We recently publish Mia Nakaji Monnier’s gorgeous “Minerals.”
Here, we ask her two questions about her story:
1) I love how the narrator in this piece thinks of their parents as being an owl and a tanuki — I love the insight it gives into the parents and the narrator. What made you pick those creatures specifically, instead of, say, a mouse and a tengu?
When I studied abroad in Japan in college, my class went to Shigaraki, a town known for its ceramics, especially tanuki statues. Among the tanuki was a small group of owl-tanuki hybrids, called “fukukitaro.” The name is an anagram of “tanuki” and “fukuro” (owl), and because the character “nu” doesn’t appear in their names, the creatures carry it on what looked to me like newspaper satchels. When my host mother saw them, she said, “They’re haafu (mixed-race Japanese) like you” and bought a little one for me. Being compared with an animal like that was bittersweet—it felt a bit dehumanizing, even knowing her intentions were good, but I also felt connected to and empathetic toward my fukukitaro, and eventually that led to this story.
2) I think for many mixed-race people, the scene where the narrator talks about people stopping them to ask about their face is a familiar one. “They’re not sure it’s beautiful,” the narrator says. It’s such a familiar, and heartbreaking, moment. I’m not sure I really have a question here, except to say: How did you capture that feeling so perfectly here?
First of all, thank you! I’m so happy when the things I write resonate with other mixed-race people. When I started the story about this fukukitaro, I didn’t intend for it to be about my mixed-race feelings. But I could say the same for all the parts of “Minerals”—that they transcended my intentions—and that’s why I’ve continued to love these pieces for so long, even as they were rejected by publications over and over. Mostly, I write more straightforward nonfiction, but I found that by writing tiny, surreal stories like these, I could access different parts of my voice and reach the themes that interest me in different ways. I went into each of these stories with just one image, and they all surprised me by landing somewhere that felt uncomfortably true. Over the years, I’ve sharpened them bit by bit, which usually meant making them sadder and more vulnerable.