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Kadohata, Cynthia

Cynthia Kadohata

1956 • Chicago, Illinois

Author

Since publishing her first novel, The Floating World, in 1989, Cynthia Kadohata has been viewed as one of the most compelling novelists in the United States. At the same time, she has tended to be described as a Japanese American writer, a distinction the author feels is both flattering and misleading. In her work Kadohata does explore the complications that come with having a "hyphenated heritage," or two heritages, however she believes that her novels have a more universal appeal. One reason is that all of her books are coming-of-age stories that explore such common themes as feeling different and struggling to find an identity. Another reason that Kadohata's books are so appealing is that she draws from her own childhood experiences. In 2004 she mined those memories to pen Kira-Kira, her first novel aimed at a younger audience. For her efforts Kadohata was awarded the 2005 Newbery Award for excellence in children's writing. It was an amazing feat for a first-time children's author.

Early desire to travel

Cynthia Kadohata is a second-generation Japanese American. This means her parents, although of Japanese descent, were also born in the United States. Specifically, Kadohata was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1956 or 1957. Even though she hailed from Chicago, most of her childhood was spent on the road. The wandering Kadohatas moved from Illinois to Arkansas, where Cynthia's brother was born, then on to Georgia, Michigan, and back to Chicago, where her sister was born. When Kadohata was fifteen years old the family put down roots in Los Angeles, California—although by that time her parents had divorced and established separate households.

Such a nomadic upbringing had a lasting impact on Kadohata, who developed a strong urge to travel as an adult. In interviews she describes herself as the ultimate "road hog." And, ultimately, traveling the country and writing became permanently linked for her. As the author explains on her Web site, "I love to travel around this amazing country. The beautiful landscape, the highways—I love it. Traveling, seeing the country, is one of the things from which I derive my 'writing energy.'"

"Just thinking about the American landscape and focusing on it puts me in touch with what I think of as the real, essential me. I have to be in touch with the real, essential me whenever I sit down to write."

While Kadohata's parents were married her mother was a homemaker; after the divorce her mother took various clerical jobs and eventually earned a degree in sociology. Kadohata's father grew up working on tenant farms in southern California, helping to pick celery and attending very little school. After a brief stint in the U.S. Army, he became a chicken "sexer" at a poultry plant, meaning he separated male and female chickens. "It was a horrible, backbreaking job," Kadohata recalled to Bob Minzesheimer of USA Today, "and for some reason, all the chicken sexers were Japanese, and all the Japanese Americans in town worked at the poultry plant." Being only one of a few families of Japanese descent in small southern towns gave the young girl an early sense of being an outsider, a feeling that as an adult Kadohata would explore in her writing.

Life-changing event

Kadohata was an intense and dedicated student. An avid reader, she was especially drawn to any books that featured animals. Among her early favorites were Charlotte's Web by E. B. White (1899–1977) and White Fang by Jack London (1876–1919). Although she enjoyed reading, Kadohata had no interest in becoming a writer. Actually, her plan was to become an astronaut, which she claims never would have worked out because she gets severe motion sickness.

While in Chicago the studious youngster attended an alternative high school, but when the family moved to Los Angeles and Kadohata entered Hollywood High, many of her credits did not transfer. She eventually dropped out of school, partly because she felt she simply did not fit in. "I became intensely shy," Kadohata admitted to Lisa See Kendall of Publishers Weekly. "It got to the point that going to the grocery store and talking to the cashier really made me nervous." After leaving school the teen took a job as a clerk in a department store and then flipped hamburgers at a fast-food restaurant. When she was eighteen years old Kadohata was admitted to Los Angeles City College. She later transferred to the University of Southern California, where she received a bachelor of arts degree in journalism.

After graduation, twenty-one-year-old Kadohata had a life-changing experience when a car jumped a curb and barreled into her as she was walking down a street in Los Angeles. The accident left her with a broken collarbone and a severely damaged right arm. It also made Kadohata realize that anything could happen at any moment. She told Kendall, "Life is unpredictable."

During her recovery Kadohata went to live with her sister in Boston, Massachusetts. It was there, while wandering through the city's many bookstores that she rediscovered her love of reading, a hobby she had abandoned as she grew older. Kadohata devoured dozens of books of short stories, finally concluding, as she told Kendall, that "you could say things with fiction that you couldn't say any other way." While working at various temporary jobs Kadohata began writing her own stories and submitting them to national magazines, including the Atlantic and the New Yorker. The first story she submitted had an offbeat plot featuring a world that was inhabited by one-legged ducks.

