Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Interview with TOMO Contributor Graham Salisbury

Graham Salisbury (author of the Tomo story “Bad Day for Baseball”) grew up on Oahu and Hawaii. He received an MFA from Vermont College of Norwich University, where he was a member of the founding faculty of the MFA program in writing for children. He lives with his family in Oregon. Graham Salisbury’s books including Eyes of the Emperor and Under the Blood Red Sun have garnered many prizes.

Graham Salisbury
You have often included Japanese-American characters in your stories and have written novels (Eyes of the Emperor, Under the Blood Red Sun, House of the Red Fish) about Japanese-American history. Can you tell us a bit about developing these Japanese-American characters? Although you were raised in Hawaii with kids of many races and backgrounds, did you undertake particular research or language study to help you portray your characters convincingly? 
I could not have written any of my World War II novels without extensive research, though that research was centered more within the historical events than my Japanese-American characters. However, I did have to do some research having to do with Japanese customs, language, and traditions. But for my characters and their sensibilities I relied on intuitive knowledge, that which was already in me as one who’d grown up around kids of many races. I attended public schools through sixth grade, and that was where I absorbed most of what I needed to write with some accuracy. I as a haole growing up in Hawaii was not so different from a Japanese boy growing up in Hawaii. We were just kids growing up in the same time, the same place and situations, and experiencing the same experiences. At that age race was not an issue. We were the same, inside and out. It was good.

Were there any particular childhood friends or experiences that brought you close to Japanese-American culture?

One of Graham Salisbury's favorite wartime photos--taken by Robert Ebert, a former Honolulu Star-Bulletin photographer who was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1946 for this shot of Hawaii resident Iuemon Kiyama tearfully embracing his son, Sgt. Howard Kiyama of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team upon Howard's return from Europe
Most of my childhood contact with the Japanese-American community happened during my elementary school years. I spent grades seven through twelve at a boarding school on the Big Island of Hawaii. There, my culture contact was all east coast American, as almost all of our teachers were young men fresh out of ivy league colleges. My interest in the Japanese-American experience in Hawaii deepened as an adult, especially as I began to research the events surrounding the attack on Pearl Harbor. As a kid I didn’t think much about anything more than buzzing around with my pals. The war, race relations, and politics were of no interest to me, or to any of my friends, for that matter. I guess you could call it typical empty-headed boy-consciousness. But as an adult looking back at World War II, I am amazed at the history that engulfed the islands. It still amazes me. The sacrifices of that time were immense, and I am in awe every time I read about them. 

Can you tell us a bit about the story behind this story “A Bad Day for Baseball”? Is this based on a real incident on the day of Pearl Harbor bombing? 
This story is based on some of my research. “Bad Day For Baseball” could very easily have happened as I’ve told it, and probably very nearly did. I put what I discovered in my research into my head and let it roll around a while. Soon my eyes lit up with a few “ah-hahs” and a story emerged, fiction based on fact. This is how all my historical novels grow … imagination combined with fact. It’s amazing how it all happens for me, and it thrills me when a story or a character comes to life. I call it “magic,” because writing is magic. You put your fingers on the keyboard and things happen.

Below is a shot of the first newspaper of the war that the Honolulu Advertiser put out. It was on December 8, 1941. It ran the unfortunate headlines “Saboteurs Land Here” and “Raiders Return in Dawn Attack.” Both of these stories were false rumors. "Bad Day for Baseball" is a story about those rumors.

Dec. 8, 1941 edition of the Honolulu Advertiser--headlines based on rumors
Did you ever join ROTC? Were you ever in a combat situation?

U. of Hawaii ROTC students training during WWII, circa 1942
I was in ROTC in college, but did little more than study military strategy and march around in mass formation carrying old, decommissioned army rifles. I was drafted when I turned 21, but was somehow reclassified as a sole survivor and turned loose. This was during the Vietnam War. I can’t even imagine what kind of person I would be today if I had been deployed to -- and survived -- Vietnam. That was a terrible war, as all are, but this one was especially awful.

Do you have plans to visit Japan? 
No plans, but I would love to take my adopted daughter there some day. She is Chinese, but has a huge interest in Japan. She would be thrilled to take that trip. So would I, actually. 

Do you have any message for teens in Tohoku? 
Your history is truly fascinating, as is your culture. Though you may at times be inclined to disregard it, which is a somewhat natural inclination for the young, I would urge you to come back to it later, to learn from those who came before, from their mistakes and from their successes. You have a rich tradition that places great weight on honor and all points of character, and integrity. If our world is in need of anything it’s integrity. You have so much to be proud of, as do your Japanese-American counterparts. Carry it forward. All of it. Build on it. You must.

No comments:

Post a Comment