Rieko Wagoner

Principal Lecturer
Language and Culture Studies and International Studies


I officially retired in spring of 2019, with a lovely send-off gathering of LACS members, which included inspiring Japan-themed lectures by four of my colleagues.  The single motivation for my retirement was to start a new chapter of my life as a professional translator.  I taught one course in fall and then my teaching career of some 35 years came to its end.

Then came COVID.  2020 was such an anxious, challenging, unpredictable year for all of us, in terms of the pandemic development as well as our political upheaval and social calamities such as the passing of George Floyd and my shero, RBG. Really, what a year 2020 was!

Locked down at home, I started pitching translation proposals to various publishers.  The best part of this phase is that I get to read tons of books.  In fact, I don’t think I have ever read so many books so voraciously like I can now, and all of them books of my own interest to boot!  As luck would have it, a publisher in Japan contacted me to translate a BLM memoir book in late July.  Even though my intention was to translate works of my choice, it turned out that the book was fascinating, and was a great fit with my own interest in social justice.  I learned so much from working on this book:  the historical background of devastating racial strife, modern-day law enforcement injustice, handling of mental illness at large, queer activism, Afrofuturism, and simply the astonishing riches of African American cultural achievement.


The book is a memoir by Patrisse Kahn-Cullors, one of the three women who started the Black Lives Matter movement.  It starts out with her childhood in LA— her life in poverty, the instability of her family situation, her being subjected to strict religious dictates, and the Police intimidation of the Black community, particularly of Black men.  Patrisse’s father and brother get incarcerated, the latter, who suffers from mental illness, only to be given truly cruel, inhumane treatment in the notorious LA County Jail. Patrisse pursued a path of social activism from early on, whose involvement eventually led her to co-found the international movement for racial justice called Black Lives Matter. It is a triumphant book in that the author believes in the power of activism and her ardent drive for racial equality.

I am back at proposal pitching.  So many inspiring books, fiction and non-fiction alike!   But when I am not reading or writing, I enjoy weaving, cooking (yes, lock-down bread-baking in particular), and now that spring is upon us, gardening.  They say gardening is the ultimate act of optimism. Nice thought, isn’t it?