In this episode of The Archive Project, we feature a talk and conversation with Daniel James Brown from 2021. Brown is probably best known for his international bestseller The Boys in the Boat, first published in 2013. It tells a narrative history of nine working-class Americans who rowed their way to gold at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. It’s a story of young men who persevere against immense challenges and long odds.
Brown joined us for Portland Arts & Lectures to talk about his next book Facing the Mountain, which shares many of the same themes and preoccupations as The Boys in the Boat, but also delves into a more complex and darker chapter in America’s history. Facing the Mountain tells stories of four World War II American soldiers, men of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team of the U.S. Army, a segregated, all-Japanese unit. They are all nisei, second-generation Japanese Americans, and volunteered to serve in combat, even as the federal government incarcerated many of their families in concentration camps.
As a writer, Brown occupies an unusual professional position: He is the teller of personal historic narratives, though he is neither a formal historian nor a novelist. In addition to being one of our great storytellers, Brown is a great listener, and his work is almost always a collaboration. In the case of Facing The Mountain, Brown collaborated with Tom Ikeda from the nonprofit Densho to learn the stories of Japanese Americans from this time period and to connect with the families and communities of those individuals whose stories are centered in the book.
After Brown’s talk, Ikeda joins him in conversation. We’ll also hear the voices of the four men featured in the book from interviews preserved on the Densho website. Read more about Densho: https://densho.org/about-densho/
“I don’t really write ‘history,’ as I think of it, per se. I write personal stories that shed some light on a slice of history that I’m interested in, or that I think needs some light shed on it.”
Daniel James Brown is the author of Facing the Mountain: A True Story of Japanese American Heroes in World War II, The Indifferent Stars Above, Under a Flaming Sky, which was a finalist for the B&N Discover Great New Writers Award, and The Boys in the Boat, a New York Times bestselling book that was awarded the ALA’s Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction. He has taught writing at San José State University and Stanford University. He lives outside Seattle.
Tom Ikeda is the founding Executive Director of Densho. Tom is a sansei (third generation Japanese American) who was born and raised in Seattle. Tom’s parents and grandparents were incarcerated during World War II at Minidoka, Idaho. In addition to leading the organization over the last 24 years, Tom has conducted more than 250 video-recorded, oral history interviews with Japanese Americans. Prior to working at Densho, Tom was a General Manager at Microsoft Corporation in the Multimedia Publishing Group. Tom has received numerous awards for his community and historical contributions, including the Humanities Washington Award for outstanding achievement in the public humanities, the National JACL Japanese American of the Biennium Award, the Microsoft Alumni Integral Fellows Award, the Japanese American National Museum Founder’s Award, and the Robert Gray Medal from the Washington State Historical Society.
“In America, patriotism and national identity aren’t contingent on race, religion, or ethnicity. That really is the whole point of America, in fact.”