David Mura is a creative nonfiction writer, poet, fiction writer, critic, playwright and performance artist. Mura has written two memoirs: Turning Japanese: Memoirs of a Sansei (Grove-Atlantic), which won a 1991 Josephine Miles Book Award from the Oakland PEN and was listed in the New York Times Notable Books of Year, and Where the Body Meets Memory: An Odyssey of Race, Sexuality and Identity (Anchor). His three books of poetry are Angels for the Burning (Boa), The Colors of Desire (Anchor, Carl Sandburg Literary Award), and, After We Lost Our Way (Carnegie Mellon), which won the 1989 National Poetry Series Contest. His book of critical essays is Song for Uncle Tom, Tonto & Mr. Moto: Poetry & Identity (U. of Michigan Press). His novel, Famous Suicides of the Japanese Empire, a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award, the John Gardner Fiction Prize and Virginia Commonwealth University Cabell First Novelist Award, was published in Sept. 2008 from Coffee House Press. Mura's essays on race and multiculturalism have appeared in Mother Jones and The New York Times. His plays include Secret Colors (with novelist Alexs Pate), The Winged Seed, adapted from Li-Young Lee's memoir, and After Hours (with actor Kelvin Han Yee and pianist Jon Jang).
Famous Suicides of the Japanese Empire (Coffee House)
Turning Japanese: Memories of a Sensei (Atlantic Press)
Where the Body Meets Memory: An Odyssey of Race, Sexually, & Identity (Random)
After We Lost Our Way (E. P. Dutton)
The Colors of Desire (Anchor/Doubleday)
Song for Uncle Tom, Tonto & Mr. Moto: Poetry & Identity (University of Michigan Press)
How I Teach:
Like the Jungians, I take a polytheistic approach to the psyche and believe we each contain many different voices, many different gods. In my teaching, I'll push students to try out new voices, to let loose more, to be messier. I want them to live in chaos a bit longer than they feel comfortable with, to avoid the urge to tidy things up. In the short run, the urge to keep things under control, to perfect, may sometimes seem to produce better work. But in the long run, the staving off of this urge will fuel more creativity, open up more possibilities.
Many of the revolutions in literature have come from a renewed access to the colloquial, to contemporary speech. At times, I'll give students assignments or readings that come out of performance or spoken word or plays. Frequently this helps them discover new voices or a whole new area of inquiry. Early on in my career I felt my training in standard literary forms and styles kept me restricted within a narrow range; work for the stage helped me break through preconceived and limited notions of literary language.
I work in a variety of genres, and I've taught classes in post-modernism and the use of forms which break the traditional modes and genre boundaries (Sei Shoagen, Michelle Cliff, John Cage, Guillermo Gomez-Pena, Gloria Anzuldua). I'm also interested in literary theory and in creative nonfiction writing which explores social and cultural issues from an analytic or intellectual framework (Baldwin, Sontag, Berger, bell hooks) as well as reportage (Kapucinski, Naipaul).
At the same time I'm a deep believer in the value of traditional narrative. We tell stories to make sense of our lives and because our lives are structured like stories. Yet I've found that often students haven't been taught the basic principles of story. When I was learning to write both nonfiction and fictional narrative, I found that the best places to learn about narrative were through myth (Joseph Campbell), books on plays and the three act structure (Mamet), and books on screenplays. From this study I've developed methods which make narrative understandable and accessible to both writers of nonfiction and fiction. With nonfiction or memoir, the process is more of discovering story rather than creating it, but the basic structures are the same.
Identity is a central theme in my own work, and a crucial part of my teaching relies on the psychological. In conference or in correspondence, I listen closely to what the student tells me about his or her own personal history. I then try to connect this history to their answers to questions about their writing process and to the work they have given me. What I'm trying to do is to understand the way the students constructs the narrative of her life and what it reveals about her writing. More specifically, I'm looking for places, either in the writing or the narrative, where there are blockages and omissions, avoidances and denials, problems or dilemmas, wounds, deeply personal and difficult questions. Now admittedly this method has certain limitations and dangers; it's not for every student (or teacher). But my experience has taught me that the deepest problems in writing often possess a psychological basis. And this can be true even with seemingly technical problems. I'm particularly interested in working with students who are writing memoirs or narrative work or who are examining deeply personal issues and experiences. I'm also interested in students who are experimenting with crossing genres.
For third semester students, I can work with those concentrating on literary theory (structuralism, Marxist criticism, postmodernism, postcolonial theory, race). I work in theater and have done several collaborative projects and can work with students in that area too.