Velina Hasu Houston

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Velina Hasu Houston
Born Velina Hasu Houston
(1957-05-05) May 5, 1957 (age 60)
At sea, en route between America and Japan
Occupation Poet, essayist, screenwriter, playwright, author, editor
Nationality American
Period Mid-1970s – present
Genre Multiple
Subject Racism, sociology, feminism, immigration, assimilation

Velina Hasu Houston, born Velina Avisa Hasu Houston (on May 5, 1957),[1] is an award-winning American playwright, essayist, poet, author, editor, and screenwriter. She has had many works produced, presented, and published, with some drawing from her experience of being multiracial, as well as from the immigrant experiences of her family and those she encountered growing up in Junction City, Kansas.

Her work focuses on the shifting boundaries of identity with regard to gender, culture, and ethnicity, often embracing a transnational view of identity based upon her own Japanese and American background. Her works' themes also have extended beyond these issues to explore stories related to women in society. She is best known for her play Tea, which portrays the lives of Japanese war brides who move to the United States with their American servicemen husbands.

Her plays are studied in the US, Asia, and Europe in high schools and in colleges and universities. She is the only American playwright to amass a body of work that explores the transnational US-Japan relationship through stories that include a bilateral, global view of identity and belonging. The former Honorable Consul General of Japan of Los Angeles Kazuo Kodama paralleled Houston’s work in drama to the work of Isamu Noguchi in fine art, both being offspring of one Japanese parent and one American parent.

Early life[edit]

The youngest of three, Houston was born in international waters on a military ship en route to a U.S. base in Japan. Her father, Lemo Houston, was African Native American/Blackfoot-Pikuni Native American Indian originally from Linden, Alabama. Her mother, Setsuko Takechi, is Japanese originally from Matsuyama, Ehime, a provincial town in Shikoku Island. Houston's ancestral lineages include historical ethnic ties to India, Cuba, Armenia, Greece, and China, with family ties to Hawaii, England, Germany, Brazil, Argentina, and Scotland.[2]

Her parents met in Kobe in 1946, beginning their nine-year courtship at the disapproval of Velina's maternal grandfather who committed suicide as a result of his country's defeat in World War II (exacerbated by his daughter's desire to marry an American) and by the loss of his family's land due to the land reform policies supported by the US occupation. After the couple married, they eventually severed ties with both their families. The couple went on to adopt their only son Joji Kawada George Adam Houston, an Amerasian, in Tokyo after he was left orphaned at eight years old during the U.S. occupation.

In 1949 Velina's father returned to the United States. In order to be reunited with Setsuko, he volunteered for active duty in the Korean War and returned to Asia in 1951. Lemo and Setsuko's nine-year courtship was due to the fact that he respected her wishes to remain in Japan to care for her ailing mother. The couple married in 1954 and came to the U.S. in 1957 with the adopted Joji and Velina's sister Hilda Rika Hatsuyo, Velina being born en route and granted citizenship at her father's first U.S. military assignment at Fort Riley. Their new American experience was met with being discriminated against by Americans (including Japanese Americans) from both within and outside of their family, but the experience strengthened them and planted the seeds for the young writer.

The family settled in Junction City, Kansas, a small town adjacent to the military base, living a culturally Japanese lifestyle at the insistence of Velina's mother, Setsuko. In 1969, as a result of combat-related stress and alcoholism, Velina's father died. Setsuko continued raising her family in Junction City, a community consisting of hundreds of mostly Japanese and European immigrant women who married Americans after World War II.


Houston attended graduate school at the University of California at Los Angeles and at the University of Southern California. She holds a PhD from USC's School of Cinematic Arts, and an MFA from the University of California at Los Angeles' School of Theater, Film, and Television.


Houston has been recognized as a Japan Foundation Fellow, a Rockefeller Foundation Fellow (twice), a Sidney F. Brody Fellow, a James Zumberge Fellow (thrice), a California Arts Council fellow, and a Los Angeles Endowment for the Arts Fellow. She is a Pinter Review Prize for Drama Silver Medalist for Calling Aphrodite, which also was a finalist for the American Theatre Critics Association Steinberg New Play Award for its 2007 world premiere.

Present day[edit]

Houston continues to write plays and also work in other genres of writing.

Houston is Professor, Associate Dean of Faculty, Resident Playwright, and Founder/Director of the undergraduate Playwriting Program and Master of Fine Arts in Dramatic Writing at the University of Southern California. She continues to lecture nationwide while teaching courses about playwriting and adaptation at the University of Southern California School of Theatre. For several years, she taught master classes in screenwriting at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Theater, Film, and Television.[3]

Personal life[edit]

Houston resides in Los Angeles, with homes in Hawaii and Kyoto. She is married to Peter H. Jones of Manchester, England, with whom she has two children and two stepsons: Kiyoshi S. S. Houston, K. Leilani Houston, Evan W. Jones, and Jason K. Jones. Raised as a Buddhist and Shintoist, Houston attends an Episcopal parish, but practices a polytheistic faith.[2]


  1. ^ "Asian American Playwrights: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook, Book by Miles Xian Liu". Greenwood Press, 2002. Retrieved 2009-11-07. 
  2. ^ a b "Official Velina Hasu Houston Website". Velina Hasu Houston. Retrieved 2009-11-07. 
  3. ^ "Velina Hasu Houston". Discover Nikkei. Retrieved 2009-11-07.