Friday, April 29, 2011

The Monkey in The Common


April 29th, 2011 | 4:26pm

Aside from Haruki Murakami, much of Japanese writing remains unknown in the U.S., simply because it is not translated into English. Now, thanks to collaboration between the Brooklyn-based literary magazine, A Public Space, and the Tokyo-based literary magazines, Monkey Business, a special English-language edition ofMonkey Business is available in the US. This special edition, called “New Voices from Japan”, will showcase the best of the magazine’s first three years of publication and will include stories, poetry, and non-fiction, including an interview with Murakami.

As Stuart Dybek writes in a letter introducing the issue: “The books and anthologies that line my shelves attest to the fact that we live in a golden age of translation. Even so, it’s rare to have a literary magazine like Monkey Business appear in English. It arrives with the sense of discovery and immediacy that one reads literary magazines for.”

Brooklyn’s Book Court, beloved independent bookstore and host of The Common’supcoming New York City reading event, will celebrate the publication of Monkey Business: New Voices from Japan this Sunday, May 1, at 7 p.m. with a party and reading featuring Japanese contributors Hiromi Kawakami, Hideo Furukawa, Minoru Ozawa, and Monkey Business founder and editor Motoyuki Shibata. The magazine’s American writers, editors and translators will also join. It’s a unique chance to meet the creators of Monkey Business: New Voices from Japan, and to pick up copies of the magazine. Additionally, twenty-five percent of all MB sales will go toward the Nippon Foundation/CANPAN Northeastern Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Fund.

Roland Kelts, one of Monkey Business’s contributing editors and author ofJapanamerica, a book about the invasion of Japanese pop culture in the US, answered a few questions for The Common about contemporary Japanese literature and its emerging writers:

How would you characterize Japan's current literary culture? Its contemporary literature? Are there any interesting trends emerging?

A lot of writers in Japan seem to be exploring what we might call the 'surreal,' dreamlike nature of contemporary life in an attempt to come to grips with a profoundly advanced, hyper-developed urban nation. And I think the incursion of technology and an 'always-on,' eerily connected yet isolating world makes their work seem particularly apt and insightful. Younger writers in particular feel intimately attuned to our age of exhaustion and repetition. Hideo Furukawa (novelist, author of Thirteen and Belka, Why Don’t You Bark?) for example, imagines a Tokyo inhabited mostly by monsters—who nevertheless feel more sensitive than the humans around them. Of course, Haruki Murakami was onto this trend years ago, which is why his work feels so relevant wherever you are—in NYC, Shanghai, Moscow or Tokyo. [more HERE]

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Monkey Business updates

We're gearing up for the arrival of the fiction writers, poets, editors and translators from Japan. All of the upcoming launch events for the Monkey are now posted on one page here.

Press on the events can be found here, here and here.

The Monkey just got its own Facebook page here--and you can order the issue at any hour of the day, wherever you happen to be, right here.

Hope to see you soon in NYC.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Interview with ‘Japanamerica’ author Roland Kelts on ‘Monkey Business’ - New York japanese culture |

Interview with ‘Japanamerica’ author Roland Kelts on ‘Monkey Business'
Taking its name from the immortal Chuck Berry tune, the debut English-language edition of Monkey Business: New Voices from Japan is based on the annual Tokyo-based Japanese literary magazine founded in 2008 by award-winning translator, scholar, editor and author Motoyuki Shibata, one of Japan’s best known and most highly regarded translators of American fiction. The first installment offers poetry, Kafka-adapted manga, a wide-ranging, in-depth interview with Haruki Murakami, and much more. And despite its mischievous title, twenty-five percent of all Monkey Business sales will go toward the Nippon Foundation/CANPAN Northeastern Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Fund.

Roland Kelts is the author of 2006’s Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the U.S. and a curator and editor for Monkey Business. A columnist for The Daily Yomiuri, commentator for National Public Radio, and teacher of Japanese popular culture at New York University and the University of Tokyo (he splits his time between both cities), Kelts is back in town this week for the new book’s launch, beginning April 30 at Asia Society, May 1 at BookCourt in Brooklyn, and May 3 at Japan Society. I caught up with Kelts during his recent appearance at Seattle’s Sakura-Con for this exclusive interview.

