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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-1000-524-9

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AU: So Nights of Fire, Nights of Rain came out in 1998. And my publisher, Robert McDowell, had told me that he would put out a second book, which I thought was great. And I was still very grateful to Story Line for putting out the first book. I don't think I'd signed any kind of contract, and I was contacted by Allan Kornblum who was the editor of Coffee House Press, and he said that he was interested in my manuscript. Coffee House would have been a much better fit for me, ultimately, I think, because they were publishing Karen Tei Yamashita, Lawson Inada, a lot of writers of color. But I felt that I'd already said to Robert, "I'll do my second book with you." So I didn't go with Coffee House, but I've sometimes wondered, I wonder how my own poetry journey might have been different if I'd gone with a much bigger and better known press for writers of color. Just curious. Now, Nights of Fire, Nights of Rain, again, it's a mixture of the personal and the political in all my books. It starts out with a poem about Latasha Harlins, and it's basically on Latasha's side and criticizing the Korean shop owner who shot her in the back because she though Latasha had stolen a carton of orange juice. This has sort of an interesting side story to it. Mitsuye Yamada invited me to read at one of her classes -- I don't know what the title of the class was -- at UC Irvine. And she had Korean American students in the class who were very, very upset by this poem and thought I was far too biased against Soon Ja Du. So that was interesting. Because, like you said, asked earlier, do I regret having any poems out? I still don't regret having this poem out. It's still, the perspective, I feel, is important. I have a poem on a student I had in class named Florentino Diaz, who's a gang member, and I've read that at a lot of readings, and I get very good feedback on that, because I'm just trying to express sort of the alienation this young man feels. And in this book... every book has Asian American poems, and this one, one of the poems is, "In America Yellow Is Still an Insult." And so that's kind of a recurring thing for me is how the color yellow has been used against us. But the poem that I think has gotten the most play from this book is "The Ten Million Flames of Los Angeles." And it was written after the earthquakes and the riots and is kind of a poem of compassion, really, and trying to talk about what's been going on in L.A., but talking about the people and the masses in a positive way. So I guess interestingly, this has gotten picked up in anthologies, that type of thing. So that's Nights of Fire.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.