Lois-Ann Yamanaka

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Lois-Ann Yamanaka
Born September 7, 1961 (1961-09-07)
Ho'olehua, Molokai, Hawaii
Occupation writer, Language Arts Resource teacher, English Teacher, Hawaii Department of Education.
Notable work(s) Blu's Hanging, Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers

www.yamanakanaau.com

Lois-Ann Yamanaka (born September 7, 1961 in Hoʻolehua, Molokaʻi, Hawaiʻi) is an American poet and novelist from Hawaiʻi. Many of her critically acclaimed literary works are written in Hawaiian Pidgin, and some of her writing has dealt with controversial ethnic issues. In particular, her works confront themes of Asian American families and the local culture of Hawaiʻi.

Biography[edit]

Early years[edit]

Lois-Ann Yamanaka was born September 7, 1961 in Ho’olehua, Molokai, Hawaii. Her parents, Harry and Jean Yamanaka, raised her and her four younger sisters in the sugar plantation town of Pahala.

Both of her parents were school teachers, though her father later became a taxidermist. Following in her parents footsteps, Lois-Ann also joined them in their passion for education: In 1983, she received a Bachelor’s Degree, and in 1987 her Master's Degree, both in Education at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Career[edit]

Yamanaka then went on to become an English and Language Arts resource teacher. Inspired by her own students' honesty demonstrated within poetry assignments, she began writing on her own. Little did she know she would become a breakthrough writer who would receive significant criticism after expressing minority and racial issues experienced by herself and others alike within the Pidgin speaking community of Hawaii.

She completed her first book, Saturday Night at the Pahala Theater, in 1993, which, was coined "'witty' and 'street-smart'" by Kiana Davenport in Women's Review of Books. The novel, "composed of four verse novellas narrated by working-class Hawaiian teenagers...explore(d) such subjects as ethnic identity, sexual awakening, drug use, and abusive relationships." Lawrence Chua, of the Voice Literary Supplement, wrote, "Her poetry is enabled by its elegant structure as much as its indolent diction. Saturday Night is not a lonely specimen of street life but a bold push at the borders of meaning and memory." After its publication in 1993, Saturday Night at the Pahala Theater received several awards including the Pushcart Prize for poetry and later, the fiction award given by the Association for Asian American Studies.

In 1996, Yamanaka’s second book, Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers, again told through Pidgin, was a coming-of-age story made up of, "a series of connected vignettes", that, "examin(ed) larger issues of class and ethnicity". Lauren Belfer, of the New York Times Book Review, claimed the book to be, "somewhat impenetrable"...leaving "haunting images" in the minds of readers.

Again in 1997, Yamanaka completed her third book, Blu’s Hanging 'which created even more of an uproar among Asian American critics. As the novel treated characters of both Filipino and Japanese American backgrounds within the Hawaiin landscape, she was given the Asian American Studies National Book Award in 1998, however, it was annulled almost immediately after because of her lack of censorship in a stereotypical context. Other well-known Asian American authors such as Amy Tan and Maxine Hong Kingston emerged in support of Yamanaka during the controversy. The work was deemed, "a well-wrought but painful work" by Anna Quan Leon in the Library Journal. In defending herself and work, Yamanaka spoke out against criticism in telling, "Newsweek reporter Donna Foote that 'the distinction between the narrator and the author is not being made'".

Following Blu's Hanging, Yamanaka published, ''Heads by Harry', which dealt with homosexuality and gender identity issues. The book received mixed reviews; "to some extent, Yamanaka has replaced racism with sexism and homophobia, 'safer topics'", concluded Nation reviewer Mindy Pennybacker. However, Michael Porter, the New York Times Book Review critic applauded Yamanaka's efforts in stating, "{she} delivers a precise look at this vibrant 'Japanese-American' culture yet still speaks to anyone who has experienced the joy, security and small humiliations of family life".

