hisaye yamamoto, 1921-2011

I started hearing word (via Facebook) the other day that acclaimed Nisei writer Hisaye Yamamoto passed away on Sunday. She was 89.

Best known for her short stories about the Japanese American experience, most notably collected in Seventeen Syllables and Other Stories, she was a considered a pioneer among Asian American authors.

I have yet to find any news stories published about her passing, but a quick search turned up this nicely written tribute by a blogger who knew and worked with her many years ago: Hisaye Yamamoto (1921-2011).
Hisaye Yamamoto passed away in Los Angeles last Sunday. She was a pioneering Asian American author, an American-born nisei who wrote at a time, the 1940s and '50s, when few others from her community were finding a nationwide readership. She was reportedly the first Asian American to publish in the Paris Review.

Ironically, last Sunday was also California's first official Fred Korematsu Day, a day dedicated to the Japanese American who challenged his internment during World War II all the way to the Supreme Court. Hisaye Yamamoto was also interned, at the Poston War Relocation Center in Arizona, at the age of 20, and her troubling memories of that ordeal never went away.

Her output of fiction was slim but impressive. She wrote a number of short stories in the '40s and '50s, including the haunting "Seventeen Syllables” (1949) and "Yoneko's Earthquake” (1951), both stories told from the circumscribed perspective of a pre-adult nisei girl who has difficulty understanding the struggles of her immigrant parents. However, not long afterwards, she turned away from writing as a vocation in order to raise a family, writing only the occasional piece, whether fiction or non-fiction, for specialized outlets, such as the Japanese American press. Her best short stories are collected in the volume Seventeen Syllables and Other Stories.
I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit that I've never had a chance to read Yamamoto's work, though I've seen sitting it on the bookshelves of many friends and colleagues. But now I feel compelled to seek it out, starting with Seventeen Syllables and Other Stories. I'll post more official obituaries here as they are published. Rest in peace, Hisaye Yamamoto.

UPDATE: Here's Hisaye Yamamoto's obituary in the Rafu Shimpo: OBITUARY: Noted Writer Hisaye Yamamoto Dies at 89.

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