Inada, Lawson Fusao 1938-

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INADA, Lawson Fusao 1938-

PERSONAL: Born May 26, 1938, in Fresno, CA; son of Fusaji and Masako (Saito) Inada; married Janet Francis, February 19, 1962; children: Miles Fusao, Lowell Masao. Education: Attended University of California—Berkeley, 1956-57; Fresno State College (now California State University, Fresno), B.A., 1959; University of Iowa, graduate study, 1960-62; University of Oregon, M.F.A., 1966.

ADDRESSES: Home—2320 Morada Lane, Ashland, OR 97520. Office—Department of English, Southern Oregon State College, Ashland, OR 97520. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: University of New Hampshire, Durham, instructor in English, 1962-65; Southern Oregon State College, Ashland, associate professor, 1966-77, professor of English, 1977—. Visiting lecturer at Lewis and Clark College, 1969, Eastern Oregon State College, 1975, and University of Hawaii, 1976; King/Parks Scholar-in-Residence at Wayne State University, 1987. Host of radio program, Talk Story: The Written Word, on KSOR-FM, Ashland, OR. Seminar leader at various poetry and creative writing workshops, including Asian-Americans for a Fair Media Conference, 1975, Siskiyou Writers Conference, 1977, and Iowa State Department of Education Conference, 1978. Judge, Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines College Contest, 1976. Chair, Council of Literary Magazines, 1982-84; site evaluator, National Endowment for the Arts, 1987—; member, Committee on Racism and Bias in the Teaching of English, 1988—. Member of board of directors, Southern Oregon Public Television, 1990—. Has given readings of his poetry at numerous universities and seminars, including University of California—Berkeley, University of California—Los Angeles, University of Michigan, University of Oregon, San Francisco State University, University of Washington, Oregon Poetry-in-the-Schools, Minnesota Poetry-in-the-Schools, Seattle Arts Commission Festival, and National Poetry Festival. Consultant to literary organizations, including Third World Writers Festival, Central Washington State College, 1974, Society for the Study of Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States, 1977, and Asian-American Writers Conference, 1978.

MEMBER: Japanese American Citizens League.

AWARDS, HONORS: University of Iowa Writers Workshop fellowship, 1960-62; National Endowment for the Arts creative writing fellowship, 1972; Pioneer Writers Award from Asian-American Writers Conference, 1975; Oregon State teaching excellence award, 1984; National Endowment for the Arts poetry fellowship, 1985; Arizona Commission for the Arts research fellowship, 1990; named Oregon State Poet of the Year, 1991; American Book Award, 1994, for Legends from Camp.


Three Northwest Poets: Drake, Inada, Lawder, Quixote Press (Madison, WI), 1970.

Before the War: Poems As They Happen, Morrow (New York, NY), 1971.

(Coeditor) Aiiieeeee!: An Anthology of Asian-American Writers, Howard University Press (Washington, DC), 1974.

(With Garrett Kaoru Hongo and Alan Chong Lau) The Buddha Bandits down Highway 99, Buddhahead Press (Mountain View, CA), 1978.

(With Patti Moran McCoy and Kathleen Bullock) Hey Diddle Rock, Kids Matter (Ashland, OR), 1986.

(With Patti Moran McCoy and Kathleen Bullock) Hickory Dickory Rock, Kids Matter (Ashland, OR), 1986.

(With Patti Moran McCoy and Kathleen Bullock) Humpty Dumpty Rock, Kids Matter (Ashland, OR), 1986.

(With Patti Moran McCoy and Kathleen Bullock) Rock-a-doodle-doo, Kids Matter (Ashland, OR), 1986.

(Coeditor) The Big Aiiieeeee!: An Anthology of Chinese-American and Japanese-American Literature, Penguin (New York, NY), 1990.

In This Great Land of Freedom: The Japanese Pioneers of Oregon, Japanese-American National Museum (Los Angeles, CA), 1993.

Legends from Camp, Coffee House Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1993.

Drawing the Line, Coffee House Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1997.

(Editor and author of introduction) Only What We Could Carry: The Japanese-American Internment Experience, Heyday Books/California Historical Society (Berkeley, CA), 2000.

(Author of introduction) Toshio Mori, Unfinished Message: Selected Works of Toshio Mori, Heyday Books (Berkeley, CA), 2000.

Consultant/writer, The Boys of Heart Mountain and Moving Memories, video-documentaries, Japanese-American National Museum. Work represented in numerous anthologies, including Down at the Santa Fe Depot: Twenty Fresno Poets, edited by David Kherdian, Giligia Press, 1970; The Modern Idiom, edited by Lio Hamalian, Crowell (New York, NY), 1972; Settling America, edited by David Kherdian, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1974; Modern Poetry of Western America, edited by William Stanfford, Brigham Young University Press (Provo, UT), 1975; Focus on Forms, edited by Philip J. McFarland, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1977;Dreamers and Desperadoes: Contemporary Short Fiction of the American West, edited by Craig Lesley, Dell (New York, NY), 1993; and Moment's Notice: Jazz in Poetry and Prose, edited by Art Lange and Nathaniel Mackey, Coffee House Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1993. Contributor of poetry to periodicals, including Amerasia Journal, Bridge, Carleton Miscellany, Chicago Review, Evergreen Review, Kayak, Massachusetts Review, English Journal, Mother Jones, Northwest Review, San Francisco Review, and Southwest Review. Member of editorial board, Directory of American Poets and Fiction Writers, 1976—, and Contemporary Poetry, 1977—. Assistant editor, Northwest Review, 1965-66; editor, Rogue River Gorge, 1970—; contributing editor, Dues: Third World Writing, 1972-74; contributing editor, Northwest Review, 1987—; guest editor, Hawaii Review, summer, 1978.

