9.01.2019

She said she would publish the books herself.

It's been almost nine years and two kids since the release of Through Eyes Like Mine, my early childhood memoir. My decision to publish this book on my own came after the manuscript sat with an agent for about a year, then made its way through publishing houses where editors complimented the writing but found it too quiet, so I resolved to launch the book myself. I planned readings in Oregon with family and friends, and I was happy to place the book in the hands of receptive readers.

It's been over seven years since Overdue Apologies, my middle school memoir quietly made it's way into the world. Motherhood was right around the corner, and I knew my life was about to change making the work of finding a home for this manuscript even more challenging. I never properly launched the book or made time for readings, but it has also made it's way into readers' hands and found fans with middle school audiences.

Since then, stealing time for writing has become harder. Teaching and parenting make time management even more important. Early mornings are still key, and in November, the words come during National Novel Writing Month, and in April, for National Poetry Month, I've written a poem a day ever since Kima Jones spent her time as a PEN fellow visiting poet in my classroom. My writing partner, Hazel Kight Witham, and I have continued to meet weekly to focus our writing and teaching practices. We have also escaped to writing residencies at Wellstone Center in the Redwoods. These spaces mean that the final book in the Through Eyes Like Mine trilogy is finally ready for the world.

I've also spent time over the past few years building to emerging as a writer with Women Who Submit, an organization empowering women and non-binary writers to submit their work for publication. As part of this submitting work, Through Eyes Like Mine was chosen as a finalist for the inaugural 2040 book prize. Excerpts from Overdue Apologies appeared in Spector and Sky Island Journal. As my publishing credits grew, I decided to try find a traditional publisher for the high school memoir. Again, I queried agents, submitted to small presses, and excerpts from this work appeared in Compose, Lady Liberty Lit, and East Jasmine Review.

Senior portrait of the author.
Then, after the 2016 election, with conversations about the divide between rural and urban America intensifying, my high school memoir and all of the books in the Through Eyes Like Mine trilogy gained significance. Books like Hillbilly Elegy and White Trash became best sellers, but the perspective of a young girl of color coming of age in rural America was missing. This book is what's missing. The books in this trilogy are the missing books, and now the third book is ready.

In the next few weeks, I'll be re-releasing Through Eyes Like Mine and Overdue Apologies with updated covers and forewords by my sister, Laura Yukiko Nakada Flennaugh and my brother, Chet Nakada. Like with the first two books, I will launch playlists and excerpts and this go around signed, personally bound copies of the trilogy will be available as I Tried: Tales of an Emerging High School Feminist will FINALLY be here! Whoooo hooo!

6.04.2019

Culmination Address for the Class of 2019

Each year I write an original oratory hoping my students will take the form and write speeches of their own. Some years the process is a struggle, but when I sat down to write this speech, I knew exactly what I would remember about this year. I will miss this group of students so much. Remember, y'all, everyday is Newday. And to all of the students, teachers, and families who lived through the strike of 2019, congrats! We made it!

Stand Up

It was raining in Los Angeles. Not just a misting, like we often get in May Gray and June Gloom. No, it was pouring down rain, and it wasn’t just for a day. For a whole week, it was torrential. Roads washed out. Canyons cut loose with mud and debris. Shoes and clothes drenched in the time it takes to walk from the car to the house. This past January, it really rained in LA.

photo by Sophie Sanchez
Maybe you remember this rain. Or maybe you remember something else. Maybe you remember swollen crowds of red flooding into the streets, or driving past school after school where educators stood in red raincoats and beneath umbrellas, holding signs, chanting, and even dancing. Or maybe you just remember being home, or at school, where in addition to the rain, things were not as they usually are.

This year, we all went on strike. We prepared for the strike, went on strike, and recovered from the strike together. It wasn’t just the teachers union, it was all of us. In pouring down rain, for more than a week we all were on strike. We stood up for our schools and our city and the students and families in it.

In the days before the strike, many of you asked, “When are we going on strike?” And during the strike many of you stood in support by staying home, or passing out high-fives on the picket line, or by joining us and saying, “We support our teachers; we deserve better.”

When resolution came and victories for our schools were won, we all came back. We got back to work in our crowded classrooms. We worked because what else can you do while you wait to see smaller classes, nurses everyday, and libraries staffed with teacher librarians? You keep working.

