Countdown to Muse 2019: Impossible Writing by David Mura

The Muse and the Marketplace 2019 kicks off on April 5th at the Park Plaza Hotel in Boston. This year’s theme is writing in a time of upheaval — whether such upheaval is personal, political, artistic, or all of the above. In anticipation of the conference, we’ve asked Muse 2019 presenting authors to describe a time when it was impossible for them to write, but they wrote anyway. How did they do it? What did they write? Our next presenter in the series is David Mura, author of A Stranger’s Journey: Race, Identity & Narrative Craft in Writing.

Back in the nineties, I had arguments with many white writer and artist friends about the yellow face casting and Orientalism in Miss Saigon; I then wrote about those arguments in Mother Jones. The reaction from white friends and colleagues was a series of negative notes asking if I’d become a racial separatist or if I was intent on destroying the local literary community. In 1996, I published my second memoir, Where the Body Meets Memory: An Odyssey of Race, Sexuality and Identity, and I got negative reviews and reactions from the Asian American community for writing about our sexuality and for exploring issues of Asian American masculinity (the reactions of some Asian American males was that they didn’t have any issues). So I felt I was being criticized from both the white artistic community and the Asian American community, and I fell into a period of depression where I wondered who the hell I was writing for.

Eventually, I realized that I was denying who I was and what my job was as a writer—to tell the truth as I saw it. Out of that period has come a great deal of work on the issues of race, including my new book, A Stranger’s Journey: Race, Identity and Narrative Craft in Writing, and two more books of essays on race that I’m finishing.


There were two times in my life like this. In the first instance, I was kicked out of my English Ph.D. program for seven incompletes. And then I read William Stafford’s Writing the Australian Crawl, where he says the key to solving writer’s block is lower your standards. It took me a while to put that solution into practice; I would write things and tell myself I wouldn’t look at them for six months, and by doing that I could begin just accepting whatever writing came forth, whether poetry or prose.

You can catch David’s craft discussion, “Writing on Race: Your Own Identity and the Identity of Others” on Friday, April 5th at 3:45pm at the Muse. For all the latest Muse news, follow #Muse19.

A Sansei or third generation Japanese American, Mura has written two memoirs: Turning Japanese: Memoirs of a Sansei which won an Oakland PEN Josephine Miles Book Award and was a New York Times Notable Book, and Where the Body Meets Memory: An Odyssey of Race, Sexuality and Identity. Mura’s novel Famous Suicides of the Japanese Empire was a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award, the John Gardner Fiction Prize and Virginia Commonwealth University Cabell First Novelist Award.

Mura’s poetry collections are The Last Incantations, Angels for the Burning, The Colors of Desire which won the Carl Sandburg Literary Award from the Chicago Public Library, and After We Lost Our Way, a National Poetry Series Contest winner. His other books are A Male Grief: Notes on Pornography & Addiction and a book of critical essays, Song for Uncle Tom, Tonto & Mr. Moto: Poetry & Identity, published in the U. of Michigan Press Poets on Poetry series.

Mura teaches at VONA and the Loft and lives in Minneapolis. He also works with the Innocent Classroom, a program that trains K-12 teachers to improve their relationships with students of color.

About the Author

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