This week I had great fun meeting the mystery novelist Naomi Hirahara, whom I invited to campus as part of CSUSB’s Pacific Review Reading Series.
Naomi has a fascinating biography. Degree in international relations from Stanford. Studied in Tokyo. Did volunteer work in Ghana, West Africa.
In addition to her five Mas Arai detective novels, she is also the author of or contributor to more than a half dozen nonfiction books including Silent Scars of Healing Hands: Oral Histories of Japanese American Doctors in World War II Detention Camps.
She was a reporter and editor of The Rafu Shimpo newspaper which was instrumental in reporting the redress and reparations movement for Japanese Americans who had been interned during World War II. During her tenure as editor, the newspaper published a highly-acclaimed inter-ethnic relations series after the L.A. riots.
I personally love how she incorporates details about Japanese American culture and history into her detective novels. During her talk on campus, Naomi explained that she likes to give voice to “invisible people,” that is people who are normally not depicted in mainstream popular culture. She cites as her influences African American mystery novelists, including Walter Mosley and Chester Himes.
Her Edgar-Award-winning Mas Arai mystery series, about a curmudgeonly Japanese American gardener and unwitting detective, is now on its fifth novel in the series, STRAWBERRY YELLOW. I loved how she wove together history about the internment to politics within Japanese American strawberry farms in Watsonville, CA, to contemporary concerns about genetically modified produce. A great read!