111 5th Avenue
Thursday, June 19 ~ 7 pm
This week, My Edmonds News had the privilege of interviewing Alex Tizon, 1997 Pulitzer Prize winner and author of “Little Big Man: In Search of My Asian Self.”
Edmonds Bookshop will host a reading and book signing by Tizon this Thursday, June 19 at 7 pm.
Tizon immigrated to the United States from the Philippines, with his parents, in 1964. The second of nine children, he faced adversity and, over time, a “realization of cultural mythologies related to race and gender, in particular the Western stereotypes of Asian men and women.” This realization, and its many implications, is expanded upon in his book, “Little Big Man: In Search of My Asian Self.”
Tizon’s book is receiving a warm welcome in literary circles and from Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly, respectively – these reviews:
“A deft, illuminating memoir and cultural history.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Alex Tizon offers a well-paced, engaging combo of history, memoir, and social analysis…producing a narrative that moves fluidly between subjects, settings, and gazes.” —Publisher’s Weekly
We invite you to “listen in” as Alex Tizon expounds on his writing process, self-truths, the impact of racial stereotyping and more, with My Edmonds News:
AT: I learned that I write best early in the morning and late at night. I learned that I can get pretty cranky when interrupted. I learned that I can go for a couple of days without eating if I’m on a roll, and I don’t want to stop typing. And, without getting too mystical, I learned that the self might just be the hardest thing to fathom. That there are so many ways to interpret an experience, a life. What Jorge Luis Borges said is spot on about each one of us being a museum of shifting shapes, a pile of broken mirrors. That’s me. You, too.
MEN: Bruce Lee, Pat Morita, John Lone, Jessica Tarahata Hagedorn all certainly made their mark on American culture. Were you aware of these role models growing up?
AT: As a boy, I was inspired by Bruce Lee because he was the first strong Asian male character I’d ever seen on the big screen. Pat Morita I remember from “Happy Days” (comic relief) and “The Karate Kid” movies (martial artist). I wasn’t too familiar with John Lone. Jessica Hagedorn didn’t enter the national consciousness until 1990 with her book, “Dogeaters.” I was well into adulthood by the time “Dogeaters” came out. As a boy, I was seeking models of manhood that I could conceivably emulate, and martial arts characters like Bruce Lee and the like could only take my imagination so far. The Asian as a martial artist has become a pretty tired stereotype, and, in the big picture, it’s really quite one-dimensional.
MEN: Have more Asian-American role models emerged for today’s Asian-American youth than were high-profile, say, to you when you immigrated to the United States?
AT: Yes, many, many more. And in all kinds of arenas. Young Asian Americans today are growing up in a completely different America. You don’t have to look very far, because very often there are exemplars at work, in your neighborhood, at City Hall, or at the local sports stadium. They’re everywhere, particularly on the West Coast. But, as far as high profile, yes, there are many more in the public spotlight. There have been three Asian Americans in President Obama’s cabinet: Gary Locke, Steven Chu and Eric Shinseki. In sports, there’s golfer Tiger Woods (half Thai) and fighter BJ Penn (half Korean) and Miami Heat coach Eric Spoelstra (half Filipino), and, if you include Asians who’ve had impact in America, there’s Manny Pacquiao of the Philippines and Ichiro Suzuki of Japan. In entertainment, there’s Duane Johnson (half Samoan) and Keanu Reeves (part Chinese and Hawaiian), and lots more.
MEN: It strikes me that you describe a particular set of “truth” realizations about the American culture after you and your family immigrated to the United States. Do you think that all immigrants face the same realizations about their heritage versus their “American Dream”?
AT: If you’re asking whether all immigrants go through a process of leaving behind their heritage in order to enter in more deeply into their new culture, I’d say “In varying degrees, yes.” But I’d venture to say that immigrants from former colonies and conquered places probably go through a more severe abandonment of their heritage. It’s more severe because their impetus for change is that of love of the conquered for their conquerors. They’ve been defeated in every way, including within their own psyches, to the extent that extinguishing themselves becomes necessary to become like their conquerors.
MEN: Is there someone you can point to – as a colleague writer, or cocktail party friend, who “helped you along the way” on the journey toward getting published by Houghton Mifflin? A treasured mentor, or coach, you could take “goofy” questions to?
AT: Most of my “teachers” are dead writers: Tolstoy, Rilke, C.S. Lewis. But I’ve found help and inspiration from a lot of living people, too, and I name some of them in the book.
A good friend and colleague, Terry McDermott — we worked together first at The Seattle Times, then the Los Angeles Times — has been instrumental in getting this book published. Terry, an extremely talented journalist and writer, introduced me to the literary agent Paul Bresnick. Terry and a number of other writers — some established, some not — helped me to find my own writing voice and to cultivate my storytelling chops.
It’s what I tell students who ask me about publishing a book. I try to tell them to focus on learning how to tell stories and on telling them in the most compelling way. Worry about publishing later, when you’ve got something worth publishing!
— By Emily Hill