Amazing Asians in the Arts: Kathleen Burkinshaw
Kathleen Burkinshaw is an acclaimed author and daughter of a Hiroshima survivor. She has spoken about her mother’s experience in Hiroshima in front of the United Nations as well as middle and high school students. Her book The Last Cherry Blossom is a United Nations Office of Disarmament Education Resource for teachers and students will be available for pre-order on Amazon and comes out in August! Keep reading to find out more about what makes Kathleen an Amazing Asian in the Arts!
Name: Kathleen Burkinshaw
Heritage: Japanese American – my mom was born in Hiroshima, Japan and my Dad was a white American born in Vermont
Hometown: Woonsocket, Rhode Island
Current City: Charlotte, NC
Author/ Speaker. Due to Covid-19 many of the book festivals or conferences I would have spoken at in person, have become virtual, so I’m preparing for ones such as YA-hoo! Festival (normally held in Chattanooga, TN). Also, I’ve gone out of my comfort zone by doing videos of a read aloud of some chapters from The Last Cherry Blossom for Dr. Susan Tan(children’s author) YouTube channel Authors Everywhere, as well as historical fiction writing advice for Debbie Ridpath Ohi (Children’s book author/illustrator) project Ask Me To Ask on her YouTube Channel. However, my focus is mainly on preparing for August Commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of Atomic Bombing. In between, I’m researching/writing the sequel to The Last Cherry Blossom.
What are some of your favorite credits/projects:
Speaking with students all over the world about my mom and The Last Cherry Blossom (TLCB). An example is working with the Hiroshima International School students who have chosen TLCB as their 6th grade read for the past 3 years. They made my first book trailer that I still have on my website today. My partnership with Green Legacy Hiroshima in 2017 and working with my daughter to plant a sapling from a survivor A-bomb tree as a sign of peace (making NC the 7th state in US to plant one) at her college. Participating in the United Nations Professional Development Workshop with NYC high school teachers to incorporate nuclear disarmament into their curriculum this past October.
What are some interesting facts about yourself?
I loved acting in a high school play and a dinner theater group in my hometown before I married. That was so much fun!
Do you have any favorite moments in your career that you'd like to share?
- The first favorite moment -showing my mom the publishing contract for The Last Cherry Blossom, the look on her face, and her words, “I still can’t believe anyone would care about a little girl in Hiroshima during WWII”. Yet, she was grateful that I would honor her Papa in that way. I was honoring her as well, but she would always brush over that. I am so grateful that we had that moment because she passed away 2 months later in January 2015 (18 months prior to my book coming out).
- Six months later when my husband, daughter, and I honored my mom in Hiroshima at the Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for Atomic Bomb Victims.
- Seeing TLCB in my local library 😊
- At my book launch for The Last Cherry Blossom (August 2016) when my daughter surprised me with her introduction speech.
- Speaking at and having a book signing at the Unite Nations in NYC.
- My most recent moment in January 2020, NHK World Japan coming to Charlotte to interview my daughter and I, as well as tape my presentation at a local school. A segment from this visit aired in Japanese in Japan and as a Newsroom Tokyo segment (in English) a few weeks later.
Any advice for young people getting into the arts?
First of all, don’t become a writer solely for money 😊 As a debut, middle grade, historical fiction author, I can tell you that is the trifecta for winning the category of “don’t quit your day job”. However, my main advice is that there is only one person that can tell the story that you have within you. Do not be afraid to open your hearts and minds to that passion. Sometimes it’s because you can’t think about not writing, not drawing, not designing, acting, dancing…You DO have a voice and you can use it in whichever way you choose to express it. Art is subjective which is both good and bad. It may take some time, and there may be a few rejections along the way, a few revisions…okay more than a few if it is like my path. But you should remember, it only takes ONE Yes! So. you cannot let a rejection or bad review define you as a person - I wish I could tell you how I’ve completely mastered this, but I am still a wok in progress. But what I do know, is that as a writer you don’t always know where your idea will come from, you shouldn’t wait for the “perfect” time-instead write that first sentence, first paragraph, first draft. It doesn’t need to be flawless; it just needs to come from the heart.
Do you have any organizations or non-profits you work with you’d like to highlight?
I just began working with Ribbon International Center for Arms Control and Non Proliferation in Washington DC, and Hibakusha Stories in NYC for the 75th commemoration of the atomic bombing. My family supports Fight the Flame 5K started by my friend(who also has CRPS) in Charlotte, NC that raises awareness of Complex Regional Syndrome(CRPS-that I have been living with for 19 years) as well as funds for research to provide treatment and/or cure.
Did you have any mentors?
