Allan Kornblum was in a pretty good mood this afternoon after getting word that “I Hotel,” a 600 page novel by Karen Tei Yamashita is one of the five nominees for this years National Book Award for fiction.
Kornblum, who founded Coffee House, and is currently the publisher, signed Yamashita (pictured below) some 20 years ago. He remembers sending her a letter asking to see a manuscript after she sent him the first chapter from her first book.
It was a different time when such communications took longer, and it was only six months later he realized he hadn’t heard from her.
He wonders whether he would have bothered nowadays to have picked up the chase again, but he did, and has been delighted ever since with the series of manuscripts she has provided. Her four books are always in Coffee House’s top ten sellers each year, and Kornblum says many colleges teach her books.
Kornblum describes “I Hotel” as Karen Tei Yamashita’s magnum opus, exploring the heady days of the 1960’s and early 1970’s in northern California.
He admits it’s been done before, but says what makes her book fresh is the way she does it through the eyes of the Asian-American community at a time when it was just coming to see itself in such terms.
Yamashita teaches in the creative writing program at the University of California Santa Cruz.
Allan tells some great tales about the book and what the nomination means. You can listen to our chat here:
Interestingly the other book with a local connection Jonathan Franzen’s “Freedom” which is set in St Paul, did not make the final five. The National Book Awards are announced November 17th.