Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2007

Authors bring message to Valley writers


Two successful authors and Central Valley natives want Merced to realize that this area is fascinating enough to explore.

It's possible to develop a writing career here, and the Valley presents a cornucopia of unique subjects -- from farming and ethnic diversity to isolation and methamphetamine production, says Patricia Wakida, 37, a Fresno writer now based in Oakland.

She will join colleague Mas Masumoto of Del Rey, who mixes his interests in organic farming and writing, for a presentation open to the public at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Merced Mulitcultural Arts Center.

This free event is meant to be a conversation, not merely a one-sided lecture, said Masumoto, 53. Audience members should feel free to ask questions and contribute their own input.

Both writers have deep roots in the Valley and the Japanese-American community, which have profoundly influenced their work. Although they plan to speak about their heritage, a focus of the presentation is to let potential authors know that they can find creative options right here at home. "People have a really low value of where they live, and that comes at a great expense," Wakida said. "They say, 'There's nothing here.' But there are plenty of things I grew up with."

Her impression of the Valley's smells, faces, air and horizon inspired her writing. As a yonsei, or fourth- generation Japanese-American, she takes much from her family's heritage in Hiroshima and her grandparents' time in internment camps during World War II.

Most of her work is nonfiction. Some of her books include "Only What We Could Carry: The Japanese American Internment Experience" and "Highway 99: A Literary Journey Through California's Central Valley." She also worked as development director for the nonprofit publisher Heyday Books in the Bay Area.

It was important to bring in writers for this event who were both nationally known and locally rooted, said Jared Stanley, a lecturer for the UC Merced Writing Program, which invited Wakida and Masumoto to appear. Their talk is part of the university's reading series that started on campus last year.

"We decided to bring some readings to the larger community," Stanley said. "Get them thinking about how to bring a different perspective on writing to Merced."

Hopefully, people who are interested in the story of the Valley and its changes will attend, Masumoto said. He wants to share an insider's perspective on writing, which not only includes how a writer works, but why and how.

This third-generation Japanese-American, or sansei, was also influenced by his family's heritage. "I weave it all into my writing," he said. "It's like baggage a writer carries with them. It's like having a ghost -- sometimes a friendly one."

Food is also a large part of his work. Besides being a nonfiction creative writer, Masumoto also works as a peach and grape farmer. He combines both his interests by writing pieces about growing food, and mixes in the topics of family, unity and culture.

He is a columnist for the Fresno Bee, has written for USA Today and the Los Angeles Times and published such books as "Country Voices" and "The Oral History of a Japanese American Family Farm Community." His essay, "Epitaph for a Peach," won the 1995 Julia Child Cookbook Award in the Literary Food Writing category.

His newest book is titled "Heirlooms," which he will be signing on Thursday.

Wakida is currently working on a biography of San Francisco's City Lights Books co-owner Shigeyoshi Murao. Not only is she excited about sharing her work with Merced, but looks forward to collaborating on Thursday's presentation with Masumoto. "He and I have similarity," she said.

And she hopes anyone who attends their talk realizes their own similarities with respected Valley authors.

Reporter Dhyana Levey can be reached at 209-385-2472 or

If you go

WHAT: A conversation with Valley authors Mas Masumoto and Patricia Wakida

WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday

WHERE: Merced Multicultural Arts Center, 645 W. Main St., Merced

COST: Free

This presentation is open to everyone. For more information, contact the Arts Center at 209-388-1090.