Naomi Hirahara Biography
Naomi Hirahara is an American writer and journalist. She edited the largest Japanese-American daily newspaper, The Rafu Shimpo for several years. She is currently a writer of both fiction and non-fiction works and the Edgar Award-winning Mas Arai mystery series.
Naomi Hirahara was born in 1962 in Pasadena, California to Japanese parents, both of whom were survivors of the Hiroshima bombing. She began writing when she was in elementary school in Altadena, California.
She received her bachelor’s degree from Stanford University in international relations with a focus on Africa and spent a summer during her studies volunteering with the YWCA in Ghana, West Africa. After her 1983 graduation, she furthered her education at the Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies in Tokyo.
After a brief job as an editorial assistant, Hirahara began working at the Rafu Shimpo newspaper in 1984 as a writer about the city of Los Angeles. Three years later, she began working at a boutique public relations firm to allow more time for creative writing and taking classes at the UCLA extension.
After three years, she was asked to come back as an editor at the Rafu Shimpo and began writing nonfiction books in the 1990s.In 1996, Hirahara quit her job, took a fellowship for creative writing with the Milton Center at Newman University in Wichita, Kansas and committed to working full-time as a creative writer.
In 2001, she published a non-fiction work, Green Makers: Japanese American Gardeners in Southern California and later that year published An American Son: The Story of George Aratani, Founder of Mikasa and Kenwood. In 2002, Distinguished Asian American Business Leaders was released.
She sold her first fiction book, Summer of the Big Bachi in 2003, which received positive reviews in the Chicago Tribune, and later that same year was named by them as one of the “10 best mysteries and thrillers of 2004”. It was also selected by Publishers Weekly as a “Best Books of 2004”.
The book turned out to be the first of a series about a Japanese-American gardener, Mas Arai, a survivor of the atomic bomb, but the character was American-born. Though he has a degree, prejudice keeps him from other work, and he becomes a gardener, mirroring Hirahara’s father’s experience.
Mas Arai became the featured character in Gasa Gasa Girl, Snakeskin Shamisen, Blood Hina and Strawberry Yellow.
In 2007, the third book in her series, Snakeskin Shamishen won the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America. The following year, the series began being released in Japan.
In 2014, Hirahara began a new series, though Mas Arai’s story has at least two more chapters. The new series features a young bicycle policewoman, Ellie Rush, who is the central character in Hirahara’s seventh novel, Murder on Bamboo Lane.
While the Arai series focuses on California centered around the World War II generation, the Rush series is contemporary and expands on Hirahara’s desire to speak from a woman’s point of view.
Her first book in which the main character was a woman was a juvenile fiction work, 1001 Cranes, published in 2008. Her most recent book in the Ellie Rush series, Grave on Grand Avenue (2015) has received positive reviews and has been featured as a “Best Book” by Publishers Weekly.
Naomi Hirahara Age
Naomi Hirahara is an American writer and journalist. She was born on May 12, 1962, in Pasadena, CA.
Naomi Hirahara Background, Early Life, Husband, and Parents
Naomi Hirahara was born in Pasadena, California. Her father, Isamu (known as “Sam”), was also born in California but was taken to Hiroshima, Japan, as an infant. He was only miles away from the epicenter of the atomic-bombing in 1945, yet survived. Naomi’s mother, Mayumi, or “May,” was born in Hiroshima and lost her father in the blast.
Shortly after the end of World War II, Sam returned to California and eventually established himself in the gardening and landscaping trade in the Los Angeles area. After Sam married May in Hiroshima in 1960, the couple made their new home in Altadena and then South Pasadena, where Naomi and her younger brother Jimmy grew up and attended secondary school.
Naomi received her bachelor’s degree in international relations from Stanford University and studied at the Inter-University Center for Advanced Japanese Language Studies in Tokyo. She also spent three months as a volunteer work camper in Ghana, West Africa.
She was a reporter and editor of The Rafu Shimpo during the culmination of the redress and reparations movement for Japanese Americans who were forcibly removed from their homes during World War II. During her tenure as editor, the newspaper published a highly-acclaimed inter-ethnic relations series after the L.A. riots.
Naomi left the newspaper in 1996 to serve as a Milton Center Fellow in creative writing at Newman University in Wichita, Kansas.
After returning to Southern California in 1997, she began to edit, publish, and write books. She edited Green Makers: Japanese American Gardeners in Southern California (2000), published by the Southern California Gardeners’ Federation and partially funded by the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program.