I have both admired and considered Cynthia Kadohata as a mentor even though I never worked directly with her. Ms. Kadohata’s novel, WEEDFLOWER was the first book I read with a main character I could identify with-and I was in my 30’s when it published! In fact, she was even kind enough to give me some advice on an early, early, draft of my first two pages (looking back I’m so embarrassed because the writing was far, far from where it needed to be) 😊
What skills did you find to be the most helpful in your career?
For me, I think it’s perseverance, um, perseverance (yes, I purposely said it twice), a sense of humor, ability to make crispy rice treats, and being able to eat chocolate while revising at the same time-sometimes followed by a glass of plum wine… 😊.
If you could name one point in time when everything changed for you, what was it?
I’d have to say it happened when I was 30 years old. I had been hospitalized for over a month from complications of a DVT, that nearly killed me. Once home from the hospital, I needed help caring for myself and my daughter who was 4 at the time while my husband worked during the day. My parents came over, my mom and I had more time to really talk. She shared a lot of happy memories of her childhood. I had been diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (a neurological chronic, progressive pain disease that affects the sympathetic nervous system as well as the immune system-which doctors have said my mother’s exposure to atomic bomb radiation weakened it). I was extremely depressed because of the pain, not being able to walk unaided, and suddenly having my life change. I could no longer keep my career. I worried if I could even take care of my daughter. A feeling of hopelessness crept in and I wanted to give up. My mom decided to finally share her painful, horrific memories of the atomic bombing. She wanted to inspire me by showing that no matter how devastating or hopeless life may seem, I would have the strength to make it through. She almost committed suicide a year after the bombing, since she lost everyone that mattered to her. She decided against it because she remembered the stories her Papa told her of the strength of her samurai ancestors. She was so glad that she hadn’t killed herself because she now had me and my daughter to love. She reminded me that the same blood flowed through my veins as well and she knew I would find a way. It was at this time I returned to my love of creative writing. At first as an escape, and then I realized my body may not work like it used to, but my brain could.
Did you always want to be in the arts or did you have anther path before you got here?
I loved to write/color as soon as I could hold a crayon. When I realized I couldn’t draw a straight line with a ruler, I found my passion for writing. I wrote poems, made my own cards for every occasion. I even loved doing book reports (crazy, I know 😊). I also loved acting in plays. My parents thought that was great, but they really expected me to study business in college. So, I found myself writing business documents and contracts in my career as a health care executive in hospitals and health insurance companies. But after CRPS diagnosis I rediscovered my love for writing.
What have you found is the biggest challenge in your career?
With CRPS pain and unpredictability of pain flare ups, it takes me much longer to research, or to write. I may lose an entire week(s) to a pain flare up. Also, it prevents me from meeting as many students/readers in person, as I would like.
Where did you study at?
Stonehill College, N. Easton, Massachusetts
Is there anything in particular that inspires your work?
Writing does not take away the pain but helps me to escape for a bit. I just can’t imagine not writing. My inspiration is definitely my mom. And wanting to show that my mom’s voice mattered, hibakushas’ voices matter, it took me a long time to believe that my voice mattered and to celebrate my Japanese heritage. It took me a long time to realize that celebrating my Japanese side, did not take away from the American side. It does not have to be either one or the other, or an us versus them. My message of showing the emotional connection we have as human beings stems from this. It’s not just about abolishing nuclear weapons. It is about seeing the humanity so that the same deadly mistakes (of using atomic bombs, xenophobic and racist violence…sadly, there are many others that could be listed) are not repeated.
What is your process for writing?
I usually like to start researching either about the time period, the culture, or the people to get an idea of how the world for the book might be. And when I finally come up for air from the deep dive of researching online or in books and begin writing scenes. I do not always write in order because I can’t just sit and write for long periods of time. Also, my brain doesn’t work that way 😊
What is your greatest accomplishment?
A tie with seeing my mother’s face when I told her the book was going to be published and being able to speak about my mom, atomic bomb victims at the United Nations in NYC last October.
What are some goals you hope to achieve?
I would love to speak at a school in Hiroshima during cherry blossom time….hope that maybe I can change one person’s view about nuclear weapons…or hope that TLCB and my message may change how to look at someone we think looks different from us, doesn’t belong, or is the “enemy”. That we realize ‘they’ are not so different from ourselves after all. I truly hope that a reader or someone I speak with realizes that their voice matters.
What do you love most about what you do?
I love talking and meeting with students/readers. I love to get lost reading and researching for a book. I love all the wonderful people I have met as a result of writing. I especially love meeting people or organizations that I may not have had the opportunity otherwise-organizations such as yours and all the wonderful other Asian American/Asian organizations, magazines, podcasts, that celebrate our history, our arts and give a sense of community.
Is there anything else you would like to share about yourself?
To find out more about Kathleen, please visit her at:
Preorder a paperback copy of her book, The Last Cherry Blossom, on Amazon