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Japanese-American Author, Activist Helps Writers Of Color Find Their Voice

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- A San Francisco author is helping writers of of color share their stories that reflect their diverse backgrounds.

"Get this, I'm only going to say it once: I am not nor have I ever been a Cherry Blossom queen. I did not nor do I plan to bomb Pearl Harbor," says Shizue Seigel, reading the first part of her poem, Ethnic Adjustments.

Seigel finds her voice in her poetry. The third-generation Japanese American author and community activist helps writers of color find the same through her nonprofit Write Now! SF Bay.

"And this is a place for you to tell your stories. We're not here to tell you how to write your stories, or what stories. We're just here to support you because your life experience has made you rich," she said.


She notes census figures that show six in 10 people who live in the Bay Area are people of color.

More than 350 people of color have come to her twice-a-month creative writing workshops since 2015 to explore race, class, culture, gender and identity.

The sessions at San Francisco public libraries or over Zoom are funded by the city's Arts Commission and grants and foundations so people come for free or pay a small donation.

Poet Norm Mattox, author of Black Calculus, says the workshops are safe places where writers can grow and feel accepted for who they are.

"I feel heard. Feel seen," he said. "People feel safe enough to be vulnerable."

LEARN MORE: Jefferson Awards for Public Service

He calls Seigel a humble writer. She has authored several books.

One of them, In Good Conscience, profiles Caucasians who risked their lives helping Japanese Americans during the World War Two internment.

Her most recent anthology, Essential Truths: The Bay Area in Color.

Kim Shuck, Poet Laureate Emerita of San Francisco praises Seigel for promoting new voices in the world of poetry.

"She's pushed forward a lot of people who might not otherwise have continued to write," Shuck said. "She's definitely prioritized others' writing over her own."

Seigel is also an artist. (She demonstrated the reverse transfer technique with a paintbrush.)

She knows how stories can bring people together.

She recalled reading to a stranger on the street a poem by a writer who grew up in a tough neighborhood.

"And he's listening to this poem and his eyes get wide. He says this is about my life. I've never heard a poem about my life and about me before. And I said, 'This is why I do what I do.'"

So, for celebrating diversity by supporting writers of color, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Shizue Seigel.

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