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University of Iowa News Release


Sept. 27, 2010

John Simmons Short Fiction award winner is new from the UI Press

Barbara Hamby's "Lester Higata's 20th Century," winner of the John Simmons Short Fiction Award, will be available Oct. 1, 2010, from the University of Iowa Press.

Starting in 1999 with his conversation with his father, continuing backward in time throughout his life with his wife, Katherine, and their children in Hawaii, and ending with his days in the hospital in 1946, as he heals from a wartime wound and meets the woman he will marry, Hamby recreates any number of the worlds that have shaped Lester: The world of his mother, as stubbornly faithful to Japan and Buddhism as Katherine’s mother is to Ohio and conservative Christianity; the world of his children, whose childhoods and adulthoods are vastly different from his own; the world after Pearl Harbor and Vietnam; the world of a professional engineer and family man.

Pulitzer Prize-winning UI alumnus Robert Olen Butler wrote, "“Oh my, this is a very great collection. Innovative in structure but deeply accessible in every pitch-perfect moment, 'Lester Higata’s 20th Century' brilliantly explores the yearning that is central not only to most great literary narratives but also to every life lived on this planet: the yearning for self, for identity, for a place in the universe. Barbara Hamby has for some time been one of America’s finest poets; with this book, she has become one of our finest fiction writers as well.”

A starred review in Publishers Weekly described this book of linked stories as "a story collection that begins with the last moments in the life of Lester Higata, a second-generation Japanese head of a small Honolulu family, before working backwards through time to unpack his romances, friendships, and personal history against the backdrop of an ever-evolving Hawaii. ...

"While Hamby evokes the peculiar rhythms of island patois and effortlessly conveys the modern and ancient aspects of the cultural and physical environment for a mainland reader, the collection's finest moments deal with the complex work of defining racial and cultural identity, from the prejudices of elderly Japanese in 'Sayonara, Mrs. Higata,' to the smalltown venom of his wife Katherine's mother, who, in 'Invasion of the Haoles,' implores her daughter to do the right thing and return to Ohio. Hamby's Hawaii is less than a paradise, more than a postcard, and definitely worth the trip."

A native of Hawaii, Hamby is writer-in-residence in the creative writing program at Florida State University. She is the author of four books of poetry and co-editor of the poetry anthology "Seriously Funny." Her work has appeared in the Paris Review, the Mississippi Review, the Southwest Review, Ploughshares, Shenandoah, TriQuarterly and the "Pushcart Prize Anthology 2001."

The John Simmons Short Fiction Award -- named for the first director of the University of Iowa Press -- was created in 1988 to complement the existing Iowa Short Fiction Award.

The book will be available at bookstores or directly from the press, 800-621-2736 or Customers in Europe, the Middle East or Africa may order from Eurospan Group at It is also available as a pdf e-book:

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STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: UI Press: Winston Barclay, UI News Services, 319-430-1013,