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Angles curates Kennedy Center Japanese events

Feb. 5, 2008

KALAMAZOO- Western Michigan University's Dr. Jeffrey Angles has organized a series of literary and poetry-related events for a festival celebrating Japanese culture at Washington D.C.'s Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the premier national institution for the arts. The series runs through Sunday, Feb. 17.

Angles, a WMU assistant professor of Japanese, was recruited for the honor because of his work co-editing a Japanese literary guide. His book, "Japan: A Traveler's Literary Companion," was a collaboration with Dr. J. Thomas Rimer, professor emeritus of Japanese Literature at the University of Pittsburgh. Published in May 2006 by Whereabouts Press, the book is a collection of Japanese short stories and essays that guides readers through the diverse landscape and culture of modern-day Japan.

The Kennedy Center festival, "Japan!: Culture + Hyperculture," will bring together more than 450 artists for 40 performances and more than a dozen free events that showcase the work of some of the most prominent figures in Japanese theater, dance, music, fashion, architecture, sculpture, poetry, literature, photography and film.

"When the Kennedy Center asked me to organize the literature events, I was thrilled. The idea of inviting my favorite authors to give readings in America seemed like a dream come true," Angles says. "Immediately, I responded I would love to do it."

Because of his research and work as a translator of contemporary Japanese literature, Angles has personal connections with a number of important authors, so he started by contacting them.

In particular, Angles wanted to invite figures known for their dramatic and interesting reading styles. One of the figures for whom he arranged a trip to Washington is Yasuki Fukushima, a poet who played an important role in modernizing the tanka, a form of poetry that has 31 syllables and a long history of more than 1,300 years. Fukushima became famous in the 1960s for writing tanka on contemporary themes, such as the radical student movements of the era, then setting those poems to jazz accompaniment.

Other figures Angles invited to Washington are Yko Tawada, a prominent novelist who writes in both Japanese and German; Hiromi It, an important poet often considered the leader of the women's poetry movement in the 1980s; and Mutsuo Takahashi, a radical voice known in Japanese poetic circles for his bold expressions of homoerotic desire.

Angles also arranged for two panel discussions about various aspects of Japanese literature. One is dedicated to the 11th-century "The Tale of Genji," which some scholars call "the world's first novel," while the other is dedicated to the ways ancient poetic forms have been adapted and modified in contemporary Japan.

Angles will be in Washington for the events, sometimes appearing as an interpreter for the readers or helping to moderate the panel discussions. His responsibilities have involved serving as the main contact for the authors, helping to arrange for their visas to enter the United States, determining the individual needs for their performances, writing the programs for the events and scheduling.

"It will be a thrill just to be around such important writers," Angles says.

For more information, contact Jeffrey Angles at jeffrey.angles@wmich.edu or (269) 387-3044. The complete program for the festival is available online.

Media contact: Deanne Molinari, (269) 387-8400, deanne.molinari@wmich.edu

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