Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Centenary College, New Jersey

I was asked to read a portion of my novel at Centenary College, in Hackettstown, New Jersey, and to deliver my lecture on Japanese fairy tales. I've given the lecture once already, at Adelphi University, and will do so again at the Hillside Club in Berkeley on November 30th.

It's a fun lecture--and particularly entertaining for college kids, many of whom know all about Hayao Miyazaki and manga and anime. When I show them this still, for example, they know that I am referring to "Spirited Away." When I talk about how evil characters in Japanese fairy tales often shift shape, and don't remain purely evil, they know exactly what I am talking about. And they are also curious about the origins of this kind of storytelling-and like learning how to put it all in context.

People pay pretty close attention too when I go through the first of the fairy tales-Urashima Taro, which involves, among other things, our hero looking inside a box he has been forbidden to open.

And that's a fun contrast to the story of Bluebeard, which also includes a forbidden chamber. And I'll just point out here for anyone lurking, that I do give much credit to Hayao Kawai, who worked hard to analyze the relationship between western and Japanese fairy tales.

I really enjoy giving this lecture. When I was a child, my mother worked hard to teach me Japanese in part by reading these stories to me, and then making me read them to her. It was a challenge at the time. And yet I realize now just how much they entered my brain--in the same way that western fairy tales did. And I'm quite sure my imagination and storytelling were, in turn, shaped by these experiences.

After the lecture, it was on to the readings, with writer James Hannaham, whose book "God Says No" was published earlier this year, reading first. I loved his excerpt, and loved meeting him too--and, not surprisingly, have since learned that we have friends in common.

And then, it was my turn.

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