced the groundbreaking show ‘At First Light,’” said Ann Burroughs, JANM president and CEO. “This special program, ‘Reflections/Refractions,’ features the new works of these community artists, most of whom are very familiar to our institution. JANM and VC share many of the same goals, including fighting racist stereotypes and discrimination, standing up for social justice and documenting histories long ignored by mainstream institutions. This program embodies our partnership with Visual Communications and JANM is pleased to be part of its presentation.”
The literary artists who have accepted the “Reflections/Refractions” challenge:
• Teresa Mei Chuc, poet laureate of Altadena (2018 to 2020), and the author of three full-length collections of poetry: “Red Thread” (Fithian Press, 2012), “Keeper of the Winds” (FootHills Publishing, 2014) and “Invisible Light” (Many Voices Press, 2018). Her poetry appears in journals such as Consequence Magazine, Kyoto Journal, The National Poetry Review, and Rattle, and in anthologies such as “New Poets of the American West” (Many Voices Press, 2010) and “Inheriting the War: Poetry and Prose by Descendants of Vietnam Veterans and Refugees” (W.W. Norton, 2017).
An MFA graduate in the creative writing program at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vt., Chuc teaches literature and writing at a public high school in Los Angeles.
• Naomi Hirahara, an Edgar Award-winning mystery novelist, social historian, and writer of nonfiction books on the Japanese American experience. A former editor of The Rafu Shimpo, she most recently co-wrote “Terminal Island: Lost Communities of Los Angeles Harbor” (Angel City Press) and “Life After Manzanar” (Heyday Books). Her Mas Arai mystery series, which ended with the Edgar-nominated “Hiroshima Boy,” have been translated into Japanese, Korean, and French.
She is also the writer of the Officer Ellie Rush mysteries; a middle-grade novel, “1001 Cranes”; and a new mystery set in Hawaii, “Iced in Paradise,” which will be released this month.
• Miya Iwataki, who helped build Serve the People programs inspired by the Black Panther Party with JACS Asian Involvement in Little Tokyo, the first Asian movement center. while living in a political collective in Boyle Heights. She was director of the first Asian Women’s Center; a delegate to U.N. Decade for Women Convention in Nairobi, Kenya sponsored by United Nations NGO; and fought for redress with National Coalition for Redress/Reparations.
A poet, writer, KPFK Radio host and Rafu Shimpo columnist, her life experiences have informed her cultural and political activism.
• Traci kato-kiriyama is an award-winning artist, community organizer, and cultural producer; performer/principal writer of PULLproject Ensemble; director/co-founder of Tuesday Night Project; Steering Committee member of Vigilant Love; member of Nikkei Progressives and Okaeri. She has been presented in hundreds of venues throughout the country as a performer, actor, theater collaborator, storyteller, poet, author, educator and organizer.
Her writing, commentary and work appears through a wide variety of platforms — NPR, PBS, C-SPAN, Elle.com, The Hollywood Reporter, Entropy, Regent Press, Heyday Books, Tia Chucha Press, Chapparal Canyon Press, and Writ Large Press.
• Kenji Liu is author of “Monsters I Have Been” (Alice James Books, 2019) and “Map of an Onion,” national winner of the 2015 Hillary Gravendyk Poetry Prize (Inlandia Institute). His writing has appeared in American Poetry Review, Poetry Northwest, Gulf Coast, Apogee, and elsewhere, including two chapbooks and several anthologies.
An alumnus of Kundiman, VONA/Voices, the Djerassi Resident Artist Program, and the Community of Writers, he lives in occupied Tongva land.
• Koji Sakai has written five feature films that have been produced, including the indie hit “The People I’ve Slept With.” He also produced three feature films; a one-hour comedy special on Starz; “Comedy Invasian,” a television series featuring the nation’s top Asian American comedians, which is currently streaming on Hulu; and “Brash Girls Club,” a limited comedy series, which will be premiering on Tubi TV.
• Irene Suico Soriano, an immigrant Filipinx American poet and independent literary curator who authored “Primates from an Archipelago” and co-founded the creative lab Kitakits-LA. She founded and coordinated the reading series “Wrestling Tigers: Asian Pacific American Writers Speak” at JANM. She also participates in anti-vivisection activism because she believes in the fundamental rights of non-human animals to live their lives, free from harm, pain, exploitation and captivity.
• Amy Uyematsu is a Sansei and third-generation Angeleno. She was active during the early years of the Asian American movement and co-edited “Roots: An Asian American Reader.” She’s published five collections of poetry, including her most recent book, “Basic Vocabulary.” She teaches a writing workshop at the Far East Lounge in J-Town. Now retired, she taught high school math for the L.A. Unified School District for 32 years.
• Eric C. Wat is the author of “SWIM” (The Permanent Press, 2019), a novel about a drug-addicted gay Asian man planning his mother’s funeral, and “The Making of a Gay Asian Community: An Oral History of Pre-AIDS Los Angeles” (Rowman & Littlefield, 2002). He is working on a community memoir of the AIDS movement in the API communities in Los Angeles, for which he received a research fellowship from the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives in 2018.
• Stan Yogi, is co-author of the award-winning books “Fred Korematsu Speaks Up” (with Laura Atkins), and “Wherever There’s a Fight: How Runaway Slaves, Suffragists, Immigrants Strikers and Poets Shaped Civil Liberties in California” (with Elaine Elinson). He is the co-editor of two books, “Highway 99: A Literary Journey Through California’s Great Central Valley” and “Asian American Literature: An Annotated Bibliography.”
Additionally, two local musicians will compose a new piece of music inspired by an image selected from the “At First Light” photo exhibit, and perform their works to open and close the program:
• Dom Magwili (banjo; guitar) wrote and co-directed “Much Adobo About Nothing,” nominated for Best Independent Film for 2000 by A Magazine. He and his wife Sachiko created the musical, “A Jive Bomber’s Christmas,” which has been produced 10 times in 14 years, mostly at JANM. More recently, he directed “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” for the East West Players Conservatory. He teaches Asian American film and video for the Department of Asian American Studies at Cal State Fullerton.
• Taiji Miyagawa (upright acoustic bass) has collaborated with Asian American artists, including the late composer/pianist Glenn Horiuchi, the band Hiroshima, playwright Philip Kan Gotanda, poet Lawson Inada, and singer/choreographer Nobuko Miyamoto. A frequent music accompanist for poet Uyematsu, Miyagawa is currently the bassist for the Crenshaw-based quartet LosAKAtombros.
“Visual Communications’ ongoing legacy as a creator and incubator of media art extends far beyond the movie screen. In fact, it can be said that we have embraced all major forms of communication, visual, and cinematic arts,” said Ferrer, VC’s archives and distribution manager. “In spotlighting the literary arts as our muse and as our inspiration, we not only recognize an art form that arguably jump-started the ‘Asian American Movement,’ but one whose practitioners continue to inspire our aspirations to tell more honest, accurate, and sensitive stories, from a uniquely APA point of view.”
“Reflections/Refractions” is the third of four public programs presented as part of “At First Light,” on display at JANM through Oct. 20, and is a co-production of JANM and VC. For more information on the exhibit, visit www.janm.org/exhibits/at-first-light/.