Ryka Aoki is a musician, performer, and martial-arts doyen. A Japanese American author known for her poetry collection Seasonal Velocities and her novel He Mele a Hilo. Seasonal Velocities was a finalist for the award for transgender nonfiction in the 25th Lambda Literary Awards in 2013. Her book Why Dust Shall Never Settle Upon This Soul was a finalist for the 28th Lambda Literary Awards.
Aoki earned her MFA in creative writing from Cornell University, and won the Academy of American Poets’ University Award. She has been honored by the California State Senate, Huffington Post, and the LA Gay and Lesbian Center for her work with Trans/Giving, a Los Angeles performance series for trans and gender queer individuals, and her contributions to transgender advocacy.
Aoki, a transgender woman, has said that she strives not to write just for other transgender readers, but for their family, and other people in general. Her book He Mele a Hilo was meant to chronicle the common Hawaiian experience. In addition to her book Aoki also wrote a piece for the Publishers Weekly. She hopes that through writing for a general audience instead of only trans people, that she can help others see transgender people as human, she wrote: “If a trans musician can make the audience cry by playing Chopin, how else, but as a human, can she be regarded? And if a book written by a queer trans Asian American can make you think of your own beaches, your own sunsets, or the dear departed grandmother you loved so much and even now find yourself speaking to, then what more powerful statement of our common humanity can there be?”
An interview with Aoki was featured in the 2014 book Queer and Trans Artists of Color: Stories of Some of Our Lives, by Nia King, which was named one of the Advocate’s Best Transgender Non-Fiction Books of 2014.
Aoki is a professor of English at Santa Monica College and gender studies at Antioch University. She holds a black belt and has been head judo coach at both Cornell University and UCLA.
“Being a living trans person means vigilance. For a non-passing trans person, there is no safe space. It is not who we are kissing, but our very heights, our voices, and the size of our hands that catalyze hatred and violence. Forget activism;” explains Aoki, “simply negotiating one’s world every day, constantly judging, adjusting, scanning one’s surroundings, and changing clothes to go from one role to another can be overwhelming.
Add to that cases of family disownment, poverty, homelessness, HIV. When a recent study of transgender youth reports that half their sample had entertained thoughts of suicide, and a quarter of them had made at least one attempt, I am not surprised.”
Aoki shares her projects on her website. You can also follow her on twitter @ryka_aoki and Instagram @rykaaoki.