From writing about the stage to writing for it

  • Howard Reich

    Howard Reich Photo courtesy of Pam Becker

  • Howard Reich's opera "Kimiko's Pearl"

    Howard Reich's opera "Kimiko's Pearl" Photo courtesy of Bravo Niagara! Festival of the Arts

Posted1/9/2022 1:00 AM

For more than 40 years, longtime Deerfield resident Howard Reich covered music and the arts for the Chicago Tribune with passion and sensitivity, adding six books and three documentary films to his prodigious credits as an award-winning critic.

Now, one year after he accepted a buyout from the Tribune, the treasured Chicago journalist is about to unveil perhaps the most inspiring project of his career -- to be presented in an entirely new realm.


Reich has written the stage scenario for "Kimiko's Pearl," a new multidisciplinary work to be performed by principal dancers of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

Commissioned by the nonprofit Bravo Niagara! Festival of the Arts based in Ontario, Canada, "Kimiko's Pearl" tells the fictionalized family story of Bravo Niagara! co-founders (and mother-daughter team) Christine Mori and Alexis Spieldenner, whose Japanese Canadian ancestors were interred during World War II.

This year marks 80 years since the forced uprooting, internment and dispossession of 22,000 Canadians of Japanese ancestry.

Reich's story of heroism and hope in the face of racism is told through the eyes of Kimiko, a 15-year-old Toronto girl who discovers an old family trunk containing her great-grandfather's diary. As Kimiko reads the diary, her family's tale comes to life.

Audiences were scheduled to get a peek at the production of "Kimiko's Pearl" with a short film of the opening scene this weekend, but that has been postponed indefinitely because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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"Working on 'Kimiko's Pearl' is turning out to be one of the most inspiring projects of my career. The tantalizing challenge has been to write thousands of words laying out a story that will be told onstage with no words at all," Reich told me.

"One of the many reasons I agreed to take this on is because 'Kimiko's Pearl' confronts the racism that made Japanese-Canadian internment during World War II possible. That same kind of bigotry also triggered the internment of Japanese-Americans. And that degree of hate similarly laid the groundwork for the Holocaust, which both my parents survived."

Reich, who grew up in Skokie and graduated from Northwestern University, achieved worldwide acclaim for "Prisoner of Her Past: A Son's Memoir," his book about the lifelong trauma his mother suffered from her ordeal in the Holocaust, and the 2010 Kartemquin Films documentary it inspired.

Ann Marie Lipinski, the former Tribune editor who now runs the Nieman Fellowship program at Harvard, called Reich "a marvel," adding: "He has re-imagined his journalism many times over, each chapter a master class. Decades into covering the arts, his enthusiasm remains infectious and journalism schools should invite him to talk to their students about continual reinvention."

Mori, co-founder and artistic director of Bravo Niagara!, said in a statement: "We hope audiences come away with a deeper understanding of and desire to learn more about this important, yet often untold, chapter in Canadian history."

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