Houston, Jeanne Wakatsuki 1934–
Houston, Jeanne Wakatsuki 1934–
(Jeanne Toyo Wakatsuki Houston)
PERSONAL: Born September 26, 1934, in CA; daughter of Ko (a fisherman) and Riku (Sugai) Wakatsuki; married James D. Houston (a writer), 1957; children: Corinne, Joshua, Gabrielle. Ethnicity: "Japanese American." Education: University of San Jose, B.A., 1956; also attended Sorbonne, University of Paris. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Buddhist. Hobbies and other interests: Swimming, dancing, film.
CAREER: Writer. Group worker and juvenile probation officer in San Mateo, CA, 1955–57. Writer-in-residence, Bellagio, Italy, 1995. Judge, Kiriyama Book Prize, 2002–04.
MEMBER: Writers Guild, Screen Writers Guild.
AWARDS, HONORS: Humanitas Prize, 1976, and Christopher Award, both for screenplay Farewell to Manzanar; award from National Women's Political Caucus; Wonder Woman Award, 1984; Hawaii International Film Festival award, 1989; U.S.-Japan creative arts fellowship, 1991–92; Santa Cruz Ethnic Arts Award of Recognition, 1992; honorary degree from DeAnza College, 1994; Rockefeller grant, 1995; Carey McWilliams Award, California Studies Association, 2000; Certificate of Commendation for Literature and History, California Senate, Legislature and City of Los Angeles, 2001; Japanese American of the Biennium 2002–04, Japanese-American Citizens League, 2004.
(With husband, James D. Houston) Farewell to Manzanar: A True Story of Japanese-American Experience during and after the World War II Internment (nonfiction; also see below), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1973, reprinted, 2002.
(With James D. Houston and John Korty) Farewell to Manzanar (screenplay), Universal/MCA-TV, 1976.
(With Paul G. Hensler) Don't Cry, It's Only Thunder (nonfiction), Doubleday (New York, NY), 1984.
Beyond Manzanar: Views of Asian-American Womanhood (bound with One Can Think about Life after the Fish Is in the Canoe, and Other Coastal Sketches, by James. D. Houston), Capra Press (San Francisco, CA), 1985.
The Legend of Fire Horse Woman, Kensington Publishing (New York, NY), 2003.
Also author of teleplays Barrio, with James D. Houston, for National Broadcasting Co. (NBC); and The Melting Pot, with Houston, for Paramount Pictures.
Contributor of essays, articles and reviews to periodicals, including Mother Jones, California, California Living, West, New England Review, San Francisco Review of Books, San Francisco Chronicle, Reader's Digest (Japanese edition), Der Spiegel, Dialogue, Los Angeles Times, and San Jose Mercury-News. Work represented in numerous anthologies, including Ethnic American Woman, Kendell-Hunt, 1978; Asian Americans: Social and Psychological Perspectives, Science & Behavior Books, 1980; Ethnic Lifestyles and Mental Health, University of Oklahoma Press, 1980; Common Ground, Scott Foresman, 1982; Crossing Cultures, Macmillan, 1983; Borzoi College Reader, American Childhoods, Little, Brown, 1987; Racism and Sexism, St. Martins Press, 1988; A Gathering of Flowers: Stories about Being Young in America, Harper & Row, 1990; American Mosaic, Houghton Mifflin, 1991; Listening to Ourselves, Anchor Books, 1993; Growing up Asian, Morrow, 1993; American Dragons, HarperCollins, 1993; Multitude: Cross-cultural Readings for Writers, McGraw-Hill, 1993; Dreamers and Desperadoes, Dell, 1993; Under Western Eyes, Anchor Books, 1995; Where Coyotes Howl and the Wind Blows Free, University of Nevada Press, 1997; Literature and the Environment, Longman, 1999; and The Colors of Nature, Milkweed Press, 2002.
SIDELIGHTS: With the publication of the memoir Farewell to Manzanar, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston "became, quite unintentionally, a voice for a heretofore silent segment of society," according to a Los Angeles Times reporter. The book, which Houston coauthored with her husband, James D. Houston, describes the experience of Houston and her family as residents of an internment camp in Nevada wherein Japanese Americans were forcibly kept during World War II. Widely read, the book has sold more than a million copies since it was first published in 1973, and has been made into a film for television. In 2001 copies of the film were distributed to every public school and library in California as part of a curriculum focusing on history and civil rights.
Born in California, Houston was only seven years old when her family of first-and second-generation Japanese Americans was shipped to the Manzanar internment camp near the Sierra Nevada mountains. The Wakatsukis were one of the first families interned there and one of the last to be released. Farewell to Manzanar describes the indignities of the camp experience and the harmful effects it had on Houston's family, particularly her father. As a New Yorker critic observed, Ko Wakatsuki "was too old to bend with the humiliations of the camp…. His story is at the heart of this book, and his daughter tells it with great dignity." As Dorothy Rabinowitz wrote in the Saturday Review, "Houston and her husband have recorded a tale of many complexities in a straightforward manner, a tale remarkably lacking in either self-pity or solemnity." A New York Times Book Review critic concluded that Farewell to Manzanar is "a dramatic, telling account of one of the most reprehensible events in the history of America's treatment of its minorities."
Silenced by guilt and shame, Houston was thirty-seven years old before she felt comfortable articulating her feelings about the internment. As she later explained to a Los Angeles Times contributor, her experiences made her feel "sullied, like when you are a rape victim…. You feel you must have done something. You feel you are part of the act." Farewell to Manzanar was among the first works to publicize the story of Japanese Americans' internment. According to Los Angeles Times con-tributor Ajay Singh, almost a quarter century after its original publication it remains an "accessible and unsentimental work" that "shed light on a subject that had been largely ignored in popular histories." In 1998 the U.S. government formally apologized for interning 120,000 Japanese Americans during wartime.
