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David  Mura

David Mura

Writer, Poet & Performance Artist

David Mura

Writer, Poet & Performance Artist


David Mura is a poet, creative nonfiction writer, fiction writer, critic, playwright and performance artist. A Sansei or third generation Japanese American, 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 (1996, Anchor/Random). His novel Famous Suicides of the Japanese Empire (2008, Coffee House Press) was a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award, the John Gardner Fiction Prize and Virginia Commonwealth University Cabell First Novelist Award. Mura most recently published his new book on creative writing titled, A Stranger's Journey: Race, Identity & Narrative Craft in Writing (U. of Georgia Press).

Mura’s newest collection of poetry, The Last Incantations, has just been published by Northwestern University Press (March, 2014).  Mura’s third book of poetry is Angels for the Burning (2004, Boa Editions Ltd.) and his second, The Colors of Desire (1995, Anchor), won the Carl Sandburg Literary Award from the Friends of the Chicago Public Library. His first, After We Lost Our Way (Carnegie Mellon U. Press), won the 1989 National Poetry Series Contest. His critical essays, Song for Uncle Tom, Tonto & Mr. Moto: Poetry & Identity, were published in the U. of Michigan Press Poets on Poetry series (2002).  

Mura’s upcoming book projects include: a novel set in 1930’s China (The Warlord's Daughter); a collection of essays on race (Under the Skin); a book on creative writing (Viva for the Losers!); a book of short stories (A Halo of Fire); a letter to his father on his father’s life in response to his father’s letter descrying the 2012 election of Barack Obama.

Along with African American writer Alexs Pate, Mura has created and performs a multi-media performance piece, Secret Colors, about their lives as men of color and Asian American-African American relations. This piece premiered for the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (1994) and has been presented at various venues throughout the country. A film adaptation of this piece, Slowly, This, was broadcast in the PBS series ALIVE TV in July/August 1995. Mura has also been featured on the Bill Moyers PBS series, The Language of Life.

Mura’s other performance pieces and plays include, “Relocations: Images from a Sansei” (1990), “Silence & Desire” (1994) and “After Hours” (1995; in collaboration with pianist Jon Jang and actor Kelvin Han Yee). In 2010, Mura played the role of the King in the Bloomington Civic Theater’s production of “The King and I.” In 2011, he played Kim Phan in “Song of Extinction” produced by Theater Latte Da at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. 

Mura currently teaches in the Stonecoast MFA program and the VONA Writers’ Conference. Mura’s areas of teaching and literary interest include: performance art/spoken word, acting, Marxism, race and literature, Asian American literature and history, mixed race identity, art and social activism, and non-profit arts organizations. He has an MFA in creative writing from Vermont College and has taught at the University of Minnesota, Macalester College, St. Olaf College, the Loft, Hamline U. and the U. of Oregon. He has served as the Artistic Director of the Asian American Renaissance, an Asian American arts organization in Minnesota, and as an Artist Associate at Pangea World Theater. He gives readings and speaks on the issues of race and multiculturalism throughout the country.

Speech Topics

How We Talk (Or Don’t Talk) About Race: Identity in a Changing America

How do children learn about their racial identity and their relationship to others of different races?  How does a denial of the realities of race hinder the educational process and students’ ability to understand themselves and each other?

The first half of my talk addresses these and other questions from an autobiographical perspective  It is a frank and honest examination of my own struggles with identity and race, and my own discoveries of internal and external racism.  Interspersed through the talk are excerpts from my writings—memoir, poetry, performance—which help dramatically illustrate the stages of my own journey.

In the second half I explore the ways in which our society is in denial about race and suggest we need a more complex and open way of speaking about this issue.  I also address a frequently asked question:  As a single individual what can I do in addressing the problems of race?  What is my task?

Leadership: The Three Act Play & Limitations of the Good Student

Being a leader or change agent, especially in the field of diversity, can often be a difficult journey.  The process of leadership often resembles the classic three act play.  In particular, there is the crisis of faith that inevitably occurs in the second act, when the hero wonders if she can complete her task and doubts both her abilities and the nature of the task.  At such moments, the hero must find not only the will to continue, but must undergo a reenvisioning of herself and her relationship to the task.

The workshop will also explore the differences between the good student and the creative individual.  These differences point to both a limitation in our educational system and in our approaches to the task of leadership.

Finally, I will suggest ways in which the arts, in particular my specialty creative writing, can be used as a tool for learning, leadership, and exploring the issues of diversity.

Unleashing the Unconscious: The Age of Creativity

This talk starts with the premise that digital age is changing our notions of human potential, of the human spirit, opening up new possibilities of politics and social organization, and bringing about changes in the structures of thought through which we perceive the world.  In short, we are living in the Age of Creativity.  The question is how are leaders and institutions going to unleash the creativity of their workers, students or constituents?  How are we going to prepare for a future whose very nature will be of increasingly change, destruction and creation?

To fully prepare and adapt to such a future, we need to change our notions of how we educate and train people.  We need to understand that creativity comes out of a very different mindset than that of the usual methods of management or bureaucracy.  We need to look to revolutionaries in the arts and sciences for models and examples.  We need see how such revolutionaries tap into the unconscious and reverse conventional notions of success and failure.  We need to understand that creativity often comes out of what some may consider the weirder or even the more aberrant areas of our psyche and yet, paradoxically, is part of the psyche’s struggle to achieve a more complex and mature whole.  In other words, how the Age of Creativity calls all of us to develop more fully our human potential.