Lawson Inada Biography and Bibliography

Lawson Fusao Inada, a third generation Japanese American (Sansei), was born in Fresno, California; his father was a dentist and his mother a teacher. In 1942 at the age of four Inada was interned with his parents and grandparents in a series of three camps-first the Fresno County Fairgrounds, then in swampy Jerome in Arkansas, and, finally, Amache in the southeastern desert of Colorado [click to view map of internment camps]. After the war they returned to Fresno, where their home and business had been looked after by German and Italian friends. Lawson Inada grew up in a multicultural neighborhood of Asian, African, and Mexican Americans, and whites. Eventually he attended Fresno State University and took writing classes from poet Philip Levine. Inada had ambitions as a jazz string bass player, and his deep connection to music, especially jazz, is obvious in his poetry-in spontaneity, swing, and, often, subject. Realizing he was better at writing, Inada studied at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where he met his wife, Janet. They are the parents of two sons. After attending Iowa, Inada finished his Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Oregon.

Lawson Inada's collection, Before the War: poems as they happened (1971) was the first volume of poetry by an Asian American published by a major publishing house. He is the author of two other collections of poetry: Legends from Camp (1993), an American Book Award winner, and drawing the line (1997). He is co-editor of two anthologies of Chinese American and Japanese American literature: Aiiieeeee! (1983) and The Big Aiiieeeee! (1991). And he is editor of only what we could carry: The Japanese Internment Experience (2000). Inada is a recipient of NEA Poetry Fellowships, the 1991 Oregon State Poet of the Year Award, and an Oregon State Teaching Excellence Award. He has read his work at the White House, and in 1985 he served as the U.S. representative to the World Cultural Festival in Berlin. He has been Professor of English at Southern Oregon University since 1966, and has been instrumental in creating multicultural curricula for high schools and colleges. For many writers and readers Inada has been the major voice of the Asian American experience.

Besides in books, Inada's work has appeared in other forms. As the video shows, his poetry is engraved in stone along the Willamette River in Portland, Oregon. He has often performed his work with musical groups and soloists, including such jazz greats as Mal Waldron and Andrew Hill. He says that his favorite form of publishing is live, and many of his poems have been written specifically for performance. He believes that the poet is storyteller, entertainer, shaman, and priest. He says of readings, "Each situation is different and calls for a different approach. But on most occasions, I find humor is the best ingredient. It opens the audience up. . . . I even write poems for special situations, so I can match the poem to the event. I think life is a series of occasions." Inada has attempted to live in the "real world" as teacher, community member, husband and father, as well as artist. His readings and poems are pleasurable, instructive, and wise. Lawson Inada says, "In my poetry, I hold our collective experience up to the light for the audience to see. No matter how personal or individual the subject, I'm trying to show the universal, even the archetypal, in what I write. I'm trying to shed light on the human condition for all of us."

Lawson Inada Bibliography

Only what we could carry: The Japanese American Internment Experience. Heyday Books, 2000. Editor. (The best one-volume collection on the internment experience.)

Drawing the line. Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 1997. (Poems)

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

The Big Aiiieeeee! An Anthology of Chinese American and Japanese American Literature. Penguin Meridian, 1991. Co-editor.

Before the War. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1971. (Poems)