2010 National Book Award Finalist,

Karen Tei Yamashita

I Hotel

Coffee House Press

Photo credit: Mary Uyematsu Kao


Divided into ten novellas, one for each year, I Hotel begins in 1968, when Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated, students took to the streets, the Vietnam War raged, and cities burned.

As Yamashita's motley cast of students, laborers, artists, revolutionaries, and provocateurs make their way through the history of the day, they become caught in a riptide of politics and passion, clashing ideologies, and personal turmoil. And by the time the survivors unite to save the International Hotel—epicenter of the Yellow Power Movement—their stories have come to define the very heart of the American experience.


Heralded as a “big talent” by the Los Angeles Times, extolled by the New York Times for her “mordant wit,” and praised by Newsday for “wrestl[ing] with profound philosophical and social issues” while delivering an “immensely entertaining story,” Karen Tei Yamashita is one of the foremost writers of her generation. I Hotel, which took over a decade to write and research, is her magnum opus.

The author of four previous novels, Yamashita is the recipient of an American Book Award and the Janet Heidinger Kafka Award. A California native who has also lived in Brazil and Japan, she teaches at the University of California-Santa Cruz, where she received the Chancellor’s Award for Diversity in 2009.


Karen Tei Yamashita's Wikipedia entry

Karen Tei Yamashita's University of Washington webpage

Bookslut interview with Yamashita


From I Hotel by Karen Tei Yamashita. Copyright © 2010 by Karen Tei Yamashita. Published by Coffee House Press: www.coffeehousepress.org. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

By the time we got the red alert to place our bodies in a human barricade around an old hotel that held seventy years of our city’s hotel history, we were already the displaced people in the city’s plan to impose a particular meaning of home and a particular meaning of nation. Since our hotel life was considered suspect morally and socially, our hotels should naturally be replaced by proper single-family houses built in locations distant from the city, and our hotels and all our businesses that serviced us should be replaced with what the city was properly useful for: trading posts, jails, courthouses, and saloons. And no one should be allowed to live over a saloon unless he was just passing through. A commercial room was simply not a dwelling. These edicts were substantiated by zoning and blight laws allowing the city to use eminent domain to liberate our homes for the public good, even if the public good meant giving up our property for the wealthy few. Almost as quickly as an earthquake, our neighborhoods located in the Fillmore and South of Market were already razed and being replaced by forty-eight-story multinational corporate trading posts. Even if we were expected to build, maintain, clean, and service these posts, we weren’t expected to live anywhere nearby. Be at work promptly at eight a.m., but please, please disappear by ?ve p.m. But this was an impossible request because we could not leave, and we had nowhere to go. So that night in August, far past our ?ve p.m. curfew and into the next morning, we gathered around the I-Hotel to face four hundred officers of the police, sheriff’s, and ?re departments all dressed up in riot gear, to demonstrate that we had not disappeared and that we were ?nally fed up. What was the total cost to us as taxpayers, not just in overtime and equipment, but everything—everything it took over how many months in anticipation to deploy the full force of the city’s and county’s ?nal retribution? No doubt more than a million dollars, the insipid worth of the structure we defended.

From I Hotel by Karen Tei Yamashita. Copyright © 2010 by Karen Tei Yamashita. Published by Coffee House Press: www.coffeehousepress.org. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.