Mitsuye Yamada

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Mitsuye Yamada
Mitsuye Yasutake

(1923-07-05) July 5, 1923 (age 96)
Parent(s)Jack Kaichiro Yasutake and Hide Shiraki Yasutake
RelativesSeiichi Yasutake

Mitsuye Yamada (born July 5, 1923) is a Japanese American activist, feminist, essayist, poet, story writer, editor, and former professor of English.

Early and personal life[edit]

Mitsuye Yamada was born as Mitsuye Yasutake in Fukuoka, Japan. Her parents were Jack Kaichiro Yasutake and Hide Shiraki Yasutake, both first-generation Japanese Americans (Issei) who were visiting Japan when she was born. Her older brother, Seiichi Yasutake (known as "Mike") was born in the US. Her family returned to the U.S. in 1926 and settled in Seattle, Washington.

Jack Yasutake was the founder and president of the Senryu (Japanese poet) Society in Seattle and an interpreter for the U.S. Immigration Service during World War II. At the time, Japanese society did not offer the opportunity to women to decide how to live their lives; they were unable to obtain higher education or choose a husband on their own. Yamada's own ordeal during World War II and observations of her mother's way of life bring anti-racist and feminist attitudes to her works.[1]

Yamada spent most of her childhood and youth in Seattle, Washington.[2] Mitsuye's father was arrested by the FBI for espionage after the U.S joined the Second World War. In 1942, Mitsuye and her family were interned at Minidoka War Relocation Center, Idaho. She was allowed to leave the camp with her brother because they renounced loyalty to the Emperor of Japan; she went to the University of Cincinnati in 1944.[3] Mitsuye and her brother also were allowed to leave the camp in order to attend college and work (Usui, 2002), and both attended the University of Cincinnati. Mike was soon expelled because the U.S. Air Force was conducting "sensitive wartime research on campus and requested his removal" which was thought to be incompatible with his status as a Japanese American male and a pacifist, but Mitsuye was allowed to continue studying at the University (Yamada, 1981).

Mitsuye married Yoshikazu in 1950, and the couple had four children together. Mitsuye has seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Mitsuye became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1955. She considers herself Nisei (second-generation Japanese American).

Career and literature[edit]

Yamada began her studies at the University of Cincinnati. She left in 1945 to attend New York University, where she received a B.A. in English and Art in 1947. She earned an M.A. in English Literature and Research from the University of Chicago in 1953. She began teaching at Cypress College in 1968, and retired in 1989 as a Professor of English.

She wrote her first book, Camp Notes and Other Poems, during and just after her internment during the Second World War, but it remained unpublished until 1976. In this collection, the "wartime conflicts of Japanese Americans are traced back to the injustice of Executive Order 9066 and to visible and invisible racism against Japanese and Americans of Japanese ancestry both inside and outside the camp." (Usui, 2002). Yamada's professed purpose for writing is to encourage Asian American women to speak out and defy the cultural codes that encourage Asian American women to be silent. (Sheffer, 2003). Yamada recognizes that Asian American women have not been fully represented as "sites of complex intersections of race, gender, and national identity." (Yamamoto, 2000). Yamada once said, "Asian Pacific women need to affirm our culture while working within to change it." (Geok-Lin, 1993).

Yamada's first publication was Camp Notes and Other Poems. The book is a chronological documentary, beginning with "Evacuation" from Seattle, moving in the camp through "Desert Storm," and concluding with poems recounting the move to Cincinnati. "Cincinnati" illustrates the visible racial violence and "The Question of Loyalty" shows the invisible humiliation of the Japanese during World War II. She wrote the book to promote public awareness about how the Japanese were discriminated against during the war and to open discussion of the issue. With this publication, Yamada challenged Japanese traditions that demand silence from the female.

She contributed two essays to This Bridge Called My Back: Radical Writings from Women of Color. (1981) "Invisibility is an Unnatural Disaster" reflects the double invisibility of being both Asian and a woman while "Asian Pacific American Women and Feminism" urges women of color to develop a feminist agenda that addresses their particular concerns. That same year, Yamada joined Nellie Wong in a biographical documentary on public television, "Mitsuye and Nellie: Two Asian-American Woman Poets." The film tells of actual events that happened to the speakers, their parents, grandparents and relatives. It uses poetry to tell Asian American history of biculturalism.[4]

In 1982, she received a Vesta Award from the Los Angeles Woman's Building[1].

Her latest volume, "Desert Run: Poems and Stories", returns to her experience at the internment camp. Here, Yamada explores her heritage and discovers that her identity involves a cultural straddle between Japan and the US, which she describes in "Guilty on Both Counts. " Some poems, especially "The Club," indicate that Yamada expanded her point of view to include feminist as well as racist issues because they recount sexual and domestic violence against women. Some of her poems are revisions of earlier versions in Camp Notes. The book contains the history and transition of the Japanese American in the U.S., including Yamada's perspective on gender discrimination.


