PZI Teacher Archives

Zen Luminaries: Books & Tales with Ruth Ozeki


A longtime Buddhist practitioner, Ruth was ordained in 2010 and is affiliated with the Brooklyn Zen Center and the Everyday Zen Foundation. She currently teaches creative writing at Smith College, where she is the Grace Jarcho Ross 1933 Professor of Humanities in the Department of English Language and Literature. Conversation with Jon Joseph and Ruth Ozeki recorded May 29th, 2023.


“Hi! My name is Nao, and I am a time being. Do you know what a time being is? Well, if you give me a moment, I will tell you…”

So opens A Tale For The Time Being, “at once tender and refined, comic and grave, hopeful and desperate,” writes the Chair of Judges for the Man Booker Prize. A Tale is one of the most intriguing and heartfelt novels I have read in recent years.

Naoko Yasutani, sixteen, grew up in Sunnyvale, CA, but is taken back to Japan by her parents after her father is laid off from his high-tech job. Severely bullied at her Japanese school—stabbed with scissors, constantly pinched, and even given a mock funeral—Nao has written in her journal that she plans to take her own life. 

Kept in a Hello Kitty lunchbox, the diary is swept away in the 2011 Fukushima tsunami, and washes up on a beach on Vancouver Island, to be found and read by Ruth. The one person Nao has to live for is her 104-year-old great grandmother, a Buddhist nun and activist. For her part, Ruth feels compelled to find Nao and save the girl’s life.

Ruth Ozeki, a Soto Zen priest, filmmaker, and writer of five novels and a memoir, has won numerous awards for her work, most recently the 2022 Women’s Prize for Fiction for her latest, The Book of Form and Emptiness. Brilliant in storytelling and deeply spiritual, Ruth also has a wicked sense of humor.

—Jon Joseph

A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me,
and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be. —Ruth Ozeki

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