Universities plan to build android of Japanese literary great Soseki Natsume

RocketNews 24:

Soseki Natsume: writer, a man long dead. We can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better than he was: better, stronger, faster…

With 2016 marking the 100th anniversary of his death and next year celebrating his 150th birthday, this is perhaps an appropriate time to honor one of Japan’s greatest writers, Soseki Natsume. And what better way to pay tribute to the author of classics such as Kokoro and I Am a Cat than by making a robot of him?

That’s exactly what the Nishogakusha University Graduate School is planning. In 1881, a young Natsume was enrolled there and heavily influenced by their teachings of Chinese poetry and Confucianism. And to celebrate the institution’s 140th anniversary they are hoping for his return, only this time as “Soseki Android.”

First, a team of students at Nishogakusha will conduct in-depth research into Natsume’s life, revisiting not only his extensive written works and life story but also gathering information about his physical appearance and size for an accurate android. To help out, major newspaper Asahi Shimbun has agreed to allow them access to their large collection of photos and works of their former employee Soseki Natsume.

▼ Old-timers in Japan may remember Natsume as the guy on the 1,000 yen bill 

Once the necessary information has been gathered, a team at the Osaka University Graduate School of Engineering Science will take on the challenge of building Soseki Android with the assistance of robotics company A-Lab, who made headlines with their Asuna android last year.

The sound of Soseki Android will be extracted from samples of his grandson Fusanosuke Natsume’s voice.

When the robot is complete, they hope to program him to give lectures at universities, high schools, and junior high schools. Understandably, a robotic Soseki Natsume might be a little too intense for elementary school kids.

The aim is to breathe life into his works by allowing the students to witness Soseki Natsume reading and discussing them first-hand. It is hoped this will inspire them to read and write more, improving their language skills.

“Death Note” TV drama set to air this summer!

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RocketNews 24:

There has been a successful anime, a trio of movies, various games and even a musical, but one form of media the Death Note series has been noticeably missing is a TV drama.

But just like an entry into the infamous Death Note itself, a one-line news report revealed that a live-action drama was finally in the works. And we’ll be seeing it a lot sooner than you think!

It’s been nine years since writer Tsugumi Ohba and artist Takeshi Obata finished their thrilling story of Light Yagami and L that answered the question, “What would you do if you could decide who died and when?

For Light, the easily bored high school genius, he wanted to use the Death Note to cleanse the world of all evil, or what he judged as evil. His nemesis/counterpart, the eccentric, candy loving detective L, strongly opposed the killings, and tried to do whatever he could to stop “Kira”, Light’s alias.

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With a continually strong fan base around the globe, it’s a bit of a surprise that a major announcement appeared between panels of a comic and with it, the only information that’s been released so far: a July start-date for the series.

What can we expect from the TV drama, though? The anime followed the manga storyline quite closely, while the live-action movies had a delightfully unexpected twist that kept true to the original manga but also kept it fresh for those familiar with the series. The musical is set to premiere on April 29 so it’s not yet known how the duel between Light and L will play out. Since it has been nine years since the completion of the manga, there has been plenty of time for writers to come up with variations on the plot to keep fans on the edge of their seats.

Casting news has also been suspiciously absent. Who will we see starting in the titular roles? The actors from the live-action movies haven’t played those parts for almost nine years, so it’s likely that they will cast new actors. Whoever they bring in though, will have a tough time trying to surpass Kenichi Matsuyama’s performance as L.

More information will certainly be released in the coming months…

Columbia University student Karen Bao debuts science fiction novel

AsAm News: 

Columbia University student Karen Bao’s science fiction novel Dove Arising was published by Penguin Random House in February 2015.
Bao’s story concerns a 15-year-old named Phaet Theta who joins a paramilitary force to save her family.  The story takes place 200 years in the future on the moon. As Bao continues to pursue her career as an author, she finds balancing her undergraduate studies at Columbia University a welcomed challenge.
Bao is part of a growing trend of Asian American women authors and writers such as Celeste Ng, who is the author of Everything I Never Told You. Ng has begun to compile a list of just some of the other Asian American women authors.
We definitely have a lot of stories as an Asian American community, and I think some of us definitely have to speak up and get our work published,” Bao said.
 
To read more about how Bao’s parents supported her writing efforts, click here

‘The Lotus and the Storm’ by Lan Cao

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Audrey Magazine:

From the author of the critically acclaimed debut novel Monkey Bridge comes The Lotus and the Storm, another look at the Vietnam War and its aftermath, this time from the alternating perspectives of Mai, a law librarian in the D.C. area, and her father Minh, a former commander in the South Vietnamese army.

The book opens with a carefree, tranquil picture of 5-year-old Mai’s world — her elegant mother, affectionate father and adored older sister — all embraced within the walls of the family’s lush French colonial style villa in Cholon, Saigon’s sister city, in 1963. To Mai, war seems far away, despite her father’s “satiny eggplant color” and “boots, muddied and nicked” after months away. It is when we are jarred into the more recent present of Minh that we realize those halcyon days will indeed have been shattered by unspeakable loss and tragedy.

With many parallels to author Lan Cao’s own personal story, as well as that of her father — relatives on opposite sides of a civil war, the death of a sibling, political intrigue and near-death escapes, the long-term devastating effects of war — The Lotus and the Storm is an important piece of the Vietnam War story.

 

Details Hardcover, $27.95, penguin.com.

