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Session 8 Critical Pedagogy: Abiodun Oyewole and Lawson Fusao Inada - Authors and Literary Works
Author: Abiodun Oyewole
Works: "On the Subway" and "Jones Comin' Down"

Author: Lawson Fusao Inada
Work: Legends From Camp


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Lawson Fusao Inada

Lawson Fusao Inada was born in 1938 in Fresno, California, where he lived until the outbreak of World War II forced his family into Japanese internment camps in Fresno, Arkansas, and Colorado. The experience was a powerful one for Inada, and much of his writing has explored the complex American identity he forged there.

After the war, Inada went back to school and discovered music. He played bass while studying at Fresno State University and developed a fascination with the rhythms of jazz. This interest is evident in his poetry, which often uses the sophisticated rhythms and musical structures of this truly American musical form. Inada went on to study at the University of Iowa's writing program, and has taught at Southern Oregon State College since 1966.

According to poet Shawn Wong, Inada's rise to preeminence among Asian American poets happened almost by accident. Wong and two other aspiring Asian American writers -- Frank Chin and Jeffrey Paul Chan -- had become friendly during the 1960s, and they were looking for other Asian American poets with whom to share ideas. They found Inada. "In a bookstore," remembers Wong, "I saw an anthology of Fresno poets [Down at the Santa Fe Depot] with a picture of them on the cover. And in the picture I could see a Japanese guy. I called him up, and it was Lawson Inada. I said, 'You're a Japanese poet? We want to meet you.' We all met at a party with Alex Haley, Richard Brautigan, Ishmael Reed, and we talked about how, before we knew we were going to be writers, we were first going to be doctors and engineers like our parents wanted us to be."

In 1971, Inada's debut collection of poems, Before the War, became the first volume of poetry from an Asian American writer to be published by a top New York publisher. In 1983, Inada helped to edit Aiiieeeee!: An Anthology of Asian American Writers. It was the first anthology of Asian American writing, and was co-edited by Wong, Chan, and Chin. The group -- sometimes referred to as "The Gang of Four" -- has been credited with pioneering the field of Asian American literature; they are known both for mentoring new Asian American poets and for reviving work by earlier writers like Toshio Mori and John Okada.

Inada has published a number of books of poetry and has been recognized as one of the most significant American voices to speak about the experience of the Japanese internment camps. He has won numerous fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, was named Oregon State Poet of the Year in 1991, and won the American Book Award for Legends From Camp in 1994.

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