Resurrecting the legacy of John Okada, the first Japanese-American novelist

Couresty of the Yoshito Okada family
Couresty of the Yoshito Okada family

In 1956, John Okada wrote the first Japanese-American novel, No-No Boy, a story about a Nisei draft-resister who returns home to Seattle after years in prison. It should have been a sensation: American literature had seen nothing like it before. But the book went out of print, Okada never published again, and the writer died in obscurity in 1971. That would have been the end of the story, were it not for a band of Asian-American writers in 1970s California who stumbled upon the landmark novel in a used bookshop. Frank Abe, one of the co-editors of a new book about Okada—and a friend to the “CARP boys” who discovered him—joins us to talk about the era in which No-No Boy was written and what the novel can teach us about our own moment in history. This episode originally aired in 2018.

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Stephanie Bastek is the senior editor of the Scholar and the producer/host of the Smarty Pants podcast.


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