But I’m not here to tell you work hard. You’ve finished your days at Emerson, so you know something about hard work. You already know that, as Ralph Waldo Emerson says, “Without work one finishes nothing.” And after the strike, you came back to class and read To Kill A Mockingbird. We discussed all the ways we can stand up in the world and do what we believe is right, even if it is unpopular. That is what I hope you will take with you to high school.

Emerson's line stays strong!
For a few rainy days in January, we had the chance to stand up for our schools, but opportunities like this don’t come around every day. The next time you can, will you stand up for what you believe?

Atticus Finch says, “Courage is when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”

The world will need you to stand up against prejudice and pollution, for refugees and respect, and in a millions ways we cannot even imagine. But I believe in you, Class of 2019, and I hope when the world asks who are you? What do you believe? You will have the courage to stand up and tell the world your truth.

4.28.2019

Two Poems on the Occasion of my 45th Birthday


Last night, as part of my birthday weekend celebration, I attended Get Lit's annual Classic Slam with writing friends and teaching colleagues. Get Lit is a wonderful program that believe in the power of words to change the world, and listening to these young people perform every year is convincing evidence that poetry is changing lives. Their format involves students claiming a classic poem and then writing and performing the classic and their response. It's a wonderful way to use amazing poets as mentors for young writers, and I use this format quite a bit. One of my favorite classics is Langston Hughes' "Theme for English B." Below is his poem and a recent response that captures life for me right now.


Theme for English B

The instructor said,

      Go home and write
      a page tonight.
      And let that page come out of you—
      Then, it will be true.

I wonder if it’s that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.   
I went to school there, then Durham, then here   
to this college on the hill above Harlem.   
I am the only colored student in my class.   
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem,   
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,   
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,   
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator   
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:

It’s not easy to know what is true for you or me   
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I’m what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you.
hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page.   
(I hear New York, too.) Me—who?

Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.   
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.   
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like
the same things other folks like who are other races.   
So will my page be colored that I write?   
Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white—
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
That’s American.
Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me.   
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that’s true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me—
although you’re older—and white—
and somewhat more free.

This is my page for English B.


Theme for English B
            after Langston Hughes
           
It is never simple.
I am 44, almost 45
having lived through the years of our 44th president
and now trapped in the reign of the 45th.
I live in a blue state on a blue coast
where we often feel we safe
but are under attack.
I pick up my kids and drive home.
Head down Slauson, take a right
just before Crenshaw.

It’s not easy to know
what I know of you
and you of me
on my new street
a few blocks from
Nipsey Hussle Square.

Well, I like to read, watch shows,
eat well, and drink well too.
I like to run and jump and play
and maybe you do, too,
but in different ways than I do.

I miss my mother
and love my children.

As I sit and write this page,
I’m not sure anymore
what is true
for you or for me.

This is my page for English B. 



1.13.2019

Celebrating Sue and John's Birthdays

Some love stories change the world; their story made mine. 
Today is my mom's birthday. We lost her four years ago, and some days it feels like she's still here. I can still have conversations with her, still imagine what she'd have to say to me about politics, movies, and current events.

She wasn't thrilled that I chose to be a teacher, but she grew to respect my work and the profession. That's what's hard about the conversations I have with Mom in my head. She would have evolved and changed over these last four years, so by now, on the night before her daughter goes on strike, she would support me unconditionally. She would tell me to go to bed, and to take care of the kids, and of David, but mostly, to take care of myself.

Tomorrow is my Dad's birthday. He's turning 88. In Japanese culture 88 is a beiju year, extra-special. 88 is rice age, and for my father, whose middle name, Hachiro, means eighth born son, I hope this year is particularly auspicious. I hope it means fading clarity comes into focus and confusion cuts to sharpness. But until that clarity and sharpness returns, I've started imagining conversations I would have with the Dad of ten years ago about what's happening right now.

Back when their words came through more clearly...
If my Dad's memories were still clear and his wit was still sharp, he would remind me that standing up and speaking out for what is right holds the upmost importance. He would tell me about his time in Japanese internment camp and wonder why people didn't stand up, didn't do something to help. He'd say we have to do something about the terrible things that are happening right now.

I will be walking the line tomorrow with these words from my parents on my mind. I will check in with myself more than usual. Instead of thinking shikataganai, or it can't be helped as many said about the Japanese incarceration, I will be standing up and speaking out about my large classes, and the lack of a full-time nurse, and that our library is closed and outdated because we haven't had a teacher librarian in a decade. I will insist that the hedge-fund manager who is unfathomably at the helm in our district resign, and that we find someone who can truly lead our district and serve our schools, our communities, our students.

