As part of their March presentation of Snow Falling on Cedars, Bainbridge Performing Arts invited local author David Guterson to give a special presentation on his award-winning novel prior to a matinee performance of the play.
In this 69-minute podcast, the third in our new series of BCB Bainbridge Island specials, we offer Guterson’s reflections on the writing of Snow Falling on Cedars, from his talk delivered at Bainbridge Performing Arts on March 22nd, 2015. The talk and the podcast are introduced by Kate Carruthers, Director of BPA’s Book-It Theater production of Snow Falling on Cedars.
Reading Snow Falling on Cedars twenty years later, its author encountered an unexpected mixture of emotions. In this talk he shared these, along with his thoughts on the influences, ideals, and ambitions that led to its writing and what the book means to him now.
It took Guterson five years to write Snow Falling on Cedars, in part because he was teaching full time at Bainbridge High School, and in part because of the extensive research he did on salmon fishing, strawberry farming and the internment. To describe the anti-Japanese hysteria that prevailed in the 1940’s, he steeped himself in about 600 pages of oral histories compiled by elderly internees for the Bainbridge Island Japanese-American Community Association.
And while the fictitious San Piedro Island of Snow Falling on Cedars drifts at some distance from Bainbridge — on a real map of Puget Sound it would lie in the San Juan Islands — it is populated by some authentic Bainbridge characters. The literary model for the book, however, was more remote — Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, the 1960 novel Guterson regularly assigned to his high school English classes.
Guterson, then 39, received the 1995 PEN/Faulkner Award for Snow Falling on Cedars – a remarkable achievement for a first novel. Even more remarkable was the fact that it went on to be not only a critical but also a commercial success: with over four millions copies sold, it has generated a Hollywood film, a stage play, and countless high school student essays. Ironically, it is his novel that is now showing up in high school curricula – if it hasn’t been banned.
Listen here to hear Guterson’s reflections as he looks back 20-30 years at the young man who wrote his book and how it all came to be. During the final 15 minutes of this recording, David Guterson responds to questions from the BPA audience.
Credits: BPA audio tech Alex King; BCB audio tech and audio editor Lyssa Danehy de Hart; BCB publisher Diane Walker.