Densho Digital Repository
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Amy Uyematsu Interview II
Narrator: Amy Uyematsu
Interviewers: Brian Niiya (primary); Valerie Matsumoto (secondary)
Location: Culver City, California
Date: December 8, 2022
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-524-8

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VM: Could you tell us a little bit about, I remember how excited I was when I first saw 30 Miles From J-Town, which I have right here. And I was wondering if you could tell us about how your first book, which won a very impressive award also, how that came together.

AU: Sure. You know, in the years I first started working with Peter, you figure, that book got published in '92. So like let's say the late '80s, I mean, Peter's workshops, and the poems were just coming out, lot of poems. Many of the poems were about my being raised in a racist environment. One of the poems was about a cross being burned on our Jewish neighbor's front yard, that incident ended up in a poem. December 7th was always dreaded by me because the other kids would call me "Jap" and the teachers wouldn't tell them to stop. So a lot of these poems ended up in 30 Miles. And around that time, I guess I had started to enter a couple of literary contests where the prize is the poetry book. And this may seem kind of strange, but one day, I think toward the end of the year, this must have been in '91, I got a call from Story Line Press, Robert McDowell, the editor, and he told me I'd won the Nicholas Roerich award. And I didn't even remember that I entered that contest. I'd entered maybe two or three that year. So that was a nice surprise, but yeah, they picked my book. And it kind of... at least for me, it seems like it made a big difference to have that first book out there, then people are more open to seeing other things. For the 30 Miles from J-Town, they did give me, besides being published they gave me a thousand dollars. But they have the awards ceremony at the Roerich Museum in New York City. They don't pay to fly you out there, so I used my thousand to fly my mom and me out to New York, where we got the award.

VM: Actually, that's a very fitting award because I think he was a mystic, and there's a very interesting spiritual element through all of your books.

AU: Was that a question just now? [Laughs]

BN: I'm curious now, many years later, how you feel about those earlier poems today.

AU: For the most part I still like them. I get a kick out of them. Like my poem about going to Sansei dances, it was fun. It was a fun time in my life. When I think of poems that are kind of locked into a certain time and place, I think that's okay. It just gives the reader some kind of information and a picture of something that occurred at that time. So I keep thinking that if people want to see what a Sansei baby boomer in L.A. was experiencing, here are some things. Like the kenjinkai picnics that our families would go to in Elysian Park.

BN: As you kind of put these poems out there, you get some acclaim and positive reviews for the book, I'm curious if you noticed how the reaction was in particular between Japanese American readers and audiences and non-Japanese American readers, thinking about something like the Sansei dances or these very specific kinds of things that there's an inside knowledge about, versus people who have no idea what you're writing about.

AU: I think it's a much stronger reaction from fellow JAs, or even other minorities who can relate to a lot of things from a minority point of view. But I have to say, even some of those, like the Sansei dance poems, has been received well when I read to a largely white audience. So I think people just associated with, you know, this was high school, this girl's experience, and it was a time when Motown was big.

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