The Floating World

Over the next four years the struggling writer submitted over forty stories to magazines and was rejected time and time again. Kadohata was persistent, however, and finally, in 1986, the New Yorker accepted a short story called "Charlie O." Several other stories were subsequently purchased by other magazines, including The Pennsylvania Review. All of the tales would eventually end up becoming chapters in Kadohata's first novel.

While submitting stories, Kadohata honed her writing skills by taking classes at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania and New York's Columbia University. Her advanced education was cut short, however, when she was discovered in 1988 by literary super-agent Andrew Wylie. Wylie had read one of Kadohata's New Yorker stories and was so intrigued he wrote two letters asking to represent her. A stunned Kadohata agreed and soon after Wylie sold The Floating World to the publishing company Viking Press. Even after the book was released in 1989 the fledgling writer had a hard time believing she was truly a published author.

Although not specifically aimed at younger readers, the narrator of The Floating World is a twelve-year-old Japanese American girl named Olivia whose family, like Kadohata's own, live a transient existence crisscrossing the United States, in the years following World War II (1939–45; war in which Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, the United States, and their allies defeated Germany, Italy, and Japan). As Olivia grows to become a young adult she must do so in very close quarters and under the watchful eyes of her parents, because the family does everything together, including sometimes sleeping in the same room. Olivia must also contend with her grouchy grandmother, who is frequently physically and emotionally abusive. The family does eventually leave "the floating world" of gas stations, motels, and truck stops to settle permanently in Arkansas, where Olivia, finally in a stable home, has the freedom to grow up.

The Floating World was enthusiastically received by critics, who praised Kadohata for her vivid and stark writing style. In particular, Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times commented on the author's ability to "handle painful moments with humor and sensitivity." He wrote that " The Floating World marks the debut of a luminous new voice in fiction." Within the Asian American community, however, reviews were mixed, with some claiming that Kadohata was not always historically accurate or that she was sometimes being socially irresponsible, especially in her depiction of Olivia's grandmother. Kadohata took such criticism in stride, claiming she was writing from her own experiences and that her characters could not be expected to represent all Japanese Americans. As she explained to Kendall, "I think all Asian American writers are just writing from their hearts. Why should their work or my work stand for all Asians? That's impossible."

The glittering world of Kadohata

For her next novel, In the Heart of the Valley of Love (1992), Kadohata traveled much further ahead in time, setting her story in Los Angeles in 2052. In Kadohata's fictional world the city is in shambles with tension constantly erupting between two groups: the haves, who live in "richtowns," and the have-nots. Although it is a futuristic novel, it also tackles contemporary issues (at the time the book was published, L.A. was experiencing a series of race riots). At the center of the story is nineteen-year-old Francie, a girl of mixed Asian and African background. Creating the character was a very personal journey for Kadohata (Francie's arm is crushed during a car accident). The author revealed, "I thought this was a way for me to come out of the closet, in a sense. I have friends who have never even seen my arm."

Reviews of In the Heart were mixed, with some critics claiming Kadohata's second major effort lacked originality and imagination. Others applauded the author for her lyrical language and felt that Francie's story was poignantly realistic and that Kadohata remained a consistently powerful storyteller. Ten years later, in 1992, Kadohata released another novel, called The Glass Mountains, which was also in the science-fiction/fantasy genre. It was published in print format, but it was initially offered as an e-book, meaning that for a fee a reader could download it from the Internet.

Because Kadohata consistently featured younger heroines in her novels, her editor at Viking Press suggested she attempt a children's book. The author read boxes of books that her editor sent her and then went to the library to research even more. The result was the widely acclaimed Kira-Kira, which Kadohata released in 2004. The story focuses on ten-year-old Katie Takeshima, a first-generation Japanese American whose family moves from Iowa to Georgia after their grocery store goes out of business. Once again Kadohata returns to memories of her childhood in describing life for a Japanese American in a small, southern town. Kadohata describes Katie's first taste of discrimination in such vivid and frank detail that it is easy to believe that she is writing from first-hand experience. The author also draws on her own father's past (Katie's father is forced to work grueling hours in the town's poultry plant).

The biggest problem Katie must face, however, is watching her older sister, Lynn, struggle with cancer. Because their parents work long hours the two girls are particularly close; in fact, Lynn taught Katie her first word, kira-kira, which means "glittering."

Japanese Internment during World War II

During World War II (1939–45) the United States and its allies were fighting against Germany, Italy, and Japan. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882–1945) signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, calling for the relocation of Japanese Americans to internment camps. Internment camps are areas created to detain certain individuals, usually of a specific ethnic or religious background; such camps are usually created during periods of war. The reason for the order was supposedly to protect the United States against any type of espionage or terrorist attack. Since then, however, the act has been viewed as a major violation of civil rights and the period a bleak time in U.S. history.

