MEMBER PROFILES: Mia Nakaji Monnier & Nicholas Bredie



MEMBER PROFILE: Mia Nakaji Monnier

When and why did you become a member of PEN Center USA?
I joined PEN Center USA while I was a student in the University of Southern California’s Master of Professional Writing Program because I wanted to be part of a community of writers who inspire me.

What is most meaningful to you about PEN Center USA?
That it helps to nurture and advocate for writers in all stages of our careers. I’m also looking forward to going to as many Emerging Voices readings as possible.

PEN Centers share a Freedom To Write mission, which means we believe that people should be able to read and write freely. What does Freedom To Write mean to you?
I’ve thought about this question a lot thanks to my time on staff at a community newspaper. Even at a small, niche publication, there are so many layers of obligation—not just from advertisers, but also from fellow community members and organizations who want you to tell stories in a way that aligns with their own interests and world views. To me, freedom to write means having the individual integrity and temerity to tell it as you see it, despite all these external pressures. In order to do that, writers also need institutional support and legal protection.

Writers are using their digital media platforms to engage with readers and other writers on serious topics. Can you give an example of a writer or organization that is doing this well?
BinderCon, The Toast, VONA/Voices.

What is the one book you wish you had written and why?
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. It combines so many elements I care about, like Japanese WWII history, the relationship between Japan and the United States, mixed-race identity, metaphysics, coastal ecology, and blurred distinctions between fiction and nonfiction. I also like the cat.

What is your favorite quote?
"I have this experience when I interview someone, if it's going well and we're really talking in a serious way, and they're telling me these very personal things, I fall in love a little. Man, woman, child, any age, any background, I fall in love a little. They're sharing so much of themselves. If you have half a heart, how can you not?” —Ira Glass

Who would be your ideal literary dinner guest (living or dead)?
Tove Jansson, whose Moomin books introduced me as a kid to the kind of sensitive stories with loose tethers to physical reality that continue to resonate with me as an adult.

What are you working on now?
I’ve just gone freelance after more than four years on a newspaper staff, so right now, I’m working on building a schedule that is the right combination of fulfilling and financially sustainable. One writing project I hope to finish soon is an essay about why I began using my mother’s maiden name (Nakaji) in my byline.

Mia Nakaji Monnier is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor specializing in mixed-race identity, arts, and the environment. Her work has appeared in The Boston Globe, The Rumpus, The Millions, and more. She began her writing career in the Japanese American outlets Discover Nikkei and The Rafu Shimpo. In June, she will be speaking on a panel about mixed identity and gender politics at the Mixed Remixed Festival, and this fall, she’s excited to be reading at the inaugural Little Tokyo Book Festival in L.A. You can reach her on her website and on Twitter @miagabb.




MEMBER PROFILE: Nicholas Bredie

When and why did you become a member of PEN Center USA?
Recently. Like all good ideas, I wished I’d thought of it sooner. By way of explanation, we had the money for once.

What is most meaningful to you about PEN Center USA?
See below. In addition, Los Angeles is a great literary city. It deserves a great literary institution like PEN Center USA.

PEN Centers share a Freedom To Write mission, which means we believe that people should be able to read and write freely. What does Freedom To Write mean to you?
My wife and I lived in Turkey for several years where we experienced the frog-boiling sensation of the gradual abrogation of freedom of expression. It has reached a fever pitch there now. But that it could happen there, in a democracy, to the committed and talented people we met, means it could happen anywhere. That is why we need organizations like PEN Center USA.

Writers are using their digital media platforms to engage with readers and other writers on serious topics. Can you give an example of a writer or organization that is doing this well?
There are too many to count (shout out to Radio Ambulante). I think the next step is getting money into these people’s hands. Information may be “free,” but writing is work.

What is the one book you wish you had written and why?
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville.

What is your favorite quote?
“It then fell to me to say a few words, by way of thanks for the prize, as it were. Just before the ceremony, in great haste and with the greatest reluctance, I had jotted down a few sentences, amounting to a small philosophical digression, the upshot of which was that man was a wretched creature and death a certainty. After I had delivered my speech, which lasted altogether no more than three minutes, the minister, who had understood nothing of what I had said, indignantly jumped up from his seat and shook his fist in my face.”—Thomas Bernhard, Wittgenstein’s Nephew

Who would be your ideal literary dinner guest (living or dead)?
Nora Lange.

What are you working on now?
A novel set in and around the 1968 Resurrection City encampment in Washington, D.C.

Nicholas Bredie is the author of the novel Not Constantinople, forthcoming from Dzanc Books, Spring 2017. With Joanna Howard, he is the co-translator of Frédéric Boyer’s novella Cows, published by Noemi Press, Summer 2014. His writing has appeared in The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, The Fairy Tale Review, Opium, Puerto del Sol, and elsewhere. He is a doctoral fellow in the Creative Writing and Literature Program at USC.


Check out our past Member Profiles here.