For my mom, I will take breaks and make sure my daughter has snacks and dry clothes, and I will make sure I take care of myself too.

For my dad, I will stand up and speak up for what is right.

These two days mark the beginning of the lives of two people who made me, and living my life in the their wisdom is how I honor them.

1.06.2019

On the Eve of Spring Term...


The last night of a vacation is always tough. No more travel or sleeping in. No opportunities for exercise each morning, or going out for brunch, or spending time with family and friends. 

Tomorrow, for the first time this year, we will head back to school. My son will head off to daycare, my daughter will join her first grade classmates, my partner will head off to the high school he serves, and I will go to my middle school. We will greet students, teachers, and support staff. We will catch up on vacation news, and then we will talk about this strike.
 
Team Nakada-Gantt is #Red4Ed
It’s coming, because our district wants it. They want to break the union and public schools as we know them. They want to pretend our demands are unreasonable and that the district can’t afford them, but billions in surplus tell us differently. They want the public to turn on teachers; to see us as selfish, but the outpouring of support from parents and families has galvanized our ranks.

We don’t want to strike, but we know we are standing up for what is right. It is the right thing to do for education professionals, for families, and for communities.

We are doing this for our students, the ones I am excited to see tomorrow morning, and in each class period throughout the school day. On break, it’s easy to forget all I learn from my students, all I gain from getting to share the classroom space with them, and tomorrow they will help me remember. It will be so good to see them. They will remind me how good it feels to get started reading, writing, speaking, and listening with them. They will remind me that a quote, a question, and a song can crack our lives open and make us remember the things that are most important. They will remind me of my favorite Anne Frank quote, “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

This strike will be hard for so many. It will be hard for teachers who are rewarded daily by the work we do at our schools. It will be hard financially for families risking so much. It will be hard for parents wanting to make the right decisions for their children. It will be hard for students who want to learn and see teachers outside, fighting for just learning conditions. And I’m sure there are thousands of other ways this will be a challenge that I haven’t thought of yet.

So, I hope the district sees these hardships, sees the communities they are supposed to serve, sees the students who breathe life into our schools, and that they make an offer to help provide the schools our students deserve. They could do this tomorrow, or the next day, or the next. But until that offer comes, you will find me on the line.

12.31.2018

My Poor Deserted Blog...

How can I do a blog round up this year when I barely posted here?

Well, I posted once in June. Thank you for reading my culmination address to the class of 2018. It was my most read post of the year and the only post to make my most-read all-time list.

Then, I posted to the blog three times in the last two days. I had to get my favorite books and publishing summary for 2018 out there. Then, I had to tie together two ideas that have been on my mind for the past few months: Lynell George's Image/After: Los Angeles Outside the Frame and the upcoming UTLA strike.

If you kept up with this barrage of posts, thanks so much.

I had a few other blogs in drafts. I was going to write about teachers and gun-violence and the ridiculousness of arming teachers, but I didn't. I was going to write about my niece's journey to play division one basketball, but she got hurt, so I didn't pursue that either.

Laters, 2018, from Team Nakada-Gantt (and Jane). 
I did start editing the Breathe and Push column for Women Who Submit, an organization which supports women and nonbinary writers submit their work into the world. A few post that might have gone up here went there, so if you'd like to read any of those, you can find them on the Women Who Submit website.

2018 was a full year. I wrote about running my first marathon on Throwing Cookies and was able to get up to the Wellstone Center for Writers three times. My time and the space there has helped me bring three manuscripts to completion.

I will be looking for representation this year for Rice Paper Superheroes, a young adult novel that follows the Nakamura family from the Sawtelle Nihonmachi to Manzanar and back again.

Dispatches from a High School Feminist: Rising Up from Rural Oregon, is the high school memoir that will complete the Through Eyes Like Mine trilogy. I hope to release that this summer.


And finally, Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop: One Family's Experience with Mental Illness has moved from poetry to prose and I will be looking for a publisher for that as well.

After a move in August from our Mar Vista condo to a Home in View Park Heights, we are settling in and loving our new space and neighborhood. What is on the minds in this two-teacher household most most is the upcoming UTLA strike. If you have followed this blog you know my commitment to public education. This work stoppage could turn the tide for our schools, not just here in LA, but in our nation. Let's hope our city demands that our district do the right thing and fund the schools our students deserve.

With that, 2018 moves today from the front window and into the rear-view mirror. Happy New Year, y'all.

