I'm thrilled to announce the publication of The Showgirl and the Writer, a hybrid memoir/biography about my long friendship with Mary Mon Toy, a Nisei performer. Published July 14, 2023 by Peace Corps Writers — an imprint of Peace Corps Worldwide.
"The Showgirl and the Writer is an entrancing memoir, tangled up with a
disgraceful piece of U.S. history, and a portrait of a fascinating woman...
I hung on every paragraph." ~ John Thorndike (Peace Corps, El Salvador 1966-68)
"Mysterious, moving, and heartfelt, The Showgirl and the Writer, expands our limited knowledge of Japanese American mainstream performing artists, the lingering effects of the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans..."
~ Brian Niiya, editor of the Densho Encyclopedia and Encyclopedia of Japanese American History
Marnie Mueller was born in the Tule Lake Japanese American Segregation Camp. She is the author of three novels: Green Fires, The Climate of the Country, and My Mother's Island. She is a recipient of an American Book Award, the Maria Thomas Award for Outstanding Fiction, Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award, New York Public Library Best Books for the Teenage, a New York Times Book Review New and Noteworthy in Paperback, and a Barnes and Noble "Discover Great New Writers" choice. Her short stories, poetry, and essays have been widely published in magazines and anthologies.
Mary Mon Toy, a Japanese American performer, and I encountered each other by chance in late winter of 1994. Soon after, she sought me out. Both our lives changed as we began to meet, and our friendship developed. I ask myself now, years later, why I was drawn to Mary and she to me? There is no easy answer. There were many layers of our relationship, in which we presented true and false identities, and intermittently were both caring and resentful. Our ambivalence makes sense if you think of this as a love story of sorts spanning generations, art, politics, race, and ethnicity — driven by the bond of the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. What follows is a tale of a fifteen-year friendship between two women — one Asian, one Caucasian of Jewish descent, one an actress and showgirl, one a fiction writer — who kept secrets as much from each other as we did from ourselves and the world.
~ Marnie Mueller
When we were young, Auntie Mary loomed larger than life. We always sat cross-legged at her feet, enthralled to watch as each spidery false lash magically transformed her eyelids. Our dad's older sister and sole sibling was Mary Watanabe. To us, "Mary Mon Toy" was just her catchy showbiz moniker, not realizing it hid her Japanese-ness so deftly that her obituary shocked her hometown community when it revealed that she was not Chinese… We now see the grit and resilience that Mary (Mon Toy Watanabe) needed in order to gain a professional foothold in an America embedded with prejudice against Asians and with particular hostility toward Japanese Americans after the war's end. Mary was like others in persecuted groups who are given the paradoxical choice to "pass" by masking their true identities, and who then bear an internal weight and cost for that decision for the remainder of their lives.
~ Mary Mon Toy's nieces, Lori Watanabe Saginaw and Wendy Watanabe