Our dear friend and colleague, Sari Kawana, Professor of Japanese at the University of Massachusetts Boston, passed away in Boston on October 29, 2020.
Many will know Sari for the two important books she authored: Murder Most Modern: Detective Fiction and Japanese Culture (University of Minnesota Press, 2008) and The Uses of Literature in Modern Japan (Bloomsbury, 2018). Her scholarly work includes a long list of book chapters and academic articles on a very wide range of topics, not only manga representations of Florence Nightingale and ancient Roman bath culture but also postwar Japanese murder mysteries and Natsume Sōseki’s I am a Cat, which she playfully reads as a parody of a detective novel. She delighted in infusing her analysis with unexpected approaches and unconventional sources to propose novel reinterpretations of canonical texts of "pure" literature as well as to provide innovative perspectives on "popular" literary genres. For her, everything was fair game, and her goal was to uncover the underappreciated dimensions of literary production and consumption -- and to have fun while doing it.
Sari was born and raised in Tokyo, but completed high school in the United States before attending the School of Languages and Linguistics at Georgetown University, where she majored in French Studies. Her PhD was awarded in 2003 by the Program in Comparative Literature and Literary Theory at the University of Pennsylvania, where she counted Linda H. Chance, William R. LaFleur, Gerald Prince, Jean-Michel Rabaté, and Liliane Weissberg as mentors and teachers.
After brief teaching stints at Penn and the University of Delaware, Sari joined the faculty at UMass Boston in 2006, where she headed up the program in Japanese language and literature. She was promoted to Associate Professor in 2012 and Professor in 2019. Sari taught courses on Japanese fiction and film while also contributing to the Japanese language curriculum. A dedicated teacher always seeking ways to open texts and films to students in her classes, her friends will remember how ecstatic she would be when a particular unit really “clicked” with her students. Though she felt that she had come into her own as a teacher only in recent years, all indications are that she had been successful in the classroom from the very start.
Sari’s friends and colleagues will remember her as a witty, sometimes mischievous, conversationalist and one always ready with a hilarious anecdote, which she would deliver with impeccable comedic timing. As a colleague she was generous with her time and always supportive and encouraging. Astonishingly eclectic in her reading, she had something interesting and insightful to say on most any topic. Yakiniku was a favorite of hers, and if it was to be had, Sari would always know where to find it.
She will be very sadly missed.
Sari is survived by her husband, William Hammell, her daughter, Chandra, and her three brothers.