Houston further explored the tribulations of post-World War II Asian-Americans in her 1985 book, Beyond Manzanar: Views of Asian-American Womanhood. Using a combination of essays and short fiction, she describes the difficulty she and other women have found in trying to assimilate with American culture while maintaining the traditions of their Japanese heritage. "Her descriptions of how she handles this challenge … constitute the book's most substantial assets," commented James W. Byrkit in Western American Literature. Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor Jonathan Kirsch, too, found the book a worthwhile endeavor. "Houston writes poignantly of the chasms of myth and expectation that must be spanned when a Japanese-American woman marries 'a blond Samurai,'" wrote Kirsch.
Houston has since gone on to publish several more books, among them The Legend of Fire Horse Woman. Although a novel, the book treads the same ground as Farewell to Manzanar in its focus on three generations of women living in a U.S. detention camp during World War II. In an interview for Notable Asian-American Authors, Houston discussed the difficulty she had fictionalizing the experience. When she wrote her first draft, she ended the book "just before World War II. I couldn't write any fictionalized accounts of the war, specifically about the camps. In the past, I could only write from my own memories, from the family's history. But more recently, I've written three short stories about fictionalized accounts of camp. So in the second draft of my novel, I plan to go beyond the war, to include the war and the camps." In an interview with Annie Nakao for the San Francisco Chronicle, Nakao explained that the book had taken Houston most of ten years to write, due to the difficulty in fictionalizing the experience. "It's like a sacred cow, the landmark communal experience of Japanese Americans," Houston explained to Nakao. "I didn't know if fictionalizing it would be offensive."
Despite her initial difficulties, much of the novel centers around Manzanar. Sayo, Hana, and Terri are three generations of Japanese-American women imprisoned at the internment camp. Sayo arrives in the United States in the early 1900s as the "Picture Bride" of the second son of a wealthy family from her home town in Japan. Sayo is lucky to be able to marry; she was born under the sign of the Fire Horse, an astrological sign extremely unlucky for women, as it means that they will have powerful, independent personalities. Sayo's role from the beginning is legendary; she does not accept conventions and follows her heart where it leads. With her husband, she has children, one of whom is Hana. When Hana grows into an adult, she marries a man who is abusive to her, but she is unable to find her voice and learn to stand up for herself. Terri, Hana's daughter, is a teenager when the three women are sent with their families to the camp; she is still finding her own identity, and she rebels against the norm by befriending a young soldier. Though the camp disempowers all those interned in it, each woman finds something of themselves during the experience. Discussing the novel with Publishers Weekly contributor Suzanne Mantell, Houston noted: "I wanted to write a book women would read and enjoy and identify but by the end would have learned something. I still believe in stories." Critics seemed to believe in the power of Houston's story as well; Barbara Langsam Shuman wrote in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "Houston's writing is lyrical, with vivid descriptive passages and characterizations that are both extraordinary and real." Hiromi Goto, in an article for the Women's Review of Books, noted that, while the women of the story seem only to discover more about themselves in relation to men, "Houston's characters are not victims who seek only to survive; they are women with agency who will not let history, political machinations, or social pressure dictate the courses of their lives."
According to Singh, Houston considers Farewell to Manzanar "not a sermon on political injustice nor an essay on the Constitution. It allows readers to enter the experience on the level of empathy." Yet the author's message is nevertheless clear. "For me to stand up here today and talk about injustice is freedom," she explained to a group of students, according to Sara Toth in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "We as Americans cannot forget the injustices of history."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Houston, Jeanne, and James D. Houston, Farewell to Manzanar: A True Story of Japanese-American Experience during and after the World War II Internment, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1973, reprinted, 2002.
Notable Asian Americans, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1995.
Booklist, February 15, 1992, review of Farewell to Manzanar, p. 1100; April 15, 1992, review of Farewell to Manzanar, p. 1518; November 1, 1992, review of Farewell to Manzanar, p. 502; November 15, 2003, Kristine Huntley, review of The Legend of Fire Horse Woman, p. 575.
Book Report, January, 1994, review of Farewell to Manzanar, p. 25.
Library Journal, March 1, 1984, review of Don't Cry, It's Only Thunder, p. 484.
Los Angeles Times, November l5, 1984; November 6, 2001, Ajay Singh, "The Lessons of History," p. E1.
New Yorker, November 5, 1973.
New York Times Book Review, January 13, 1974.
Publishers Weekly, August 11, 2003, Suzanne Mantell, review of The Legend of Fire Horse Woman, p. 138; September 8, 2003, review of The Legend of Fire Horse Woman, p. 53.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 15, 2002, Sara Toth, "Students Revel in Visit with Author of Readmore Novel, Farewell to Manzanar," p. 3; November 16, 2003, Barbara Langsam Shuman, "The Truths of 'Manzanar' Turn into Lyrical Fiction," p. C12.
San Francisco Chronicle, December 14, 2003, Annie Nakao, "'Farewell to Manzanar' Author Returns to Internment Days in First Novel," p. E1.
San Francisco Review of Books, March, 1994, review of Farewell to Manzanar, p. 44.
Saturday Review, November 6, 1973.
Washington Post, February 27, 1984.
Women's Review of Books, July, 2004, Hiromi Goto, "Manzanar as Metaphor," p. 22.