12.30.2018

Reading LA: After/Image by Lynell George and the Upcoming Teacher Strike


I have had Lynell George's book After/Image: Los Angeles Outside the Frame, sitting on my coffee table since I read it this summer and we moved to our new house in South LA.

It's a perfect coffee table book. It's pages contain gorgeous images of our city, but the essays also draw you in, make you ignore dinner party guests around you and demand that you enter their world. Then, upon looking up, these words help start a conversation about gentrification or displacement or neighborhood politics.

That is what this book did for me as I packed up our condo of 12 years and made a move from one LA neighborhood to another. 


George’s writing illuminates Los Angeles in many of the complex ways I have come to love and hate this city. It is about the beauty you have to look inside cracks and through buildings to see. It is about the change in this city that comes from power and money and in the name of development and not from the people, the community, the history of this place. 

Last year Colson Whitehead’s quote, “Be kind to everyone, make art, and fight the power” helped me through the year. This year the quote ringing in my ears is from Lynell George:

“How do you protect not just a neighborhood’s unique character, but the people and their imprint, their story, and their struggle. [...] How do you want to contribute to the story of the city? How do you want to influence and shape history?”

As much as moving and this book got me thinking about the history of our city, I couldn't help think about how much of LA's history is tied up in our schools. Los Angeles public schools are some of the only structures that have managed to hold their ground, to refuse to be uprooted and demand the city evolve around them. I teach with teachers who attended my school. I teach kids whose parents went there. And my school, which opened in 1939, isn't even close to one of the oldest public schools in our city. 

But as the teachers of LA ready for a strike, as our public schools endure yet another attack from privatizers, these historical spaces are at risk. Holding onto our communities is about our homes and our streets and our schools. The work educators and public education advocates are doing to save schools that have struggled to serve our neediest students shows their willingness to shape and influence LA's story. 

As we head into the new year, I urge my Angeleno neighbors to read After/Image. Ask yourself some of its hard questions, and then stand with our schools, our city and all of its people this winter. 

The story of our schools and our city waits to be told. What will we say? 

Publishing Round-Up for 2018

I have been committed to building emerging over the past couple of years. With the help of Women Who Submit, I'm still submitting (although not as often as I did last year). Here is a summary of the work that found homes this past year.


"Why I Read Books by Women of Color"
I subscribe to My Lit Box, a wonderful company that curates beautiful book boxes with titles by women of color and other literary goodies. They also have a blog and published this essay, "Why I Read Books By Women of Color."

I also took on the role of column editor for Women Who Submit's "Breathe and Push" column which explores tough times and how artists can continue to create. The following essays appeared there:


"Learning to Breath and Push Through the Darkness" is an introduction to the column and explores civil rights advocate Valarie Kaur's of breathing and pushing.  


"Finding Light in Stephon Clark's Name" looks at current activist movements to help find light during dark times. 


"When Survivors Speak. Who Will Listen?" recalls my classroom's visit with Holocaust survivors and connects to the current global refugee crisis. 


"Moving In LA: Before and After" is all think or write about as my family moved from Mar Vista to Park View Heights this past summer.  


"Why LAUSD Teachers Might Strike" speaks to what writers and teachers all over LA are grappling with as the nations second largest school district braces for a teacher strike. This essay will also be reprinted in United Teacher, the UTLA monthly publication. 


Long ago, when LAUSD was laying off teachers en masse and imposing austerity measures our public schools continue to work within, I participated in civil disobedience in protest of these district decisions. This essay, "Education in Resistance" is about that day and it appeared this past winter in Entropy


I tried to find a home for this flash essay about the summer of my brother's hospitalization for a couple of years and it finally found a home with Thread"Swing" is excerpted from Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop, a memoir about my family's struggles with mental illness.  

This essay, "Late Night Phone Calls", also from Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop, was published in the Santa Fe Writers Project's summer issue. 


The rest of this year was about poems. "Sacrifice" appeared in The Rising Phoenix Review's Disarm issue which focused on poems addressing gun violence. 



"Not Your Job"
"Gaps"  and "Marbles" were also published at The Rising Phoenix Review. These poems are part of a chapbook I worked on this past April about my father's life including his experience being incarcerated during World War II. Both of these poems touch on that experience. 

Queen Mob's Tea House published "Caged" a poem about children seeking asylum being held in inhumane conditions. 


Finally, Mutha Magazine published this little poem about my little girl. "Not Your Job" after Caitlyn Siehl


Thanks to all of you for reading along this year and to the wonderful editors I had the chance to work with. Here's to another year of emerging!