How did you get involved as an editor and curator for this book?

My dear friend, Motoyuki Shibata, Japan’s premier translator of American literature, talked to me two years ago about publishing an English-language version of Monkey Business, his literary magazine. As an editor at A Public Space, a literary magazine based in Brooklyn, I was keen to build another bridge between the two countries. I talked at length with Brigid Hughes, the founding editor of A Public Space, and she was interested. Then we received a grant from the Nippon Foundation, and the Japan Foundation, the Asia Society and the Japan Society all supported our project. I am deeply grateful to all parties involved.

What can readers expect from the book?

Continue reading on Interview with ‘Japanamerica’ author Roland Kelts on ‘Monkey Business’ - New York japanese culture |
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Interview with ‘Japanamerica’ author Roland Kelts on ‘Monkey Business’ - New York japanese culture |

Monkey takes Manhattan

The Monkey tanning in Manhattan ahead of weekend events.

Monkey in Brooklyn

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

See you in Seattle

Roland Kelts

Roland KeltsRoland Kelts is a half-Japanese American writer, editor and lecturer who divides his time between New York and Tokyo. He is the author of Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture has Invaded the US and the forthcoming novel, Access. He has presented on contemporary Japanese culture worldwide and has taught courses in Japanese popular culture at numerous universities in Japan and the US, including New York University and the University of Tokyo. His fiction and nonfiction appear in such publications as Zoetrope: All Story, Psychology Today, Playboy, The Wall Street Journal, Vogue Japan, Adbusters magazine, The Millions, The Japan Times, Animation Magazine, Bookforum, and The Village Voice. He is the Editor in Chief of the Anime Masterpieces screening and discussion program, the commentator for National Public Radio's series, Pacific Rim Diary, and the author of a weekly column for The Daily Yomiuri newspaper. His blog is:

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Distance and disaster

Hokusai's "Great Wave off Kanagawa," 1833
I was in Oregon when the quake and wave first struck Japan last month. More specifically, I was in a little comfort food eatery called Belly in downtown Eugene, sipping a martini. Roughly 24 hours earlier I had arrived from Tokyo via Portland.
I had given two talks, answered questions, and chatted with students and faculty from the university that day, mostly about my usual topics: Japan’s contemporary popular culture, its images, and its apocalyptic visual narratives.
I was speaking on the 66th anniversary of the US fire-bombings of Tokyo, March 10, 1945. My Japanese mother's father hustled her and the rest of their family north out of Tokyo to his family's ancestral home in Esashi, Iwate prefecture, the following day. If he hadn't, I might not be here.
Discussing destruction seemed apt. Japanese popular culture has long depicted disasters, I’d said, from Katsuhika Hokusai’s world-renowned “Great Wave off Kanagawa,” an ukiyo-e print depicting a tsunami, to Godzilla films in the 1950s and now-classic anime features like Akira, Evangelion and Grave of the Fireflies. Even Hayao Miyazaki’s last film, Ponyo, animated the destructive powers of a tsunami in a small seaside village.
The audience nodded, took notes, smiled appreciatively. As usual when I’m speaking to Americans in the US, the Japan I know and inhabit felt both curiously intimate and terribly far away.