Following President Roosevelt's order, Japanese Americans were directed to report to control stations to register. From there they were required to relocate their entire families to one of ten internment camps located in California, Arizona, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and Arkansas. Cynthia Kadohata's father was interned in the Poston camp on the Colorado River Indian Reservation in the Sonoran Desert. Since they were only allowed to bring what they could carry, most Japanese Americans had to sell the majority of their belongings. Many people took advantage of the situation and purchased items, such as cars, at greatly undervalued prices. Their possessions were also stolen and their homes vandalized, which ultimately resulted in millions of dollars of property loss.

Between 1942 and 1945, approximately 120,000 people, many of whom were American citizens, or Nisei, lived in the internment camps, which were sometimes called concentration camps. All detainees were required to sign an oath of loyalty to the United States even though they were not released upon signing. The majority readily agreed to sign because they wanted to show their loyalty. Some, however, refused, and as a result approximately eight thousand Japanese were deported, returned to their country. Those who remained continued to show their allegiance to America by flying the American flag and saluting the flag each morning and evening. In 1943, as the war effort escalated, Japanese American males were even drafted into the U.S. Army. Two all-Japanese American units were created, including the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which is considered to be one of the most honored military units in U.S. history.

In 1988, the U.S. Congress created a bill that formally apologized to all Japanese American internees and their families. Any individual who had been interned in one of the ten camps was offered a onetime compensation of $20,000.

Katie uses the term to describe anything she really likes. Reviewers unanimously applauded Kadohata for the work. Jennifer Brabander of The Horn Book Magazine claimed that "the novel captures both the specific experience of being Japanese American in the 1950s and the wider experience of illness and loss." Time for Kids commented on Kadohata's particularly strong female characters, and Publishers Weekly claimed that the book fairly shines.

Kira-Kira

On January 17, 2005, a fifteen-member committee of librarians and children's literature experts announced that Kira-Kira had won the 2005 John Newbery Award. Kadohata was alerted by phone at 4:26 A.M., and as she told Bob Minzesheimer, she "jumped up and down like an idiot," waking up her seventeen-month-old "who was cranky the rest of the morning." According to the Seattle Times, committee head Susan Faust sang praises for Kira-Kira at the awards ceremony held on January 19 in Boston: "What's really compelling here is the quietude of the book, in that there's both pathos [arousing feelings of sympathy] and humor, and I think the book kind of radiates a sense of hope from the inside out."

Following her Newbery win Kadohata got a chance to do her favorite thing—travel the country—as she visited schools and libraries across the United States to speak about Kira-Kira and life as an author. Her traveling days had to be limited, however, because she had her young son, who she adopted in 2004, waiting for her at home. Kadohata lives in Los Angeles with son, Sammy, and the other love of her life, her Doberman dog, Shika Kojika, whose name means "deer, little deer." When she was asked by Aminah Sallam of Time for Kids about what she considers to be kira-kira, Kadohata responded, "My son's eyes, my boyfriend, my dog, sitting outside when the sky is blue, traveling by road, and seeing the sky in the countryside where the stars are bright."

In 2005, Kadohata was hard at work on her next children's book, Weedflower, slated to be released in 2006. Like her previous novels, Weedflower was inspired by her family's history. Kadohata's father's family lived in an internment camp on the Colorado River Indian Reservation during World War II, and the story provides a fictionalized look at a friendship that springs up between a Japanese American girl living at the camp and a young American Indian boy. When researching Weedflower, Kadohata spoke with her father to get details. As she explained to USA Today , her father asked, "Who cares about that now?" Kadohata's response: "I do, Dad." And, given the amount of acclaim her previous books have received, soon thousands of others will know the story and share the care.

For More Information

Periodicals

Brabander, Jennifer. "Review of Kira-Kira. The Horn Book Magazine (March–April 2004): p. 183.

Emery, Theo. "Top Honors in Kids Books Announced." The Seattle Times (January 19, 2005): p. F3.

Kakutani, Michiko. "Review of The Floating World." New York Times (June 30, 1989): p. B4.

Kendall, Lisa See. "Interview: Cynthia Kadohata." Publishers Weekly (August 3, 1992): p. 48.

Minzesheimer, Bob. "Kadohata Knows Sense of 'Standing Out'." USA Today (January 18, 2005): p. O3D.

"Review of Kira-Kira." Publishers Weekly (February 9, 2004): p. 81.

