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Author Profile: Hisaye Yamamoto [in Notable Asian Americans]

Hisaye YamamotoHisaye Yamamoto began writing fiction at the age of 14 and received her first acceptance from a literary magazine at 27. In between, “I got a whole slew of rejection slips,” she recalled with a laugh during an interview with Terry Hong. Throughout her long career, she has written dozens of short stories, many of which were published in journals and short story collections. In 1988, her best known short stories were collected in a much-acclaimed slim volume, Seventeen Syllables and Other Stories.

Despite the length of Yamamoto’s career, she cannot be described as a prolific writer; however, she has consistently produced some of the most anthologized stories in the Asian American literary canon. According to the editors of the seminal Asian American compilations, Aiiieeeee: An Anthology of Asian American Writers, and The Big Aiiieeeee: An Anthology of Chinese American and Japanese American Literature, Yamamoto’s “modest body of work is remarkable for its range and gut understanding of Japanese America … Technically and stylistically, hers is among the most highly developed of Asian American writing.” As well, Yamamoto’s early stories form the only portrait of pre-war rural Japanese America in existence.”

Yamamoto was one of the first Asian American writers to gain national literary recognition after World War II. In spite of the rampant anti-Japanese sentiment throughout the United States immediately after the war, Yamamoto’s stories prevailed. The story, “Yoneko’s Earthquake,” was chosen for inclusion as one of the Best American Short Stories of 1952. Three other works – “Seventeen Syllables” (1949), “The Brown House” (1951), and “Epithalamium” (1960) – were also chosen for the yearly lists of “Distinctive Short Stories” included in the Best American Short Stories collections. Since 1948 when Yamamoto wrote “The High-Heeled Shoes,” her first story accepted by a major publication, she has emerged as one of the clearest, most resilient voices of Asian America.

A Working Woman
Hisaye Yamamoto was born on April 27, 1921, in Redondo Beach, California, to immigrant parents from the Kumamoto region of Japan. She remembered that the family “moved around a lot because in those days, California state law forbade aliens from owning property and becoming citizens. We would lease land for two or three years and then move on again.” Although the family moved from various locations throughout southern California, Yamamoto was able to attend Compton Junior College, where she majored in French, Spanish, German, and Latin. … [click here for more]

Profile: “Hisaye Yamamoto (1921 – ), Writer,” Notable Asian Americans, edited by Helen Zia and Susan B. Gall, Detroit: Gale Research, 1995

Readers: Adult

Author photo credit: © Marilyn Sanders


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