Oregon coast, 2011
For over a decade, I have been traveling between two cities in two countries, both of which have come to feel like ‘homes’ to me, certainly more than any other towns or nations in the world. Family and friends are at both ends of that journey, and they are all dear to me. I have had some kind of residence in New York since 1991; since 2000, the same has been true of Tokyo. What started as a nervy, sometimes jarring or exhilarating experience—exchanging one country and culture for another, adapting on the fly to different cultural expectations and behaviors, refraining from bowing in NYC, restraining my wayward American gait in Tokyo—hasn’t exactly become commonplace, but neither does it feel quite as glamorous or disruptive as it once did.
But when I’m arriving in a city in which I don’t live, the disjunctions of jet lag are sharpened, and a sense of detachment is an almost willful gesture, a way of retreating into the shell of the self to observe the new world, its contours and shapes and signage.
I was in that state, that frame of suspended mental pauses between scenes, when I got the news about Japan. I immediately went online, clicking from site to site, sending emails pinging across the Pacific and around the US. The great tsunami wave sweeping and then oozing across farmland, sucking down houses and trees, ships and automobiles, was probably the apotheosis of apocalyptic imagery, at least as divined by the natural world.
After it became clear that my family and friends were okay—or not okay, not even well, but unharmed physically—I tried to get on with work and life in Oregon, and during subsequent trips to Los Angeles, New York, Baltimore and DC. Living and working in two countries with disparate time zones means that two clocks tick in your brain. At midnight in one, the color of the sky in the other at midday spools like film through your mind. You start to feel like you’re here and there simultaneously, working to meet a deadline as the afternoon sky dims in your here here, because you know that morning in your there there is fast approaching. And if you don’t finish on time, no matter where you are, you’ll be late.
But it’s a delusion, of course—silly wabbit, tricks are for kids, as the old American cereal commercial said. You’re never there when you’re here. The desire to bridge distances and differences via art and language, stories, music and cuisine, embodies the pathos of impossibility. And the technologies we have devised, the supersonic jets, the emails and web cams and Skype calls, are belittled in an instant by the stone physicality of the world. When something happens over there, something transformative and overwhelming, it didn’t happen to you here.
I am back on the road again, presenting on Japan’s popular culture in New York and soon in Seattle. This week, I’m in London. During my talks, Hokusai’s “Great Wave” flashes upon the projection screens above and behind me. It looks more menacing now, of course, and suddenly pertinent.
But at night in my hotel rooms, I sit in front of smaller screens, clicking through updates and real-time TV streams, absorbed in tracking time through information, feeling stuck and very local: thrust roughly by disaster back into my only home—organs, skin, blood and bones—rendered bereft by distance, and yearning so hard in times of heartache to bridge it.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

PEN American Center - Word from Asia: Contemporary Writing from Japan

Our debut launch event for MONKEY BUSINESS: New Voices from Japan, 4/30 in NYC. Please join us:

Word from Asia: Contemporary Writing from Japan

When: Saturday, April 30
Where: Asia Society, 725 Park Ave., New York City
What time: 2:30–4 p.m.

With Joshua Beckman, Rebecca Brown, Hiromi Kawakami, Minoru Ozawa, andMotoyuki Shibata

Free and open to the public. No reservations required.

Co-sponsored by Asia Society, The Japan Foundation, Dalkey Archive, and Granta

Come celebrate the work of some of the most innovative novelists, poets and translators from Japan, Korea and Pakistan. Hear about the challenges (and the pleasures) of writing and translating across national, cultural, and linguistic borders.

One of Japan’s most influential cultural critics and translators, Motoyuki Shibata, leads a discussion with four innovative and hybrid literary masters. They’ll talk about their most formative Japanese-American influences, ranging from science fiction to manga (comics and print cartoons) and renga (collaborative poetry) to help launch the debut issue of Monkey Business: New Voices from Japan, the first of what will be an annual English-language edition of the acclaimed Japanese literary magazine.

MORE INFO HERE: PEN American Center - Word from Asia: Contemporary Writing from Japan

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Monday, April 04, 2011

Thanks, DC

Going sakura-pink @ The Smithsonian in DC:
[photo by Brian Mah]

Special and humble thanks to the Smithsonian, Tom Vick, Otakorp, Maile Kihara and co., DC Anime Club, Christopher Wanamaker, Hamada-san, Seki-san, Nihei-san, the JP Embassy, Colette and Chuck, Renee, John Malott and the Japan-America Society of Washington, DC, and Brian. I had a nourishing and moving visit this year, and I remain grateful.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Book-signing changed to 3:30 p.m. tomorrow @Smithsonian

Book Signing with Roland Kelts

DateSaturday, April 2, 2011, 3:30 – 4:30 pm
CategoriesShopping/Book Signing
Co-sponsorCosponsored by Otakorp, Inc., and copresented with the DC Anime Club.
VenueSackler Gallery
Event LocationSackler Shop
CostFree; walk-in.

Anime marathon special guest Roland Kelts will sign copies of his book Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the US. Copies will be available for sale throughout the day.