Saturday, January 01, 2011

Beyond FINESSE: Suzanne Kamata: Cross-Cultural Spouse, Parent, Author/Editor/Publisher, and Advocate

Suzanne Kamata leads a much more diverse life than even your typical ex-pat: A Michigan native educated in South Carolina, she ventured to Japan to teach English to teenagers through a Japanese Ministry of Education exchange and teaching program. Within two years in Japan she met her husband, with whom she lives in rural Tokushima Prefecture on an island that sounds mythical with its coastlines, mountains, immense suspension bridge, and famous natural phenomenons, the Naruto whirlpools.

In addition to her perpetual dual status as a foreigner in a country she’s called home for more than 20 years and as the American half of a cross-cultural marriage, Suzanne is also a parent to twins who were born 14 weeks premature, one of whom is deaf and has cerebral palsy. Luckily for her readers, she fuels all these challenges into her award-winning writing. With short stories published in more than 100 journals and anthologies, Suzanne has had an amazing five stories nominated for Pushcart Prizes.

Suzanne’s first novel, Losing Kei, explores the limited–and painfully limiting–rights of an American woman who mistakenly assumed she would be granted custody of her young son after divorcing her Japanese husband. Originally a short story, Losing Kei benefitted from its author’s new role as a parent. “Motherhood gave me insights that I would not have otherwise had,” Suzanne said in an interview at AbsoluteWrite.com.

Most recently, Suzanne’s story “How Harumi Became a Punk Rocker” has been included in the Woman’s Work anthology (which has a gorgeous cover, btw) from GirlChild Press, while her story “X-patriate” has been published in the literary journal Monkey Bicycle.

Also fiction editor of the terrific e-zine Literary Mama and editor and publisher of the print literary magazine Yomimono (blog: Yomimono.wordpress.com), Suzanne has edited three anthologies. I have two of these books in my hot little hands and can’t wait to read and review them this month: Call Me Okaasan: Adventures in Multicultural Mothering and Love You to Pieces: Creative Writers on Raising a Child with Special Needs.

In an interview on the Maw Books blog, Suzanne says this about raising a multicultural child: “I’ve found that my son’s identity is constantly shifting. Sometimes he identifies as Japanese, sometimes as American, sometimes as mixed–which is fine. My identity shifts quite a bit, too.” Regarding her drive to create an anthology on raising a child with special needs after her daughter’s diagnosis:

“I…wanted confirmation that others had gone through the same emotions–anger, sorrow, grief–that I had, and somehow survived them…but I couldn’t find any literary collections on the subject. I decided to put the book that I needed together on my own, and as I got started, I discovered that there were others hungry for just this kind of book.”

The Japan Times has profiled Suzanne as an outspoken advocate for people with disabilities who intends to continue to use her writing “partly to give her daughter a voice”: “‘There is so much more to [my daughter] than a wheelchair or a hearing aid,’ she said. ‘So I want people to understand that about her. I like I’m giving her a voice…[that I’m] trying to make it OK to be disabled and to be public about it and not ashamed.’”

Here’s to starting the New Year by celebrating an inspiring individual who sees a need, commits to filling it, and follows through to the ultimate benefit of many. Akemashite omedetou, Suzanne! (I HOPE that means Happy New Year!)

Beautiful photo of Suzanne with her daughter, Lilia © The Japan Times

4 Comments:

Blogger Zibilee said...

Suzanne sounds like an amazing woman and a really enthralling author. I admit to having heard little about her before, but now I am very interested and want to check her writing out. Particularly Losing Kei. Thanks for shining this great spotlight on Suzanne!

9:02 AM  
Blogger Sustenance Scout said...

She really is remarkable, Zibilee! Just started reading one of her anthologies I mentioned. So many books, so little time!

10:55 AM  
OpenID gaijinmama said...

Thank you so much!! And yes, you got the New Year's greeting right. Akemashite Omedeto to you, too!

10:33 PM  
Blogger Sustenance Scout said...

Oh good, Suzanne! Gotta love on-line translators. :) I'm in the middle of LOVE YOU TO PIECES; amazing!

9:15 AM  

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