Hisaye Yamamoto: Voice of Japanese American Experience

OV Digital Desk

Image Courtesy: Google Doodle

Hisaye Yamamoto (23 August 1921 – 30 January 2011) was an American author known for the short story collection Seventeen Syllables and Other Stories, first published in 1988. Her work confronts issues of the Japanese immigrant experience in America, the disconnect between first and second-generation immigrants, as well as the difficult role of women in society.

Life and Career

Born on August 23, 1921, in Redondo Beach, California, Hisaye Yamamoto was the daughter of Japanese immigrant parents. In her teens, Yamamoto wrote articles for a daily newspaper for Japanese Californians under the pen name Napoleon. Following the outbreak of World War II and due to Executive Order 9066, Yamamoto’s family was among the over 120,000 Japanese-Americans forced by the U.S. to relocate to government prison camps (aka Japanese internment camps), where they faced violence and harsh conditions. Despite the injustices encountered daily, she kept her literary aspirations alive as a reporter and columnist for the “Poston Chronicle,” the camp newspaper.

As the dust settled from the war’s end, Yamamoto was released from the internment camp and returned to the Los Angeles area in 1945. Yamamoto soon found work as a columnist with the “Los Angeles Tribune,” a weekly Black-owned and founded newspaper that sought to diversify the voices in journalism and unify the Angelo Black community with Asian Americans.

Over the next three years gathering news for the publication, Yamamoto witnessed firsthand the widespread racism that many underrepresented groups faced. These experiences profoundly changed Yamamoto, who became a literary champion of not just the Asian American community, but for others who also endured discrimination. In 1948, Yamamoto published her first short story, “The High Heeled Shoes,” which inspired Yamamoto to leave journalism and pursue writing full-time, often exploring topics related to the intersection of gender, race, and ethnicity in her works. Yamamoto passed away on 30 January 2011, at the age of 89.

Award and Legacy

Hisaye Yamamoto did not receive any major awards during his lifetime, but he is The adversity she overcame at the prison camp formed the basis for much of Yamamoto’s work, such as her 1950 short story “The Legend of Miss Sasagawara.” She also remained a life-long advocate in the fight against war, racism, and violence. In 1986, Yamamoto’s storytelling won the Before Columbus Foundation’s American Book Award for Lifetime Achievement for her contributions to American multicultural literature.

Hisaye Yamamoto is remembered as a pioneering voice in Japanese American literature, particularly for her exploration of the internment experience. Her work has been widely anthologized and is taught in classrooms across the country.

Yamamoto’s writing has been noted for its vivid and honest portrayal of the experiences of Japanese Americans, as well as for its lyrical and poetic style. She is considered a master of the short story form and continues to be an inspiration to writers today. On 4 May 2021, Google celebrated Hisaye Yamamoto with a doodle.

FAQ on Hisaye Yamamoto

What was Hisaye Yamamoto’s most famous work?

Yamamoto is perhaps best known for her collection of short stories, “Seventeen Syllables.”

What was Yamamoto’s experience with internment?

Yamamoto and her family were forced to relocate to an internment camp in Poston, Arizona, during World War II, an experience that deeply influenced much of her writing.

What awards did Yamamoto receive?

Yamamoto received numerous awards and honors throughout her career, including the American Book Award and the Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award.

What is Yamamoto’s legacy?

Yamamoto is remembered as a pioneering voice in Japanese American literature and a master of the short story form, whose work continues to be celebrated and studied today.