Tawada was born in Tokyo, received her undergraduate education at Waseda University in 1982 with a major in Russian literature, then studied at Hamburg University where she received a master's degree in contemporary German literature. She received her doctorate in German literature at the University of Zurich. In 1987 she published Nur da wo du bist da ist nichts—Anata no iru tokoro dake nani mo nai (A Void Only Where You Are), a collection of poems in a German and Japanese bilingual edition.
Tawada's Missing Heels received the Gunzo Prize for New Writers in 1991, and The Bridegroom Was a Dog received the Akutagawa Prize in 1993. In 1999 she became writer-in-residence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for four months. Her Suspect on the Night Train won the Tanizaki Prize and Ito Sei Literary Prize in 2003.
Tawada received the Adelbert von Chamisso Prize in 1996, a German award to foreign writers in recognition of their contribution to German culture, and the Goethe Medal in 2005.
Selected works in English
- The Bridegroom Was a Dog (Inu muko iri, 犬婿入り), Kodansha International (September 2003), ISBN 4-7700-2940-3. This edition includes Missing Heels (Kakato o nakushite).
- Where Europe Begins, New Directions Publishing Corporation (October 2002), ISBN 0-8112-1515-6
- Facing the Bridge, New Directions Publishing Corporation (2007), ISBN 978-0811216906
- The Naked Eye, New Directions Publishing Corporation (2009), ISBN 978-0-8112-1739-2
- 1991 Gunzo Literature Prize・Shinjin-Bungaku-Sho
- 1993 Akutagawa Prize for The Bridegroom Was a Dog (Inu muko iri, 犬婿入り)
- 1994 Lessing Prize
- 1996 Adelbert-von-Chamisso Prize
- 2000 Izumi Kyōka Prize for Literature
- 2003 Sei Ito Literature Prize
- 2003 Junichiro Tanizaki Literature Prize for Suspect on the Night Train (Yogisha no yako ressha, 容疑者の夜行列車)
- 2005 Goethe Medal
- 2013 Erlanger Literaturpreis
- Bettina Brandt, "Scattered Leaves: Artist Books and Migration, a Conversation with Yoko Tawada", Comparative Literature Studies, 45/1 (2008) 12-22
- Bettina Brandt, "Ein Wort, ein Ort, or How Words Create Places: Interview with Yoko Tawada", Women in German Yearbook, 21 (2005), 1-15
- Maria S. Grewe, Estranging Poetic: On the Poetic of the Foreign in Select Works by Herta Müller and Yoko Tawada, Columbia University, New York 2009
- Ruth Kersting, Fremdes Schreiben: Yoko Tawada, Trier 2006
- Christina Kraenzle, Mobility, space and subjectivity: Yoko Tawada and German-language transnational literature, University of Toronto (2004)
- Petra Leitmeir, Sprache, Bewegung und Fremde im deutschsprachigen Werk von Yoko Tawada, Freie Universität Berlin (2007)
- Douglas Slaymaker (Ed.): Yoko Tawada: Voices from Everywhere, Lexington Books (2007)
- Yoko Tawada at J'Lit Books from Japan (English)
- Synopsis of Suspect on the Night Train at JLPP (Japanese Literature Publishing Project) (English)