Roback, Diane. "First-time Winners for Newbery, Caldecott." Publishers Weekly (January 24, 2005): pp. 22–24.

Web Sites

Home Page of Cynthia Kadohata.http://www.kira-kira.us/ (accessed on August 23, 2005).

Sallam, Aminah. "TFK Talks with Cynthia Kadohata." TimeforKids.com (February 28, 2005). http://www.timeforkids.com/TFK/kidscoops/story/0,14989,1028042,00.html (accessed on August 23, 2005).

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Kadohata, Cynthia 1956-

Kadohata, Cynthia 1956-

Personal

Born 1956, in Chicago, IL; married (divorced, 2000); children: Sammy (adopted). Education: Attended Los Angeles City College; University of Southern California, B.A. (journalism); graduate study at University of Pittsburgh and Columbia University.

Addresses

Home—Long Beach, CA. Agent—Andrew Wylie, Wylie, Aitken & Stone, Inc., 250 W. 57th St., Ste 2106, New York, NY 10107. E-mail—cynthia@kira-kira.us.

Career

Writer. Worked variously as a department-store clerk and waitress.

Awards, Honors

Whiting Writer's Award, Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation; Chesterfield Writer's Film Project screenwriting fellowship; National Endowment for the Arts grant; Newbery Medal, 2005, and APALA Award for Young-Adult Literature, 2006, both for Kira-Kira.

Writings

The Floating World, Viking (New York, NY), 1989.

In the Heart of the Valley of Love, Viking (New York, NY), 1992.

Kira-Kira, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2004.

Weedflower, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2006.

Cracker!: The Best Dog in Vietnam, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2007.

Contributor of short stories to periodicals, including New Yorker, Grand Street, Ploughshares, and Pennsylvania Review.

Adaptations

Author's novels have been adapted as audiobooks.

Sidelights

Cynthia Kadohata is an award-winning novelist and short-story writer. Her short fiction has appeared in the New Yorker, Grand Street, and the Pennsylvania Review, and her novels, including The Floating World and In the Heart of the Valley of Love, have been generally well received. In 2005 Kadohata received the prestigious Newbery Medal for her young-adult title Kira-Kira, a semi-autobiographical tale about a Japanese-American girl growing up in a small town in rural Georgia.

Like writers such as Amy Tan, Kadohata is frequently cited as a literary spokesperson for Asian Americans. However, this is a position about which she is

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ambivalent. As she told Publishers Weekly interviewer Lisa See, "there's so much variety among Asian-American writers that you can't say what an Asian-American writer is." Kadohata's novels contain many clearly autobiographical features and have frequently been lauded for their striking imagery and their hauntingly lyrical narrative. Her writing has been compared to that of Raymond Carver, Bobbie Ann Mason, Mark Twain, and J.D. Salinger.

Although Kadohata was born in Chicago, Illinois, she and her family lived in Michigan, Georgia, Arkansas, and California while searching for work. A voracious reader but an indifferent student, she dropped out of high school during her senior year, opting instead to go to work in a department store and a restaurant before enrolling in Los Angeles City College. From there, Kadohata transferred to the University of Southern California, where she earned a degree in journalism in 1977. After an automobile jumped the curb and severely injured her arm, Kadohata moved to Boston where she concentrated on her writing career. "I started looking at short stories," the author told See. "I had always thought that nonfiction represented the ‘truth.’ Fiction seemed like something that people had done a long time ago, and wasn't very profound. But in these short stories I saw that people were writing now, and that the work was very alive. I realized that you could say things with fiction that you couldn't say any other way."

Kadohata set herself the goal of writing one story each month, using money from temp jobs and her insurance settlement to support herself. After receiving numerous rejections, she sold a story to the New Yorker in 1986; that tale, along with two others also published by that prestigious magazine, would later become part of her debut novel, The Floating World. After briefly attending graduate-level writing courses at the University of Pittsburgh, Kadohata transferred to Columbia University's writing program. However, after finding a publisher for The Floating World, she abandoned her program at Columbia.

The Floating World is narrated by twelve-year-old Olivia and follows the journey of a Japanese-American family searching for economic and emotional security in post-World War II America. Kadohata uses Olivia's character to portray the family dynamics and interactions that occur as they travel, eat, and even sleep in the same room together. In a passage that reveals the significance of the book's title, Olivia explains this itinerant life: "We were traveling then in what she [Obasan, Olivia's grandmother] called ukiyo, the floating world. The floating world was the gas station attendants, restaurants, and jobs we depended on, the motel towns floating in the middle of fields and mountains. In old Japan, ukiyo meant the districts full of brothels, tea houses and public baths, but it also referred to change and the pleasures and loneliness change brings. For a long time, I never exactly thought of us as part of any of that, though. We were stable, traveling through an unstable world while my father looked for jobs."

