Smarty Pants Podcast

No-No Novel

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

By Stephanie Bastek | July 20, 2018
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.

Go beyond the episode:


An incomplete list of the best literature about the hyphenated American experience:

  • Americanah by Chimamamda Ngozi Adichie
  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
  • The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
  • Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat
  • Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
  • The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
  • The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston
  • The Comfort Women by Nora Okja Keller
  • Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid
  • Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • Native Speaker by Chang-Rae Lee
  • The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
  • The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
  • Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien (close enough!)

Tune in every week to catch interviews with the liveliest voices from literature, the arts, sciences, history, and public affairs; reports on cutting-edge works in progress; long-form narratives; and compelling excerpts from new books. Hosted by Stephanie Bastek.

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Download the audio here (right click to “save link as …”)

Have suggestions for projects you’d like us to catch up on, or writers you want to hear from? Send us a note: podcast [at] theamericanscholar [dot] org. And rate us on iTunes!

Our theme music was composed by Nathan Prillaman.

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