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Book Launch for ‘The Great Unknown: Japanese American Sketches’

SAN FRANCISCO — Two Bay Area events on Saturday, Oct. 29, will celebrate historian Greg Robinson’s just-released book “The Great Unknown: Japanese American Sketches,” which is largely based upon his popular column in The Nichi Bei Times and Nichi Bei Weekly:

• Official book launch at 11 a.m. followed by reception at National Japanese American Historical Society Peace Gallery, 1684 Post St. in San Francisco’s Japantown.

• East Bay event at 4 p.m. at J-Sei, 1285 66th St. in Emeryville, Calif.

The book is the first anthology of Robinson’s column “The Great Unknown and Unknown Great,” which were published in The Nichi Bei Times from 2007 to 2009 and its successor, The Nichi Bei Weekly, from 2009 to 2012, plus a selection of articles that appeared in outside publications or are appearing in this volume for the first time.

“In ‘The Great Unknown,’ award-winning historian and journalist Greg Robinson offers a fascinating and compulsively readable collection of biographical portraits of extraordinary but unheralded figures in Japanese American history: men and women who made remarkable contributions in the arts, literature, law, sports, and other fields,” said the book’s publicist. “Recovering and celebrating the stories of noteworthy Issei and Nisei and of their supporters, ‘The Great Unknown’ provides powerful evidence of the diverse experiences and substantial cultural, political, and intellectual contributions of Nikkei throughout the country and over multiple decades.”

“Besides being entertaining … ‘The Great Unknown’ has a serious purpose: through the tales it recounts, the work as a whole reframes the familiar narrative of Japanese Americans,” Robinson writes in the book’s introduction. “I focus my attention on the unusual and often rebellious sorts of characters who deviated from the community norms… In the process, my work challenges one-dimensional model-minority stereotypes of ethnic Japanese as conformist or colorless and reveals the complex and wide-ranging nature of their experience.”

“Over the years, some of his pioneering work has uncovered some hardly-known figures in Japanese American history…,” said Nichi Bei Weekly Editor-in-Chief Kenji G. Taguma in the book’s foreword. “Many of them may be unsung heroes, but thanks to Greg Robinson’s work, they are no longer UNKNOWN.”

The Nichi Bei has been proud to incorporate Robinson’s annual column on LGBT Japanese American history, he added.

Robinson is professor of history at Université du Québec à Montréal and the author or editor of several notable books on Japanese Americans, including “A Tragedy of Democracy,” which was awarded the history book prize of the Association for Asian American Studies; “After Camp,” winner of the Caroline Bancroft History Prize in Western U.S. History; and “By Order of the President.” In addition to his Nichi Bei column, he is an active speaker and writer in the public arena and the blogsphere.

While the hardcover book published by University Press of Colorado retails for $45, it will be available for sale at a specially discounted release price of $35 at the two events. Published in September 2016, the book is 400 pages and includes 31 illustrations.

The events are co-sponsored by the Nichi Bei Foundation, the National Japanese American Historical Society, J-Sei and Nichi Bei Weekly. A portion of the book sales will benefit the Nichi Bei Foundation.

For more information, email or call (415) 294-4655. To RSVP or pre-order books, visit

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