In addition to the physical journey, Kadohata illustrates Olivia's internal journey in The Floating World. Due to the close quarters of her family's living arrangements, Olivia is exposed to adult issues at an early age. She witnesses the tension that exists between her parents, their quiet arguments, and even their love making. In addition, she is constantly subjected to her eccentric grandmother's frequently abusive behavior. Finally the family finds a stable home in Arkansas where Olivia matures from a young teen to a young adult. It is during this time that she learns to understand the ways of her parents and grandmother and to develop her own values. Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor Grace Edwards-Yearwood commended this portrayal, pointing out that "Kadohata writes compellingly of Olivia's coming of age, her determination to grow beyond her parents' dreams."

Reviewing The Floating World, Diana O'Hehir wrote in the New York Times Book Review that Kadohata's "aim and the book's seem to be one: to present the world affectionately and without embroidery. To notice what's there. To see it as clearly as you can." Caroline Ong, a Times Literary Supplement contributor, described Olivia's narrative as "haunting because of its very simplicity and starkness, its sketchy descriptions fleshing out raw emotions and painful truths." Susanna Moore, writing in the Washington Post Book World, judged that The Floating World would be more effective had it been written in the style of a memoir. However, the critic also conceded that "Kadohata has written a book that is a child's view of the floating world, a view that is perceptive, unsentimental and intelligent." New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani praised the first-time novelist's ability to handle painful moments with humor and sensitivity, concluding that such "moments not only help to capture the emotional reality of these people's lives in a delicate net of images and words, but they also attest to Ms. Kadohata's authority as a writer." Kakutani concluded the review by noting that The Floating World marks the debut of a luminous new voice in fiction."

In the Heart of the Valley of Love concerns survival and quality of life in Los Angeles in the year 2052. In her fictional future world Kadohata pits the haves and have-nots against one another. Both are gun-toting communities without morals, law, or order. Amid this chaos, the main character, a nineteen-year-old orphan of Asian and African descent named Francie, relates her story of endurance.

Some critics found Kahodota's sophomore effort to be relatively disappointing. Barbara Quick, writing in the New York Times Book Review, criticized In the Heart of the Valley of Love for its lack of conviction and imagination, and further noted that main character Francie, with only a few alterations, is identical to Kadohata's earlier protagonist. In a similar vein, Kakutani argued that "Kadohata's vision of the future is not sufficiently original or compelling," resulting in "an uncomfortable hybrid: a pallid piece of futuristic writing, and an unconvincing tale of coming of age." The reviewer noted, however, that "the writing in this volume is lucid and finely honed, often lyrical and occasionally magical." Praising In the Heart of the Valley of Love, Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor Susan Heeger lauded Kadohata as "masterful in her evocation of physical, spiritual and cultural displacement," adding that "the message of this marvelous though often painful book is that our capacity to feel deep emotion … just might bind us together, and save us from ourselves."

The Newbery Medal-winning Kira-Kira, Kadohata's first book for a young-adult audience, "tells the tender story of a Japanese-American family that moves from Iowa to rural Georgia in the 1950s," according to School Library Journal contributor Susan Faust. The work concerns the complex relationship between Katie Takeshima and her older sister, Lynn, who often cares for Katie while their parents work long hours at the town's poultry plants. Katie worships her older sister, who taught Katie the Japanese word "kira-kira," which means "glittering" and which Katie uses to describe everything she loves. When Lynn falls ill and is diagnosed with lymphoma, the sisters' roles are reversed; Katie becomes Lynn's caretaker, an exhausting and heart-wrenching ordeal that ends with her sister's death. Through Katie's narration, Kira-Kira "stays true to the child's viewpoint," the "plain, beautiful prose … barely contain[ing] the [narrator's] passionate feelings," noted Booklist critic Hazel Rochman. "The family's devotion to one another, and Lynn's ability to teach Katie to appreciate the ‘kira-kira,’ or glittering, in everyday life makes this novel shine," added a Publishers Weekly critic.

