Friday, September 27, 2019

Literary Sewing Circle: Author Feature

photo by Latrippi  via Flickr
Today we'll be looking at the author of our current Literary Sewing Circle pick. Ruth Ozeki is a multi-talented author, film-maker, and Zen Buddhist priest.

 She's also a part time university instructor. As shared on her academic bio for Smith College:

Ruth Ozeki is an award-winning author, filmmaker and Zen Buddhist priest whose novels have garnered international critical acclaim for their ability to integrate issues of science, technology, environmental politics, philosophy and global pop culture into unique hybrid narrative forms. Her best-selling novel A Tale for the Time Being (2013) won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and was shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award; it has been translated and published in more than 35 countries. Her earlier novels, My Year of Meats (1998) and All Over Creation (2003), were both New York Times Notable Books.

Her earlier novels -- My Year of Meats and All Over Creation -- are both concerned with the environment, with identity, with community, just like this latest novel. My Year of Meats was my first introduction to her writing, and I really loved it. So I'm happy to share this latest novel with you, too. 


Ruth Ozeki on books in life and in her fiction

Ruth Ozeki talking about author interviews and A Tale for the Time Being

Ruth talks about libraries with the Public Library Association in the US

And there is a wonderfully thought-provoking talk that you can listen to that Ruth Ozeki gave as part of her work at Smith College, all about the connections between Buddhism and autobiographical writing. It's nearly an hour & a half, so get a cup of tea ready and settle in!


Now, there is something else about this author that I think we sewists might be particularly interested in. Ozeki is not only a writer, filmmaker and intellectual, she's also an ordained Buddhist priest. As part of that process, she was required to sew her ordination robes herself,  by hand. She talks a bit about this in this article:

Confessions of a Zen Novelist

In this article, she refers to sewing her Rakusu. This is a miniature version of the Buddha's robe, a bib-like piece sewn by students as they are preparing for the ceremony in which they'll receive their Bodhisavatta precepts: more on this here, including a nice clear photo of a Rakusu.

The Brooklyn Zen Centre has shared an interesting article on the sewing of the Rakusu, including a lovely quote about the importance of sewing in Buddhism from Tomoe Katagiri,  a well-known Zen Buddhist sewing teacher. And then you can read a full-length interview with Katagiri all about her life as a Buddhist sewing teacher. It is really moving; one stitch at a time, just like life, that's Zen stitching.

The next item that Ozeki sewed was her Okesa, her ordination robe. What is an Okesa exactly? You can find out here.

Once again, the Brooklyn Zen Centre has a nice set of photos of an Okesa that the students there sewed as a group for one of their priests.

If you are particularly interested in the theory behind the importance of the role of sewing in Buddhist practice, you can find a discussion in a forum which talks about the process of sewing okesa -- a comment notes that sewing is zazen, too! I think many of us could agree with that.

And you can even find an online copy of Tomoe Katagiri's book on Buddhist sewing, which covers the why and wherefores of fabric sourcing, colours to be used, designs and techniques, how and why to sew and to wear these items, and the purpose of it all. If you are really keen on finding out more about sewing as a Buddhist practice, this is a great read. But please note that these items are only to be sewn with the permission of a Zen teacher, in the steps involved in one's serious Buddhist study.

I hope that this gives you a little more to think about as we keep reading. We can continue to consider our own sewing and its place in our lives as we read.


  1. Interesting! I've just started reading my copy, and am settling in to an enjoyable experience...I have no clue which way this story will unfold.
    Apart from thoughts of origami, and some delicious Alexander Henry Japanese tattoo-inspired fabric that is languishing in stash, I don't know where this might lead. Time will tell!

    1. Interesting thought about the Japanese tattoo inspired fabric! I have some ideas for my own project (not tattoos though!) and have been working on some of the book discussion lately -- there is so much in this story!!

  2. This was a very intriguing post! I had no idea of any connection between stitching and Buddhism and yet it makes so much sense.
    I have finished the book - yeah!! (only because I was almost bed bound with the flu so had a really concentrated effort to read as no energy for anything else). Whilst I found some of the parts of the book to be almost brutal, it wasn't as if it was there for 'brutal' sake, but more to explain situations. Is the Japanese culture such a mixed bag of cultures, ideas, behaviours etc? And yet these ideas also represent issues in every society I am sure - mental health, bullying, depression, military training, school behaviour, religion ... I could go on. A lot to think about.

    I have ordered more of this author's books from my library. I was impressed, although the very ending was beyond me and a bit ho hum in my view.

    So what to sew .... my ideas keep changing! Having read this author's interview and the discussion on stitching and Buddhism, I am currently leaning to a project from Yoko Saito's book 'Japanese Quilting piece by piece'. I love this book, have owned it for some time and never made a thing out of it. Just enjoyed the reading. But now it has just jumped off the shelf.

    1. So sorry that you had the flu! Ugh! But fortunately you had a good book to read while laid up. I hope you'll enjoy her other books too.

      I like the idea of the Japanese Quilting book. I'll have to look for that one, it sounds really intriguing.


Share your comments, ideas or suggestions here -- I am always interested in hearing from readers. It's nice to have a conversation!