|Jon Shirota currently lives in |
California with his wife.
Finally, after three years of corresponding with Jones' mentor, Lowney Handy, Jon became the last member of The Handy Writers Colony in Marshall, Ill., where he wrote Lucky Come Hawaii, an account of the days leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor and the response of those of Japanese ancestry. It's a worthy novel.
Since its publication, Jon has written other novels and several plays which have been produced both in the U.S. and in Okinawa. Now in his 80s, Jon continues to write and travel to Hawaii, Okinawa and Japan, where his books and plays have been produced and re-issued in both English and Japanese. A longtime member of the James Jones Literary Society, Jon and his wife, Barbara, who spent part of her youth in an internment camp during World War II, gave the first James Jones Lecture at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Ill., that is being presented annually while money is being raised for the endowment for The James Jones Chair in World War II Studies.
I'm posting the following brief essay so you may know a bit more about about a writer and playwright who is now beginning to receive the accolades he so richly deserves.
A barefoot boy of Japanese descent
invited to speak at a university that wouldn't accept him"How ironic for one to be invited as a guest speaker at a university where one could not be accepted as a student.
"Jon Shirota was kicked out of high school and did not finish his junior year. He received his high school diploma after studying and passing a high school graduate's examination in the Army.
"He wanted to attend the University of Hawaii, but did not submit an application knowing that his atrocious high school grades would automatically disqualify him. Through family connections, however, he was accepted at Brigham Young University in Utah and finished in three years under the GI Bill of Rights.
"During his last year in college, he read the sensational novel, From Here To Eternity, by James Jones. It would have a tremendous effect on his life. He had been stationed at Schofield Barracks where most of Eternity took place; in fact, in the same quadrangle where Jones was stationed, and it sparked an ambitious goal.
"Jon was so enthralled and captivated by Eternity that he vowed he would one day write a novel that also takes place in Hawaii. If a haole white man from Southern Illinois can write a novel that takes places in Hawaii, why can’t he who was born and raised there?
"Of course, it’s easier said than done.
"After years of corresponding with Lowney Handy, the teacher at the Handy Writers Colony in Marshall, Ill., he quit his job as an IRS agent in Hollywood, and drove over to Marshall. He finished his first novel, Lucky Come Hawaii, at the colony, which was accepted for publication.
"The novel was eventually adapted into a play and was awarded the John F. Kennedy Center for New Plays. It was an event that led to other plays and other playwrighting awards.
"Recently, the University of Hawaii invited Jheeh University of Hawaii wanted to publish three of his plays, Lucky Come Hawaii, Leilani’s Hibiscus and Voices From Okinawa. Also, to come out with the fourth re-edited version of the novel, Lucky Come Hawaii.
"Voices From Okinawa played in Honolulu in November and December of 2009 and was extended for extra performances by popular demand. Voices is now scheduled to open in Maui, Jon’s hometown, in January of 2010. Jon has been invited to speak at high schools there, including Baldwin High, from where he was kicked out, and at the community centers. The books Voices From Okinawa and Lucky From Hawaii will be sold at the theater and at book stores.
"University of Hawaii could not accept Jon as a student, but accepted him on a grandeur scale, guest speaker at its conference.
"And the barefoot boy will be going back to Maui, not barefoot, but with a brand new pair of shoes."