Also for a young-adult readership, Weedflower is set in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor and chronicles the growing friendship between Sumiko Yamaguchi, a Japanese-American girl living in an internment camp, and a Native-American boy who lives on nearby reservation lands. Noting that the work is loosely based on the childhood experiences of her father, Kadohata explained on her home page: "My father and his family were interned in the Poston camp on the Colorado River Indian Reservation in the Sonoran desert. One source claims the thermometer in 1942 hit more than 140 degrees in the Poston area." In the novel, Sumiko's uncle and grandfather are sent to North Dakota after the United States declares war on Japan, while the rest of her family is transported to a camp in the Arizona desert. Despite the harsh living conditions and her frustrations at being imprisoned, "Sumiko finds hope and a form of salvation" by creating a garden, observed a contributor for Publishers Weekly. A reviewer in Kliatt praised Weedflower, calling it "a haunting story of dramatic loss and subtle triumphs."

A high school dropout turned award-winning novelist, Kadohata believes that, as it did for her, literature has

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the power to nurture and transform an individual. After she left school, the author explained in her Newbery acceptance speech (as published in Horn Book), "I sought out the library near my home. Seeking it out was more of an instinct, really, not a conscious thought. I didn't think to myself, I need to start reading again. I felt it. I rediscovered reading—the way I'd read as a child, when there was constantly a book I was just finishing or just beginning or in the middle of. I rediscovered myself." She continued, "I look back on 1973, the year I dropped out of school, with the belief that libraries can not just change your life but save it. Not the same way a Coast Guardsman or a police officer might save a life, not all at once. It happens more slowly, but just as surely."

Biographical and Critical Sources

BOOKS

Kadohata, Cynthia, The Floating World, Viking (New York, NY), 1989.

Notable Asian Americans, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1995.

PERIODICALS

Amerasia Journal, winter, 1997, Lynn M. Itagaki, review of In the Heart of the Valley of Love, p. 229.

America, November 18, 1989, Eve Shelnutt, review of The Floating World, p. 361.

Antioch Review, winter, 1990, review of The Floating World, p. 125.

Belles Lettres, spring, 1993, review of In the Heart of the Valley of Love, p. 46.

Booklist, June 15, 1992, Gilbert Taylor, review of In the Heart of the Valley of Love, p. 1807; January 1, 2004, Hazel Rochman, review of Kira-Kira, p. 858.

Globe & Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), August 5, 1989.

Horn Book, March-April, 2004, Jennifer M. Brabander, review of Kira-Kira, pp. 183-184; July-August, 2005, Cynthia Kadohata, "Newbery Medal Acceptance," pp. 409-417, and Caitlyn M. Dlouhy, "Cynthia Kadohata," pp. 419-427.

Kliatt, March, 2006, Janis Flint-Ferguson, review of Weedflower, pp. 12-13.

Library Journal, June 15, 1992, Cherry W. Li, review of In the Heart of the Valley of Love, p. 102.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, July 16, 1989, p. 12; August 23, 1992, pp. 1, 8; May 2, 1993, review of The Floating World, p. 10.

New York Times, June 30, 1989, Michiko Kakutani, review of The Floating World, p. B4; July 28, 1992, Michiko Kakutani, review of In the Heart of the Valley of Love, p. C15.

New York Times Book Review, July 23, 1989, Diana O'Hehir, review of The Floating World, p. 16; August 30, 1992, Barbara Quick, review of In the Heart of the Valley of Love, p. 14.

Publishers Weekly, May 12, 1989, review of The Floating World, p. 279; June 1, 1992, review of In the Heart of the Valley of Love, p. 51; August 3, 1992, Lisa See, "Cynthia Kadohata," pp. 48-49; February 9, 2004, review of Kira-Kira, pp. 81-82; February 27, 2006, review of Weedflower, p. 62.

School Library Journal, January, 1990, Anne Paget, review of The Floating World, p. 127; March, 2004, Ashley Larsen, review of Kira-Kira, pp. 214-215; May, 2005, Susan Faust, "The Comeback Kid," pp. 38-40.

Time, June 19, 1989, review of The Floating World, p. 65.

Times Literary Supplement, December 29, 1989, Caroline Ong, review of The Floating World, p. 1447.

U.S. News & World Report, December 26, 1988, Miriam Horn and Nancy Linnon, "New Cultural Worlds," p. 101.

Washington Post Book World, June 25, 1989, pp. 5, 7; August 16, 1992, p. 5.

ONLINE

Cynthia Kadohata Web site,http://www.kira-kira.us (June 8, 2007).

Time for Kids Web site,http://www.timeforkids.com/ (February 28, 2005), Aminah Sallam, "TFK Talks with Cynthia Kadohata."

OTHER

Good Conversation! A Talk with Cynthia Kahodata (film), Tim Podell Productions, 2005.

