Writing about Race and the Mountains

Q&A: Mixed-race Japanese American writer Nina Revoyr  discusses latest novel, ‘Lost Canyon’

August 25, 2015  |  By MIA NAKAJI MONNIER
Nina Revoyr

I’ll always have a special love for Nina Revoyr’s writing.  Her 2003 novel, Southland, was the first book I ever encountered by a mixed-race Japanese American woman, not to mention one, like me, with a French last name and a face not obviously Asian.  Born in Japan, Revoyr spent part of her childhood in Tokyo and Wisconsin, but most of her books take place in Los Angeles, where she has spent most of her life.  She writes about the city with compassion and a sharp eye for detail, paying attention to people and neighborhoods often left out of mainstream stories about L.A.

In Revoyr’s latest novel, Lost Canyon (Akashic; 320 pages, $26.95), four Angelenos leave the city for a backpacking trip in its surrounding mountains.  There is Gwen, an African American woman who works at a non-profit in Watts; Oscar, a Mexican American real estate agent from Highland Park; and Todd, a white lawyer from Wisconsin by way of Century City.  Leading the group is Tracy, a personal trainer who describes herself as “half Japanese, half Irish, and 100% trouble.”  The backpackers expect a physical challenge, but when a brush fire forces them to taken an obscure route, they find themselves threatened even more by people than by the natural environment.

Rafu: Do you feel any anxiety about writing from the point of view of a person of another race?

Revoyr: I think there’s a couple different things. First of all, unless everything you write is complete autobiography—and for me, that would mean each character is mixed-race Japanese and Polish with a French Canadian last name who lived in Japan and—unless every character were that, which they’re not going to be because how boring would that be?—every character is going to be an act of imagination. That’s a given. I also think that what I’m trying to do is reflect the world as I know it. If I only wrote about Asian characters or only wrote about mixed-race Japanese-Polish characters with French last names, that would not be the world that I live in. The world that I live in is extremely diverse. I spend a great deal of my working and social time with folks who are African American, Latino. I’m married to a Mexican American. I also have blue-collar white people in my family. All of these things are influences, and those are the groups that are represented, particularly in Lost Canyon.

I interviewed Revyor once before for Discover Nikkei, when her last novel, Wingshooters, came out in 2012.  This time I spoke with her over the phone from Los Feliz, where she will be reading on September 3.

This AMAZING interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.  * * * KEEP READING


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