She then authored two biographies for the Japanese American National Museum, An American Son: The Story of George Aratani, Founder of Mikasa and Kenwood (2000) and A Taste for Strawberries: The Independent Journey of Nisei Farmer Manabi Hirasaki (2003).
She also compiled a reference book, Distinguished Asian American Business Leaders (2003), for Greenwood Press and with Dr. Gwenn M. Jensen co-authored the book, Silent Scars of Healing Hands: Oral Histories of Japanese American Doctors in World War II Detention Camps (2004) for the Japanese American Medical Association.
Under her own small press, Midori Books, she has created a book for the Southern California Flower Growers, Inc., A Scent of Flowers: The History of the Southern California Flower Market (2004). Other Midori Books projects include Fighting Spirit: Judo in Southern California, 1930-1941 (co-authored by Ansho Mas Uchima and Larry Akira Kobayashi, 2006).
Summer of the Big Bachi (Bantam/Delta, March 30, 2004) is Naomi’s first mystery. The book, a finalist for Barbara Kingsolver’s Bellwether Prize, was also nominated for a Macavity mystery award.
The completion of the novel was made possible by support from the California Community Foundation’s Brody Arts Award; Hedgebrook in Whidbey Island, Washington; Pacific Asian Women Writers-West; UCLA Extension Writers’ Program; and again, the Milton Center, which has since moved to Seattle, Washington.
Receiving a starred review from Publishers Weekly, Summer of the Big Bachi has been included in the trade magazine’s list of best books of 2004, as well as the best mystery list of the Chicago Tribune. Gasa-Gasa Girl, the second Mas Arai mystery, received a starred review from Booklist and was on the Southern California Booksellers’ Association bestseller list for two weeks in 2005.
Most recently Snakeskin Shamisen, the third in the series, was released in May 2006. In April 2007 it won an Edgar Allan Poe award in the category of Best Paperback Original. She has short stories published in a number of anthologies, including Los Angeles Noir (Akashic, May 2007), A Hell of a Woman: An Anthology of Female Noir (Busted Flush Press, December 2007), and The Darker Mask (TOR, January 2008).
In the summer of 2008 her first middle-grade book, 1001 Cranes, was released by Random House’s Delacorte imprint in hardback and came out as a Yearling trade paperback in June 2009. It was recognized with an Honorable Mention award in Youth Literature by the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association.
The fourth Mas Arai mystery, Blood Hina, was published in hardcover March 2010 by St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne Books. Trade paperback and new ebook version were released in 2013 by Prospect Park Books, the publisher of the fifth installment, Strawberry Yellow.
The first book in Naomi’s new mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime featuring a 23-year-old LAPD bicycle cop, Murder on Bamboo Lane, was released in April 2014. The second installment, Grave on Grand Avenue, was published in April 2015.
Naomi and her husband Wes make their home in Southern California. Her mystery serial, “Heist in Crown City,” appeared in Asahi Weekly in Japan two times a month.
She leads a number of writing workshops and taught a bilingual writing class at the Japanese Retirement Home in Los Angeles, organized by Poets & Writers, Inc. and funded through an NEA grant. Naomi served as chapter president of the Southern California chapter of the Mystery Writers of America in 2010.
Naomi Hirahara Books
Summer of the Big Bachi 2004, Snakeskin Shamisen 2006, Blood Hina 2010, Gasa-Gasa girl 2005, Strawberry Yellow 2013, Murder on Bamboo Lane 2014, 1001 Cranes 2008, Sayonara Slam 2016, Grave on Grand Avenue 2015, Life After Manzanar 2018, Distinguished Asian American Business Leaders 2003,
An American Son: The Story of George Aratani: Founder of Mikasa and Kenwood 2001, Terminal Island: Lost Communities of Los Angeles Harbor 2014, Iced in Paradise: A Leilani Santiago Hawai’i Mystery 2019, Silent Scars of Healing Hands: Oral Histories of Japanese American Doctors in World War II Detention Camps 2004,
A Scent of Flowers: The History of the Southern California Flower Market, 1912-2004 2004, A Taste for Strawberries: The Independent Journey of Nisei Farmer Manabi Hirasaki 2003, LAdies’ Night 2015, Asian Pulp 2015, Hiroshima Boy 2018, The Sound of the Autumn Wind: Hiroshi and Yoshiko Yamaguchi 2014
Notable awards: Edgar Award
Awards: Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original
Education: Stanford University, Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies
Nominations: Anthony Award for Best Paperback Original, Macavity Awards for Best First Mystery Novel