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Kadohata, Cynthia (Lynn) 1956(?)-

KADOHATA, Cynthia (Lynn) 1956(?)-

Personal

Born 1956 (some sources say 1957), in Chicago, IL. Education: Attended Los Angeles City College; degree from University of Southern California; graduate programs at University of Pittsburgh and Columbia University.

Addresses

Agent Andrew Wylie, Wylie, Aitken & Stone, Inc., 250 West 57th St., Suite 2106, New York, NY 10107.

Career

Writer. Worked variously as a department store clerk and waitress.

Awards, Honors

Whiting Writer's Award from the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation; a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Writings

The Floating World, Viking (New York, NY), 1989.

In the Heart of the Valley of Love, Viking (New York, NY), 1992.

Kira-Kira, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2004.

Contributor of short stories to periodicals, including New Yorker, Grand Street, Ploughshares, and Pennsylvania Review.

Sidelights

Author Cynthia Kadohata's background and experience have inspired each of her novels about young Asian-American teens. In fact, many of her most vivid memories,

both good and bad, have found their way into her novels The Floating World, In the Heart of the Valley of Love, and Kira-Kira. As Kadohata told Publishers Weekly contributor Lisa See, because she uses her own experiences in her writing, the distinction between reality and fiction is sometimes confusing. She pointed out that "sometimes I can't remember if something has happened to me or to my character. My memories become their memories, and their memories become mine."

Kadohata's family moved oftento Illinois, Michigan, Georgia, Arkansas, and Californiaand these experiences of traveling from town to town and state to state are a basic element of her first novel, The Floating World. The book is narrated by twelve-year-old Olivia, and follows a Japanese-American family as they search for economic and emotional security in post-World War II America. Kadohata uses Olivia's character to portray the family dynamics and interactions that occur as family members travel, eat, and sleep together in the same room. Olivia explains this itinerant life: "We were travelling then in what she [Olivia's grandmother] called ukiyo, the floating world. The floating world was the gas station attendants, restaurants, and jobs we depended on, the motel towns floating in the middle of fields and mountains. In old Japan, ukiyo meant the districts full of brothels, tea houses and public baths, but it also referred to change and the pleasures and loneliness change brings. For a long time, I never exactly thought of us as part of any of that, though. We were stable, traveling through an unstable world while my father looked for jobs."

In addition to the physical journey, Kadohata illustrates Olivia's internal journey in The Floating World. Due to the close quarters of her family's living arrangements, Olivia is exposed to adult issues at an early age. She witnesses the tension that exists between her parents, their quiet arguments, and even their lovemaking. In addition, she is constantly subjected to her eccentric grandmother's frequently abusive behavior. Finally the family finds a stable home in Arkansas where Olivia matures into a young adult, learning to accept the ways of her parents and grandmother and to develop her own values. Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor Grace Edwards-Yearwood praised the novel, noting that "Kadohata writes compellingly of Olivia's coming of age, her determination to grow beyond her parents' dreams." New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani commended Kadohata's ability to handle painful moments with humor and sensitivity, noting that such "moments not only help to capture the emotional reality of these people's lives in a delicate net of images and words, but they also attest to Ms. Kadohata's authority as a writer. The Floating World marks the debut of a luminous new voice in fiction."

Kadohata's futuristic second novel, In the Heart of the Valley of Love, concerns survival and quality of life in Los Angeles in the year 2052. In this world Kadohata focuses on the haves and the have-nots, who have each formed gun-toting communities without morals, laws, or order. Amidst this chaos, Francie, a nineteen-year-old orphan of Asian and African descent, relates her story of endurance. In the Heart of the Valley of Love also draws on a tragedy from it's author's past: One episode is based on a serious accident Kadohata experienced when a car jumped a curb and hit her, mangling her right arm. The author told See that including this incident in her fiction was a way of dealing with it: "I thought this was a way for me to come out of the closet, in a sense. I have friends who have never seen my arm."

While some critics felt that the protagonist of Kadohata's second novel too closely resembled Olivia from The Floating World, several agreed with Kakutani, who wrote that "the writing in this volume is lucid and finely honed, often lyrical and occasionally magical." Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor Susan Heeger found much to enjoy in In the Heart of the Valley of Love, praising Kadohata as "masterful in her evocation of physical, spiritual and cultural displacement," and adding that the "message of this marvelous though often painful book is that our capacity to feel deep emotionour own and others'just might bind us together, and save us from ourselves."

