LAFAYETTE -- If every author scheduled to appear at the Lafayette Library and Learning Center Foundation's Nov. 3 "A Literary Feast" authors' dinner and gala arrives with a life story as dramatic as that of writer and photographer John Hamamura, expect fireworks.
The author of "Color of the Sea," a debut novel about two young Japanese Americans set in the identity-twisting final years of World War II, Hamamura was born in 1945 to Japanese parents in a military hospital in the United States. On Aug. 6 of that year, the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Raised behind the white picket fence of a US military community in Tokyo -- when he wasn't visiting his grandmother's home, two miles from ground zero -- Hamamura grew up unsure of his place in the world.
"I spent a lot of time trying to figure out why I was an American," he says, in an interview one week before the gala. "I'd look through the fence and see a whole country of people who looked like me, whose language I could understand, but who were different. They were Japanese Nationals and I was an American."
A happy child, he enjoyed what he calls "playing little Japanese boy" while exploring the golden rice fields near Hiroshima. Finding both release and mild confusion while traveling in the "occupation forces" section of the train back to the imported American community where he and his father lived, Hamamura's dilemma was compounded when the Occupation ended and he settled with his parents in Lodi.
"I came to California and suddenly, it feels like there's another fence," he recalls. "I am suddenly Japanese and outside of my house, they don't like me."
His mother had been sent to an internment camp in Arkansas around the time he was born. Reunited, Hamamura would ask his mother about the camps, but she would hit a wall, refusing to answer and leaving the room if he persisted.
His father served as a translator for the War Crime Trials in Tokyo.
"He helped the United States wholeheartedly, but did he feel ambivalent? Of course," Hamamura exclaims. "He wore a GI uniform, but he was a traditional Japanese man, trained as a samurai."
Samurai history includes strict service to a master, even one who operates against one's own family. Hamamura believes ancient beliefs guided his father.
A generation removed, his path is less clear, but writing and photography provide "moments of triumph when emotions come through." Assembling a story or composing a picture are interchangeable pleasures achieved through stages where he's "all over the map."
"I have post-it notes storyboarding each chapter under a see-through desk covering," he says. "The deeper you go, the harder it gets. Sometimes, I grab a story like I'm grabbing someone by the lapels and shaking them."
When writing overwhelms him, he grabs a camera. "Some people walk their dogs; I walk my camera," he said.
And when he's most fortunate, he gets to meet his readers.
Billed as an "Authors Dinner," the 2012 Literary Feast will give Hamamura and 22 fellow authors an opportunity to mingle with library supporters and enjoy a gourmet meal catered by SpringLoaf Catering.
Mike Gilson, chair of this year's gala, says the LLLC is unique in Contra Costa County in that the foundation is obligated to fund 50 percent of the library's total operating cost. The majority of libraries fund operations with city or county general fund revenues, or by a special tax.
Hoping to raise $100,000 this year, Town Hall Theatre Artistic Director Clive Worsley will lead a not-so-silent auction. Online, the list of available items include theater tickets, VIP Major League baseball packages, shopping excursions, gifts, certificates for wine, meals at local restaurants and vacation getaways.
WHEN: Saturday, Nov. 3, 6 to 10 p.m.
WHERE: Lafayette Library's Community Hall, 3491 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette
MORE INFO: http://www.lafayettelib.org/