SIDELIGHTS: Lawson Fusao Inada is a Japanese-American poet and editor. In addition to several children's books that are adaptations of Mother Goose rhymes, he has written extensively about his experiences in a Japanese internment camp after World War II. Inada spent a significant part of his childhood as a prisoner and was one of the youngest Japanese Americans in the camps.

Inada's first volume of poetry was Before the War: Poems As They Happen. In it, the writer reflects on his feelings of dispossession and traces themes from his childhood before and after his imprisonment. The poems have been applauded for the way they connect personal and social history, along with images of family. In an essay on Japanese-American literature in Three American Literatures: Essays in Chicano, Native American, and Asian-American Literature for Teachers of American Literature, the writers commented, "There is nothing quaint about Lawson Inada's poetry, no phony continuity between sighinspiring Oriental art and his tough, sometimes vicious language."

In 1993, Inada published Legends from Camp, a set of poems that reflects on life in the camps. With his first-hand experience, Inada "carries a reader into a child's world behind barbed wire," as R. C. Doyle explained in Choice. Legends from Camp won an American Book Award in 1994.

Legends from Camp is divided into five sections, beginning with Inada's time in the internment camp, then moving to "Fresno," "Jazz," "Oregon," and "Performance." As Andrew J. Dephtereos wrote in the American Book Review, the collection creates "a decidedly personal history of Inada, told in chapters that represent significant stages in his persona's life."

Inada's poems embody his conviction that poetry must be accessible to all readers, not just to those who are most knowledgeable about the genre. "Poetry happens—whenever, wherever it wants," Inada asserts in the preface to Legends from Camp, "and the poet simply has to be ready to follow through on the occasion." Reviewing the collection for Amerasia Journal, Lonny Kaneko explained that Inada "writes a kind of popular poem, built for the listener's ear, aware, like jazz, of the need to capture in sound the spirit of his theme, of letting it build and reverberate in repeated phrases, little riffs and refrains that play through the poems." While the critic for Publishers Weekly found Inada's work to be "unsophisticated in tone, technique and conceptual structure," Jessica Grim of the Library Journal judged the book to be "playful, full of life, and easy to understand, even when the subject is somber—as in the first section, 'Camp,' which recounts the author's experience as a boy in the Japanese internment camps." Doyle commented that the powerful "Camp" section "will add a fresh dimension to a growing body of literature that remembers, humanizes, and shares the Japanese-American internment experience for new generations."

In 1997, Inada published another collection of poetry, Drawing the Line. This book is a tribute to Inada's ancestors who survived the camps and he focuses on a main character, Yosh Kuromiya. The title is taken from a story about Yosh creating a line drawing of a nearby mountain, attempting to use art as an escape from the daily indignities and labor of the camp. Rapee Malinee Thongthiraj, a critic for Amerasia Journal, noted that in these poems Inada seems to be "facing the memories of his personal and collective past, [creating] his own strategy of survival and resistance by re-envisioning American history and producing poetry that can move and stimulate us all." Thongthiraj also commented that these poems force the reader to "capture the emotions deep within ourselves."

Much of Inada's poetry is often referred to as "jazz poetics," and he admits to being strongly influenced by jazz music and musicians. As Juliana Chang observed in her Modern American Poetry essay "Time, Jazz, and the Racial Subject: Lawson Inada's Jazz Poetics," "His jazz poetics of repetition and improvisation enable re-stagings and re-workings of a troubled past." Chang also added that while Inada is not the first Asian-American poet to use jazz characteristics in his poetry, his "stands out in its consistency and depth of engagement with jazz."



Baker, Houston A., editor, Three American Literatures: Essays in Chicano, Native American, and Asian-American Literature for Teachers of American Literature, Modern Language Association of America, 1972, pp. 197-228.


Amerasia Journal, winter, 1993, p. 167; winter, 1997-98, pp. 223-27.

American Book Review, December, 1993, p. 22.

Choice, May, 1993, p. 1465.

Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 1970, review of Before the War, p. 1275.

Library Journal, January, 1993, p. 121.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, September 5, 1993, p. 6.

Nation, August 28, 1995, p. 204.

Publishers Weekly, May 31, 1991, p. 67; November 16, 1992, p. 57.

Small Press, summer, 1993, p. 85.

Western American Literature, spring, 1994, p. 85.


University of Illinois, (July 23, 2002), essays on Inada.


I Told You So: Lawson Fusao Inada (documentary film), Visual Communications, 1975.*