Saturday, July 15, 2006

Lawson Fusao Inada

Lawson Inada is a professor of writing at Southern Oregon University in Ashland. His most recent books of poetry are Legends From Camp and Drawing The Line. He is also the editor of a new collection of writing Only What We Could Carry: The Japanese American Internment Experience.

Lawson is a Sansei (a U.S.-born grandchild of Japanese immigrants to America). He was born in Fresno, California in 1938. His paternal grandparents were sharecroppers but Inada’s father became a dentist. Inada’s maternal grandfather started the Fresno Fish Store. In May 1942, his family joined over a hundred thousand other Japanese-Americans in camps where they were confined for the duration of World War II. He was first incarcerated at the Fresno County Fairgrounds, then moved to a Concentration Camp in Arkansas and finally interred at a camp in Colorado. After the war, Lawson joined the Black and Chicano set, played bass and followed the jazz of Miles Davis, Coltrane, and Billy Holiday. When he returned to Fresno State he began his studies with Phil Levine who introduced him to writing.

Lawson was the first Asian-American to publish a collection of poems with a major New York publishing house -- Before the War published by William Morrow. He has read his works at the White House and been hailed as "a poet-musician in the tradition of Walt Whitman." He won the Oregon Governor’s Arts Award in 1997 and received two National Endowment of the Arts Poetry Fellowships and is considered by many to be the father of Asian-American literature.

His work has been the subject of a documentary, What It Means to Be Free: A Video about Poetry and Japanese-American Internment, and an award-winning animated film, Legends from Camp made in collaboration with his son, artist Miles Inada.

Lawson Fusao Inada was named Oregon's Poet Laureate in 2006.

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