Encouraged by her mother, Kyoko Mori began writing at an early age, winning essay contests in grade school. Her grandfather taught writing, and her mother’s family, reduced to near poverty after World War II as a result of their land having been redistributed, emphasized education, writing, and an appreciation of culture. Her mother fostered an appreciation of nature and art and encouraged her to apply to a nontraditional high school. In 1969, Mori was accepted and began classes one month after her mother’s suicide.
Much of Mori’s writing focuses on coming to terms with her mother’s suicide. An appreciation of her mother’s influence underlies these works, despite her discernible disquiet over the suicide. After her mother’s death, Mori lived with her abusive father and manipulative stepmother until 1973, when she left Japan for the first time to attend a year of high school in Arizona. Mori then moved to the United States permanently to study writing, receiving her B.A. from Rockford College and her Ph.D. in creative writing from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee in 1984.
In 1990, Mori returned to Japan for the first time in thirteen years. This trip is the subject of The Dream of Water, which develops themes that appear throughout Mori’s work: her mother’s suicide, her relationship with her father, and the attempt to find a home between two cultures.
Mori feels somewhat out of place and a bit surprised to be living in the United States (“in a small Wisconsin town where the old women in diners don’t look anything like my grandmother”). She also felt a “mixture of familiarity and strangeness,” “fondness and regret” when she returned to Japan. “Home” is not a stable concept; she described the trip as “going from one foreign place to another.”
Mori’s writing can be seen as a way of establishing connections between these two cultures: “Most of my short stories are set in Japan, and my poems tend to juxtapose my memories of Japan with my life in the Midwest.” Her work is also intended to give voice to her mother and to women in Japan, whose expression is restricted by a traditional, masculine culture. She perceives her identity “as a writer, not as a wife,” unlike the women she describes in Japan.