 

“The Steady Running of the Hour” by Japanese American novelist Justin Go

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 Audrey Magazine: 

In 2008, 27-year-old Justin Go, who is hapa Japanese American, quit his job at a New York law firm to move to Berlin and chase his dream of becoming a novelist. Similarly, young Tristan Campbell, the protagonist in Go’s debut novel, also leaves his American life for an epic adventure in Europe. However, Tristan does not leave his familiar life in San Francisco to seek creative inspiration. He embarks on his adventure to claim a fortune.

The Steady Running of the Hour intertwines two tales: A love story and an epic quest. In one story, present-day Tristan only has weeks to prove that he is the descendant of Imogen Soames-Anderson. If he is successful, he will inherit a fortune. Meanwhile, the other story takes place nearly 90 years earlier in 1924. This revolves around the relationship between Imogen and Ashley Walsingham — the very relationship Tristan is desperately trying to prove.

As readers, we certainly get caught up in Tristan’s race against time, but it’s even easier to become invested in the tragic love story of Imogen and Ashley. The relationship is immediate and intense, but also controversial and shrouded in mystery. As Tristan unravels the story behind his could-be ancestors, he gains much more than he expected.

Details Hardcover, $26, simonandschuster.com.

This story was originally published in Audrey Magazine’s Winter 2014-15 issue. Get your copy here

 

Best-selling author Haruki Murakami’s advice on how to be a great writer: Be born with talent

RocketNews 24:

Among contemporary writers, there’s no Japanese author with a bigger international following than Haruki Murakami. The novelist and translator is also highly respected within his home country, as Japan holds an especially deep respect for any of its citizens who succeed in making a name for themselves on the international stage.

As such, we imagine one young graduate student was hoping for some sage advice when she contacted Murakami and asked him for pointers on how to become a better writer. The response she got was as surprising, unique, and challenging as Murakami’s books themselves.

Despite the exalted status he enjoys both in his industry and Japanese society as a whole, Murakami is open to engaging with his audience and admirers. The award-winning writer regularly takes questions from visitors and personally answers them on his personal website.

▼ In a section where Murakami is represented by a juice-swilling cat

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Recently, a 23-year-old woman with the family name Sakurai wrote in with a special request.

“Hello, Mr. Murakami. I’ve always enjoyed reading your books. Currently I’m a graduate student, so I’ve got to deal with reports, presentation planning, and emails and letters to professors, and anyway I have to write a lot of compositions. But the fact is, I’m really not good at writing composition. But be that as it may, if I can’t write I can’t graduate and I’m in a tough position, so since it can’t be helped I do my writing while struggling and groaning. Is there nothing I can do to make writing easier? If you have any advice, like what you’d find in a composition primer, I would be most grateful for it.”

Considering that getting into graduate school in the first place is no mean feat, we’re going to give Ms. Sakurai the benefit of the doubt and assume she has a decent head on her shoulders, problems with the pen notwithstanding. Also, having shown the wherewithal to recognize her own academic shortcomings, plus the initiative in reaching out to someone who appears to be a more-than-qualified mentor, we’d also say she’s got the commitment and work ethic necessary to overcome her difficulties.

So how did the famous author respond?

“The act of writing is the same as sweet-talking a woman, in that you can get better, to an extent, with practice. Fundamentally, though, your abilities are determined by the talents you’ve been born with. Well, anyway, do your best.”

You could argue that the troubled graduate student should have seen this coming. Despite now having decades as a successful writer under his belt, Murakami doesn’t come from a particularly literary background. After studying theater in college, he ran a cafe and then a jazz club before suddenly getting it in his head that he could write a book. That idea became his debut work, Hear the Wind Sing, which met with immediate success upon being published when Murakami was already 30.

Hmm…you know, as we reread the author’s response, we’re not entirely sure whether or not the 66-year-old Murakami is subtly implying that he could charm the pants off the 23-year-old Sakurai, if he so chose. What we are certain of, though, is that his “advice” isn’t really any help at all.

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Who says Asian American women aren’t writing fiction? “We are everywhere if you only look!”

"There aren't a lot of you out there": What? Let's fix our female Asian-American writer blind spot now
Celeste Ng (center), surrounded by (clockwise, from top left):
Lan Samantha Chang, Nina McConigley, Hanya Yanagihara, Ru Freeman

Salon:

This summer, I traveled around the U.S. to promote my debut novel, “Everything I Never Told You.”  At one university where I’d been invited to speak, I asked the professor hosting me how he’d found me.  He admitted he’d needed an Asian American woman fiction writer to balance his speaker lineup. “There aren’t a lot of you out there,” he said, with evident embarrassment.

Many universities and events deliberately try to select diverse speakers, and I think it’s a fine way to expose audiences to writers of different backgrounds. But I was startled to hear there weren’t many Asian American women fiction writers.  Off the top of my head, I could think of several dozen.

Still, I’d heard similar statements throughout my book tour, in multiple cities: sometimes in delighted surprise at having found me, sometimes in disappointment at finding only me. I heard it enough to realize that even many serious readers — the kind of people who come to author readings on gorgeous summer evenings — just can’t name any Asian American women writers beyond the phenomenally well-known Amy Tan.

This blind spot is all the more surprising because 2014 has been full of attempts to highlight issues of diversity in literature, and to move the literary default away from, well, white men.

Early on, 2014 was designated the “Year of Reading Women.” Partly inspired by the annual VIDA count — which for four straight years has shown a huge gender disparity in major literary publications — the #ReadWomen2014 movement encouraged readers to do just that.

In May, Book Expo America was widely criticized when the initial lineup for BookCon, its public event, contained virtually no women and virtually no people of color.  The#WeNeedDiverseBooks Campaign arose in response, to promote greater diversity in children’s and YA literature. (Full disclosure: I took part in a BookCon panel myself, in the awkward position of a woman of color who had actually been invited months before the controversy.)