Rahna Reiko Rizzuto
Rahna Reiko Rizzuto’s three books include Shadow Child, a mystery/family/saga/historical novel set in Hawaii, New York and Japan; her memoir, Hiroshima in the Morning, which moves from the original “Ground Zero” to its echo, the 9/11 terrorist attacks; and her first novel, Why She Left Us, about the Japanese American incarceration camps. Awards and recognitions include an American Book Award, Grub Street National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Finalist, Asian American Literary Award Finalist, Dayton Literary Peace Prize Nominee, among others. She is also a recipient of the U.S./Japan Creative Artist Fellowship, funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. She was Associate Editor of The NuyorAsian Anthology: Asian American Writings About New York City. She has been interviewed widely on motherhood including on The Today Show, 20/20, and The View. Reiko’s articles on motherhood, Hiroshima, the Japanese incarceration camps and radiation poisoning have been published globally, including in the L.A. Times, Guardian UK, CNN Opinion, and Salon, and through the Progressive Media Project and The Huffington Post, and have been anthologized in Mothers Who Think, Because I Said So, and Topography of War, among others. She was a judge for the PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction in 2015. Reiko is a Hedgebrook alumna, and has taught master classes and at Vortext for Hedgebrook. She is “hapa” (mixed Japanese/Caucasian) and was raised in Hawaii.
BA in Astrophysics, Columbia University
Areas of Expertise
- Creative Nonfiction
- Young Adult
What inspires us to write? Beyond bad poetry scribbled beside the waterfall behind my house when I was a teenager, my writing began with a secret: My discovery (at the age of 30) that my Japanese-American mother and her family had been stripped of their citizenship and imprisoned in their own country during World War II. Our family never talked about it; I never learned about it in school; and that enormous gap in our national history was the beginning of my own exploration of war, race, and historical blindness, and our highly individual quests for peace – all of which now lie very much at the center of my writing and my life.
That was the stuff of my first novel, Why She Left Us. After it was published, I was awarded a U.S. Japan Creative Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and went to live in Hiroshima, Japan to seek out survivors of the atomic bombings for my next novel. I was living in Japan and was in the midst of conducting this research on September 11, 2001, when my own family was in New York trying to deal with the terrorist attacks. My second book Hiroshima in the Morning, is a memoir, threaded with the voices of the atomic bomb survivors I interviewed, about how those two “wars” collided from my perspective as a writer, an expatriate, and a mother. My third book, Shadow Child, tells the story that I went to Japan to research. It is a mystery, a family saga, and historical, literary fiction, told from the perspective of three strong women, bookended by two crimes. It took me almost two decades to get right.
As a teacher and advisor, I am interested in structure, memory, trauma, racism, secrets, and family. I do extensive research, historical and via interviews, and am interested in how to weave what is real into what is imagined (techniques and responsibilities). I came to prose from science (I majored in astrophysics in college) and taught myself to write. I believe in reading, and in learning to analyze what you read so that you will always be surrounded by teachers on your bookshelves who will answer any question for you. I also take a pragmatic approach: learning the rules and conventions so they can be broken with abandon, even turned upside down. I encourage my advisees to find the unique urgency and heart in their work, and then tease out the surprises and idiosyncrasies that belong to each alone. I am also very interested in writing from the margins, whether social, racial, gender-based, or “fill-in-the-convention.” I believe we all have a story – more than one – and a unique voice, and that our stories are important to the world: expanding our concepts of who we are in society and culture, and who we can be when we allow ourselves to explore the world outside of expectations and find our authentic selves. I look forward to working with students at all stages of their development and growth.