Unlike Kadohata's first two novels, Kira-Kira was written with a young-adult audience in mind. Like Olivia in The Floating World, younger sister Katie has difficulty dealing with prejudice as well as with her family's moves, in this case from the midwest to a small Georgia town where the Takeshima's join only a handful of other Japanese Americans. While her parents' time is taken up with working to support the family in a local chicken-processing plant, Katie grows up with her loving older sister, Lynn, who becomes her surrogate mother. When Katie reaches age ten, the roles are reversed, as she cares for Lynn as the older girl fights a losing battle with lymphoma.

Reflecting the young girl's growing maturity over the years, Katie's narrative in Kira-Kira was praised by Horn Book contributor Jennifer M. Brabander as "compelling and often quietly humorous," while Hazel Rochman noted in a Booklist review of Kadohata's third novel that "the real story is in the small details, never self-consciously 'poetic' but tense with family drama." Despite the book's central tragedy, Brabander found Kadohata's story to be one of hope, as "Katie is able to see what her family has lost and also what they've gained" as a result of Lynn's death. In School Library Journal Ashley Larsen called Kira-Kira a "beautifully written story [that] tells of a girl struggling to find her own way in a family torn by illness and horrible work conditions," while in Publishers Weekly a contributor concluded: "The family's devotion to one another, and Lynn's ability to teach Katie to appreciate the 'kirakira,' or gilttering, in everyday life makes this novel shine."

Kadohata's status as one of a growing number of Japanese-American authors has brought her both satisfaction and frustration. As she explained to See: "For the first time in my life, I saw that there could be expectations of me not only as a writer but as an Asian-American writer. On the one hand, I felt like, 'Leave me alone.' On the other hand, I thought, 'This is a way I can assert my Asianness.'" At the same time, however, she had been criticized for flawed characters such as the grandmother, or obasan, in The Floating World. This type of thinking, the author told See, is misguided. "One Japanese interviewer asked me if in The Floating World I was saying that all Japanese grandmothers are abusive and in conflict with themselves. Of course not! Obasan was a character in a novelnot a person representing all Japanese grandmothers. He said that [noted Japanese-American writer] Amy Tan and Maxine Hong Kingston were catering to white people, but I think they and other Asian-American writers are just writing from their hearts. Why should their work or my work stand for all Asians? That's impossible."

Biographical and Critical Sources

BOOKS

Kadohata, Cynthia, The Floating World, Viking (New York, NY), 1989.

PERIODICALS

Amerasia Journal, winter, 1997, Lynn M. Itagaki, review of In the Heart of the Valley of Love, p. 229.

America, November 18, 1989, Eve Shelnutt, review of The Floating World, p. 361.

Antioch Review, winter, 1990, review of The Floating World, p. 125.

Belles Lettres, spring, 1993, review of In the Heart of the Valley of Love, p. 46.

Booklist, June 15, 1992, Gilbert Taylor, review of In the Heart of the Valley of Love, p. 1807; January 1, 2004, Hazel Rochman, review of Kira-Kira, p. 858.

Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), August 5, 1989.

Horn Book, March-April, 2004, Jennifer M. Brabander, review of Kira-Kira, p. 183.

Kliatt, January, 2004, review of Kira-Kira, p. 8.

Library Journal, June 15, 1992, Cherry W. Li, review of In the Heart of the Valley of Love, p. 102.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, July 16, 1989, p. 12; August 23, 1992, pp. 1, 8; May 2, 1993, review of The Floating World, p. 10.

New York Times, June 30, 1989, Michiko Kakutani, review of The Floating World, p. B4; July 28, 1992, Michiko Kakutani, review of In the Heart of the Valley of Love, p. C15.

New York Times Book Review, July 23, 1989, Diana O'Hehir, review of The Floating World, p. 16; August 30, 1992, Barbara Quick, review of In the Heart of the Valley of Love, p. 14.

Publishers Weekly, May 12, 1989, review of The Floating World, p. 279; June 1, 1992, review of In the Heart of the Valley of Love, p. 51; August 3, 1992, Lisa See, interview with Kadohata, pp. 48-49l; February 9, 2002, review of Kira-Kira, p. 81.

School Library Journal, January, 1990, Anne Paget, review of The Floating World, p. 127; March, 2003, Ashley Larsen, review of Kira-Kira, p. 214.

Time, June 19, 1989, review of The Floating World, p. 65.

Times Literary Supplement, December 29, 1989, Caroline Ong, review of The Floating World, p. 1447.

U.S. News & World Report, December 26, 1988, Miriam Horn and Nancy Linnon, "New Cultural Worlds," p. 101.

Washington Post Book World, June 25, 1989, pp. 5, 7; August 16, 1992, p. 5.*

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"Kadohata, Cynthia (Lynn) 1956(?)-." Something About the Author. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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