***Use the links embedded in the stories of each author to learn more about their life and times***
On July 5, 1923 Japanese American Mitsuye Yamada was born in Fukuoka, Japan. As a teenager, Yamada and her family were interned in Minadoka Relocation Center in Idaho, a US concentration camp for Japanese American citizens and resident aliens whose population reached nearly 10,000 making it Idaho's third largest city. After renouncing her loyalty to the Emperor of Japan, Yamada was allowed to leave the camp to attend the University of Cincinnati. In 1953 she obtained her M.A. from the University of Chicago and began her teaching career.
Observation of her mother's traditional way of life and Yamado's own experience bring feminist and anti-racist themes to her work. Yamada is a writer and editor and an activist in the areas of women's rights—specifically with women of color, and women prisoners. She has said, “Being a feminist activist is more dangerous for women of color.” (www.womensbuilding.org).
For more information about Mitsuye Yamada and a sample of her poetry, click here.
Maxine Hong Kingston
Born to first generation Chinese Immigrants in 1940 in California, Maxine's mother worked as a midwife and her father, although a scholar in China, found himself working at a laundry and later a gambling house to pay the bills. Like her mother, Maxine was a gifted story teller, but preferred the art of writing. Because of her intelligence and talent, she received several scholarships that allowed her to attend University of California at Berkley. After receiving her BA and teaching certificate, Kingston published her first book, The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts.
Kingston has since published several novels and works of non-fiction addressing issues and struggles of immigration. To hear an interview Kingston did with Bill Moyers, click here. To hear Kingston talk passionately about writing, watch the video:
Born in Oakland, California to Chinese immigrants, Tan has led a life full of much success and much turmoil. In a family of six children, (including Amy), Tan lost her father and eldest brother in the same year to brain tumors. Like Kingston, Tan's novels often focus on the mother-daughter relationship and the complications of role expectations. Tan's parents plotted the course of her life:
"I was told what I was supposed to do when I was growing up, so I don't
think I ever had a chance to think about what I really wanted to do.
Deep down, I wanted to be an artist but I knew you couldn't make any
money being an artist. That was just play. My parents told me I would
become a doctor and then in my spare time I would become a concert
pianist. So, both my day job and my spare time were sort of taken care
of. It terrified me when I got to wondering if that was something I
really could do." (Amy Tan, 1996 Interview, Academy of Achievement)
When Tan decided to leave the Baptist church, (her father was a minister, before he passed away), and abandon pre-med for English and writing, mother and daughter did not speak for several months. Despite her mother's initial disapproval, Amy Tan's career in writing has been enourmously successful.
To hear an audio interview with Amy Tan, click here.Joy Kogawa
A writer of novels, a poet, and an activist, Kogawa was born in Vancouver in 1935. As a second-generation Japanese Canadian or nisei, she has told the stories of Japanese-Canadians in her writing. Kogawa and her family were evacuated to Slocan, British Columbia and later to Coaldale, Alberta during the Second World War. She has also been involved in seeking redress from the Canadian government for the internment of twenty thousand Japanese Canadians during World War II. She was made a Member of the Order of Canada. From 1983 to 1985 Kogawa worked with the National Association of Japanese Canadians. Under the War Measures Act in 1942, many Japanese Canadians had lost their property and possessions. Kogawa pursued studies in education at the University of Alberta and taught elementary school in Coaldale for a year. She then studied music at the University of Toronto followed by studies at the Anglican Women's Training College and the University of Saskatchewan. In 1957, she married, had two children, and divorced in 1968. Joy Kogawa has published several collections of poetry, essays, children's literature and the novels Obasan, Istuka, and The Rain Ascends. Obasan won several book awards; it focuses on Japanese Canadians and the injustices they experienced during and after the Second World War. The central character of this book is Naomi, who reappears in Kogawa's children's book, Naomi's Road and again in Itsuka. The latter text concentrates on the emotional and political involvement of Naomi in the Japanese-Canadian redress movement. Kogawa's novel, The Rain Ascends, deals with an emotional issue of a different kind: the sexual abuse of children by a Protestant clergyman. Her book length poem, A Song of Lilith published in 2001 is a collaborative work on the mythical figure of Lilith (Adam's "first" wife).
*biography written by Karin Beeler firstname.lastname@example.org
Born in 1940 in Calcutta, India to an upper-middle class family, Mukherjee was reading and writing by age three and knew she wanted to be a writer by age ten. In 1947 at the age of eight, she moved to Britain with her family. Described by Candia McWilliam of The London Review of Books as "A writer both tough and voluptuous" in her works, Mukherjee explores issues such as the immigrant experience, the feelings of isolation associated with this experience, and issues of identity (especially in her earlier works). For example, read the following excerpt from Jasmine (1989):
"I swam to where the river was a sun-gold haze. I kicked and paddled in a rage. Suddenly my fingers scraped the soft waterlogged carcass of a small dog. The body was rotten, the eyes had been eaten. The moment I touched it, the body broke in two, as though the water had been its glue. A stench leaked out of the broken body, and then the pieces quickly sank. That stench stays with me. I'm twenty-four now, I live in Baden, Elsa County, Iowa, but every time I lift a glass of water to my lips, fleetingly I smell it. I know what I don't want to become."
Mukherjee has been received favorably by many critics and academics, she has also faced a good deal of criticism, particularly from East Indian scholars and critics. It has been said that she often represents India in her fiction as a land without hope or a future. She has also been criticized for a tendency to overlook unavoidable barriers of caste, education, gender, race and history in her tales of survivors, particularly within Jasmine, giving her characters more opportunities than their social circumstances would realistically allow (Vocies from the Gaps, http://voices.cla.umn.edu).
To read an interview with Mukherjee, click here.
Theresa Hak Kyung Cha
Born on March
4, 1951 in Pusan, South Korea, outside of Seoul. Cha's family of seven moved several times during the Korean War and eventually landed in Seoul. In 1962, the Cha family moved to Hawaii, and then to
Cha obtained her undergraduate and master's degrees from University of California, Berkeley. Cha's postgraduate work in
was in film-making and theory. The films and performances she gave gained her recognition.
Cha's produced different types of media- video and written. However, most of her work delt with the theme of immigration and dislocation, which she would make the viewer feel by use of repetition, slow fadeouts, and plays on words and cognates.
Dictee is Cha's best-known work, and consistant with all of Cha's work are the themes of memory, dislocation, and fragmentation. Korean revolutionary Yu Guan Soon, Joan of Arc, Hyung Soon Huo (Cha's mother, who was born in Manchuria to first-generation Korean exiles), Demeter and Persephone, and Cha herself are the characters in the novel. They are all united by suffering. The book is divided into nine parts of various writing styles, including dreams, journal entries, and stories told in allegory.
To see a collection of photographs of Cha's performance art, click here.