  • 1976 – Camp notes and other poems
  • 1976 – Anthologized in Poetry from Violence
  • 1976 – Lighthouse
  • 1976 – The Japanese-American Anthology
  • 1981 – Mitsuye and Nellie: Two Asian-American Woman Poets
  • 1989 – Desert Run: Poems and stories
  • 1992 – Camp notes and other poems [2nd edition]
  • 2003 – Three Asian American Writers Speak Out on Feminism

Works She is Included in[edit]

  • Sowing Ti Leaves (Multicultural Women Writers, 1991)
  • "Invisibility is an unnatural disaster: Reflections of an Asian American Woman" (This Bridge Called My Back: Radical Writings by women of color) ed. Cherrie L. morgana/ Gloria E. Anzaldua
  • "Cultural Influences: Asian/Pacific American" (Women Poets of the World)
  • "Cincinnati" (Bold Words: A century of Asian American writing) ed. Rajini Srikanth and Esther Y. Iwanaga
  • "Looking Out" (New Worlds of Literature) ed. Jerome Beaty/J. Paul Hunter
  • "To the Lady" (Literature: Thinking, Reading and Writing Critically) ed. Sylvan Barnet, Morton Berman, William Burto, William E. Cain
  • "Cincinnati, 1943" (Sing, whisper, shout, PRAY! Feminist Visions for a just world) ed. M, Jacqui Alexander, Lisa Albrecht, Sharon Day, Mab Segrest
  • "Invisibility is an Unnatural disaster: reflections of an Asian American woman" (Constellations: A contextual reader for writers) ed. John Schilb, Elizabeth Flynn, John Clifford
  • "Desert Run" (Making Face, Making Soul: Creative and Critical Perspectives by Women of Color) ed. Gloria Anzaldua
  • "Marriage Was a Foreign Country" (Literature Alive! The Art of Oral Interpretation) ed. Teri gamble, Michael Gamble
  • "Warning" (Making More Waves: New Writing by Asian American Women) ed. Elaine H Kim, Lilia V Villanueva, And Asian United of California
  • "I learned to sew" (Southern California Women Writers and Artists) ed. Rara Avis
  • "Mitsuye Yamada" (Yellow LIght: The Flowering of Asian-American Artists) ed. Amy Ling
  • "A Bedtime Story" (Arrangement in Literature) Medallion Edition/American Reads (textbook)
  • "Masks of Women" (On Women Turning 70) interviews by Cathleen Rountree
  • "She Often Spoke of Suicide" (My Story's On: Ordinary Women Extrodinary Lives) ed. Paula Ross
  • "Legacy of Silence" (Last Witnesses Reflection onf the Wartime Internemt of Japanese Americans) ed. Erica Harth
  • (Textbook but highlights teaching career) "Experiential Approaches to teaching Joy Kogawa's Obasan" (Teaching American Ethnic Literatures" ed. John R Maitino and David R Peck
  • "Living in a Transformed Desert" (Placing the Academy: Essays on landscape, work, and identity) ed. Jennifer Sinor and Rona Kaufman


  • 1980 - Receives Orange County Arts Alliance Literary Arts Award.
  • 1982 - Receives Vesta Award for Writing, Woman's Building of Los Angeles.
  • 1983 - Serves as Resource Scholar, Multicultural Women's Institute, University of Chicago.
  • 1984 - Receives Writer's Fellowship, Yaddo Artist Colony, Saratoga Springs, New York.

Receives Award for Contribution to the Status of Women from the organization Women For: Orange County.

  • 1985 - Receives Women's Network Alert Literature Award.
  • 1987 - Visiting Poet, Pitzer College, Claremont, California.

Receives Distinguished Teacher Award from North Orange County Community College District Receives award for contributions to ethnic studies from MELUS.

  • 1990-1991 - Receives Woman of Achievement Award from the Santiago Ranch Foundation.
  • 1992 - Receives the Jesse Bernard Wise Women Award from the Center for Women's Policy Studies, Washington, D.C.

Commencement speaker at CSU Northridge.

  • 1995 - Receives "Write On, Women!" award from the Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research.
  • 1997 - Receives Give Women Voice Award—during International Women's Day, U.S.A.
  • 2007 - KCET Local Hero of the Year for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month
  • 2009 - Receives Honorary Doctorate, Simmons College Boston


  1. ^ Jaskoski, Helen. "A MELUS Interview : Mitsuye Yamada. " MELUS 15 (1988):97-108. Los Angeles: Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States.)
  2. ^ Jaskoski, Helen. "A MELUS Interview : Mitsuye Yamada. " MELUS 15 (1988):97-108. Los Angeles: Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States.
  3. ^ Jaskoski, Helen. "A MELUS Interview : Mitsuye Yamada. " MELUS 15 (1988):97-108. Los Angeles: Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States.)
  4. ^ Schweik,Susan. "A Needle with Maura's Voice: Mitsuye Yamada's Camp Notes and the American Canon of War Poetry. " A Gulf So Deeply Cut. Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press. 1991.)
  • Lim, Shirley Geok-lin. (1993, Fall). Feminist and ethnic literary theories in Asian American literature. Feminist Studies, 19, 571.
  • Kolmar, W., & Bartkowski, F. (Eds.). (1999). Feminist theory: A reader. California: Mayfield Publishing company.
  • Sheffer, J. (2003). Three Asian American writers speak out on feminism. Iris, 47, 91.
  • Usui, M. The Literary Encyclopedia [Online Database] Yamada, Mitsuye. (March 21, 2002). Retrieved November 14, 2005, from
  • Wong, N., Woo, M., Yamada, M. Three Asian American Writers Speak Out on Feminism, Radical Women Publications, 2003.
  • Yamada, M. (1981). Invisibility is an unnatural disaster: Reflections of an Asian American woman. In C. McCann, & S. Kim (eds.), Feminist theory reader: Local and global perspectives (pp. 174– 178). New York, NY: Taylor & Francis Books, Inc.
  • Yamamoto, T. (January 31, 2000). In/Visible difference:Asian American women and the politics of spectacle. Race, Gender, & Class,1, 43.
  • Mitsuye Yamada papers. MS-R071. Special Collections and Archives, The UC Irvine Libraries, Irvine, California.

External links[edit]

  • Mitsuye Yamada Website
  • Hong, C. K.; Lim, S. G.-L.; Tang-Quan, S. (2013). ""You should not be invisible": An Interview with Mitsuye Yamada". Contemporary Women's Writing. 8 (1): 1–16. doi:10.1093/cww/vpt016. ISSN 1754-1484.