Weaving together Japanese-American characters with deep roots in modern American history with well-paced and engaging mysteries, Pasadena-based author Naomi Hirahara has created a well-deserved niche in the world of literature for well over a decade.
This Saturday, Hirahara will be honored for her contributions to the local literary culture when she is added to Vroman’s Bookstore’s Author Wall of Fame prior to a reception and discussion with veteran Los Angeles journalist Nancie Clare.
The recognition is the result of a booming career in which Hirahara has won the esteemed Edgar Award for outstanding mystery writing with her series of novels centered on the character of Mas Arai, an Altadena-based gardener and Hiroshima survivor. The novels have been successful for both mega-publisher Random House as well as the Altadena-based publisher Prospect Park Books, with the first in the series, “Summer of the Big Bachi,” currently being developed into an independent film.
In addition, she has a new set of Hawaii-based mysteries in the works centered upon the new character of Officer Ellie Rush, and was also awarded a cultural affairs grant by the city of Pasadena to develop a historical thriller set in the Crown City. As a native of Altadena and graduate of South Pasadena High School, she has found plenty of inspiration in the atmosphere across the city’s rich environment and diverse populace.
“One thing I love about our area is the San Gabriel Mountains, and that’s something I wrote about in the Mas Arai mysteries, since he lives at the foot of those,” says Hirahara. “I grew up when there were smog drills in class, and now I love being able to see them. I’m walking distance from Vroman’s so my dog and I come through Vroman’s on a very regular basis. Both the library system and Vroman’s were places we regularly went growing up, and I feel very fortunate because Pasadena is so supportive in terms of literature. So many bookstores have been closing so we’re lucky to have an institution like Vroman’s, and all our libraries as well.”
According to Vroman’s CEO/President Allison Hill, selecting Hirahara for the Wall was a decision rooted in multiple factors. And fellow Pasadena-based authors Carla Sameth and Jervey Tervalon also offered effusive praise for her achievement and presence in the local artistic community.
“One of my favorite parts of my job is brainstorming with booksellers about whom to honor on the Vroman’s Author Walk of Fame each year,” says Hill. “The process is always a reminder of our rich literary community — so many amazing authors to choose from! Naomi Hirahara was an obvious choice.
“Naomi is an Edgar Award-winning author with a long, illustrious writing career who always packs the house for her events,” Hill continues. “She’s one of the best author presenters we’ve ever hosted — smart, funny, and engaging — and a long-time friend of Vroman’s, having been born in Pasadena. Naomi has not only created one of the all-time best crime novel characters in her protagonist Mas Arai but consistently delivers beautifully complex novels that are page-turning narratives but also rich explorations of history, culture, and humanity. We are so happy to have the opportunity to honor Naomi by adding her to the Vroman’s Author Walk of Fame and literally cementing her place in literary history for generations to come!”
“Naomi Hirahara is an incredibly talented author and I was thrilled to hear about her upcoming honor- being included on the Vroman’s Author’s Wall of Fame,” adds Sameth. “Not only is she a brilliant writer who covers devastating historical periods of time in her work, she has shown herself to be a generous literary citizen, offering encouragement, inspiration and welcome to other writers.”
“Naomi is one of the literary institutions Pasadena has, and what she brings to the city is what the region needs to hear — that people of color are important to the literary scene of Los Angeles, of California and the nation,” adds Tervalon. “She’s omnipresent at the events I go to and is generous, funny, warm and self-deprecating. Her writing is unparalleled when it comes to the Asian-American community, especially in Pasadena.”
Ulimately, the experience is one that Hirahara is sure to remember for the rest of her life, and a way to live on indefinitely in the cultural arena of Pasadena.
“It’s so exciting to me because everything these days is so ephemeral, things are on the internet and then disappear,” says Hirahara. “For something to be in concrete, in cement, is so amazing to me and I’m very grateful to be part of a tradition honoring authors in the community.”
Naomi Hirahara will be inducted into the Vroman’s Bookstore Author Wall of Fame at noon Saturday at Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. Admission is free. Call (626) 449-5320 or visit vromans.com.