Coaxing out stories from people of color

Shizue Seigel called upon writers and artists to reflect on the current realities of living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Under last year’s shelter-at-home orders and unprecedented social unrest, 130 Black, indigenous and other people of color contributors lent their voices to “Essential Truths: The Bay Area in Color,” which was released June 30. 

Originating as a writing workshop for people of color, Seigel has worked with writers for the past few years to compile the pieces featured in her four anthologies. The process of getting Japanese Americans to open up about their experiences, however, has been difficult, Seigel said. While many Nikkei showed up for Seigel’s first “Write Now!” workshops in 2015, most of them stopped contributing after the first anthology.

“Many of them said, ‘Well, I said I would do this, so I did it, so there.’ And that was that,” Seigel told the Nichi Bei Weekly. 

Seigel said she found many members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities were shy about getting published. Whether it was a result of trauma from the wartime concentration camps, or the unspoken rules for Japanese Americans to “not make waves,” Seigel said she often struggled to convince Japanese Americans to contribute their work. The pandemic and the rise of anti-Asian hate, however, has helped Asian Americans realize that the discrimination they have been facing is real. 

“They’re using the term ‘gaslighting’ a lot,” Seigel said. “Either other people telling them that it’s their imagination and they’re being paranoid, or them telling themselves that. It seems to be pretty common, because racism against Asian Americans can be pretty subtle.”

Since her first book, the “Write Now!” anthologies have grown in size and scope over the years. Seigel’s first anthology, “Standing Strong! Fillmore & Japantown” was released in 2016 featured 32 contributors from San Francisco’s African American and Japanese American communities. As the workshops continued, Seigel said many of the writers have contributed additional pieces over the years. 

Having edited the latest book with 130 contributors of a wide range of ethnic backgrounds filling 324 pages, Seigel said she will take a break from editing and will enlist the help of other editors in the future. Seigel said she selected the 130 authors in “Essential Truths” by reading submissions with a editorial committee of six other authors, but only she and one other committee member read all of the submissions.

“They had come in expecting to read maybe a third (of) the number of submissions,” she said.

While she is not working on the next anthology yet, Seigel said she has a couple of other projects forthcoming. One, she said will be a series of 10 mini publications about talking to strangers on the street. She also hopes to finish the first volume of her memoir, which will focus on the Issei pioneers that preceded her.

Seigel encouraged more Japanese Americans to write down and tell their stories, even if it is just to tell their children. 

She said she continues to hold her writing workshops, and invites others to join.

“It’s a loose, informal family,” she said. “Write Now! encourages everyone to bring their own experience, perspective and writing style to the table. There’s no one right way to write. Reading your work and getting positive feedback is the best way to improve your writing.”

For more information on “Write Now!” or to purchase a copy of “Essential Truths The Bay Area in Color,” visit https://www.WriteNowSF.com.

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