Name Me Nobody'' was her fourth book geared towards a much more adolescent-based audience. In illustrating the difficulties of young 'teen hood' and the surrounding superficialities, the "'vignettes of young girlhood praised for their vivid images and expert distillation of language' related a Horn Book reviewer..'Yamanaka provides young adult literature with a fresh and welcome voice "noteworthy for its complexity and richness'."

In 2004, Silent Years, a short film based on Yamanaka's screenplay was released. Silent Years is the story of a thirteen-year-old girl who finds herself caught between her abusive uncle and older boyfriend. Based upon two poems from her collection, Saturday Night at the Pahala Theatre, is described as a "brutal coming-of-age story".[1] The film was locally produced and directed by Honolulu-native and University of Southern California film school graduate, James Sereno.[2]

In 2006, Yamanaka explored a spiritual approach in the novel, Behold the Many', which is set on the island of Oahu. In the book, a young woman is haunted by ghosts which ends in what a Kirkus Review contributor called a, "beautifully tragic" outcome. Carol Haggas, of Booklist wrote the book was a, "richly atmospheric novel which paints a chillingly spectral portrait of souls tormented by love and guilt."

An excerpt from Yamanaka's next work have been released. According to the April 2007 issue of Honolulu Magazine Yamanaka's upcoming novel has been given the working title of The Mother Mary Stories[1].

Current[edit]

Lois-Ann Yamanaka is currently married to John Inferrera. In between writing, she and her husband continue to teach. Together they have a son, John jr. and live in Honolulu, Hawaii. Lois-Ann also is co-owner of a writing school, Na`au.

.[3]

As an Author[edit]

"Lois-Ann Yamanaka's fiction focuses on young, working-class Japanese-Americans from Hawaii who struggle with such typical issues of adolescence as sexual development and peer acceptance while coming to terms with their cultural identity as the descendants of Japanese immigrant laborers."

"Yamanaka once said,' My work involves bringing to the page the utter complexity, ferocious beauty and sometimes absurdity of our ethnic relationships here in the islands. The way we language about each other and with each other in 'talk story' communities resonates in me with every word I write. I know this because as my friend Lisa Asagi says, 'It's impossible to ban the sound of memory'."[4]

Influences[edit]

While Yamanaka believes that her characters "know the sound of their own voice," and admits to being highly inspired by her own experiences growing up amongst Hawaii life and culture, including the pidgin language, she also attributes much of her work to the other authors who have inspired and influenced her. In an interview, Yamanaka states what a huge influence reading William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury has had on her. In no way does Yamanaka compare her work to that of Faulkner, only that such works help keep her humble and rooted. She describes her experience as, "In the presence of this genius, I felt embarrassed." (216) Yamanaka also cites June Jordan, Ai, Thulanie Davis, and Jessica Hagedorn as major inspirations in terms of their use of voice in poetry. In general, Yamanaka counts herself lucky to be in the same category as other female Asian American writers such as Maxine Hong Kingston and Amy Tan.[5]

List of works[edit]

Among her principal works are:

  • Saturday Night at the Pahala Theater, a book of poems written in Hawaiian Pidgin (1993)
  • Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers (1996)
  • Blu's Hanging (1997)
  • Heads by Harry (1998)
  • Name Me Nobody (2000)
  • Father of the Four Passages (2001)
  • The Heart's Language (2005)
  • Behold the Many (2006)

Awards[edit]

Other publications[edit]

  • Yamanaka, Lois-Ann. "This Man Is an Island." The New York Times 18 January 2009, Opinion sec.: WK14. Print.

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Story of child abuse told in 'Silent Years' – The Honolulu Advertiser – Hawaii's Newspaper
  2. ^ Story of child abuse told in 'Silent Years' – The Honolulu Advertiser – Hawaii's Newspaper
  3. ^ Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2009. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich. Gale, 2009. http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/BioRC
  4. ^ Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2009. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich. Gale, 2009. http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/BioRC/
  5. ^ Sarah Anne Johnson, "Lois-Ann Yamanaka: The Characters Know the Sound of Their Own Voice," Conversations with American Women Writers, Hanover: University Press of New England, 2004, 216