On December 10, 2023, Michiko Sakamoto-Senge launched her book, Beauty of a New Land: The Lives and Legacies of Five Immigrant Women in Canada. The launch was very well-attended and many books were sold. The love in the room was palpable. All five of the women who are represented in the book were there. It was a joyous occasion that Michiko had been anticipating for many years. Sadly, she did not have long to enjoy her achievement. She died suddenly on January 31, 2024, surrounded by her loving family.
I first met Michiko in the Spring of 2021. We were introduced by a mutual friend who thought I might be the right person to help Michiko get her manuscript into a publishable form. We met in a cafe (wearing masks, of course) to chat about what she wanted (and needed) in an editor. By the end of that meeting, Michiko had engaged me as her editor and publishing coach, and I knew I was in the presence of an exceptional woman.
Over the years that followed, we had many meetings in cafes (and some at her house) and I came to know Michiko as a friend as well as a client. She was a delight to work with–open, intelligent, diligent, curious, and very tenacious. As we worked together to shape the book into a compelling narrative, the only thing she resisted was telling her own immigrant story alongside the other four women. (She finally agreed, but she was always reluctant to put herself front and centre.)
As our friendship grew, I found out that Michiko was kind, selfless, unpretentious, self-effacing, funny, and immensely stylish. Not in a “look-at-me” way, but in a way that reflected her Japanese roots in the most elegant, yet practical, fashion. Her commitment to diversity and inclusivity was ongoing. She was a devoted mother, wife, and grandmother.
Michiko read every word of Beauty of a New Land many times; she wanted to have a perfect manuscript to send to the publisher (even though I told her that perfection was a rarity in publishing). She agonised over which photos to use in the book (always wanting to be even-handed), and she checked the copyedits and the proofs over and over, often finding mistakes that the rest of us had missed. She was incredibly diligent but always appreciative of the work of others. She learned how to navigate the publisher’s often-mystifying processes, and in the end, the book reflected its author’s beauty and grace.
Her death has saddened and shocked everyone who knew her, but I feel fortunate to have known her and seen first hand what it is to be a good human in a problematic world. I love you, Michiko, and I miss you.