Asian American Short Story Writers: An A-to-Z Guide

By Guiyou Huang | Go to book overview
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HISAYE YAMAMOTO (DESOTO) (1921-)

Seiwoong Oh


BIOGRAPHY

Since Hisaye Yamamoto has written memoirs and given interviews during which she has made specific and helpful comments about her life and work, there is a substantial amount of information regarding the author. A second-generation Japanese American, Yamamoto was born in Redondo Beach, California, in 1921 to parents who immigrated from Kumamoto, Japan, and who “eked out a living on the land in southern California, mainly growing strawberries (“The Situation” 241). She spoke no English until she began kindergarten; as soon as she could read in English, she became a voracious reader. Using a pseudonym, Napoleon, she started writing as a teenager, receiving her first rejection slip at the age of fourteen. Throughout her youth—for twelve years—she attended Japanese language schools. After graduating from Excelsior Union High School, she went on to Compton Junior College to study foreign languages.

Following Japan's bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, twenty-one-year-old Yamamoto, along with 110,000 other Japanese Americans, was taken to the Poston Relocation Center in Arizona, as mandated by the Japanese Relocation Act of 1942. Her experiences at this camp profoundly influenced her life, resulting in such touching stories as “The Legend of Miss Sassagawara.” The character of Miss Sassagawara is based on a real person, a writerpoet who later died at the age of fifty-eight at a nursing home in Los Angeles. During her stay at the camp, Yamamoto developed a lasting friendship with Wakako Yamauchi—an author often compared with Yamamoto—and was able to publish her first fictional works, including a serialized mystery entitled “Death Rides the Rails to Poston” and a piece called “Surely I Must

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