Cynthia Kadohata was born on July 2, 1956, in Chicago. Her parents’ experience provided a significant part of the background for her first and fourth novels, both set in Japanese American families at the time of Kadohata’s youth. Her father’s family had emigrated from Japan to Southern California in the 1920’s, working as tenant farmers. Kadohata’s father moved to Chicago after losing his father in a farming accident, internment in an American prison camp after Pearl Harbor, and service in the United States Army military intelligence service both at home and in Japan after World War II.
Kadohata’s mother and maternal grandmother were born in Southern California before moving to Hawaii in the 1930’s, where her maternal grandfather drowned while her mother was still a child. A strong grandmother figures prominently in her first novel, like her maternal grandmother who supported her mother and her other children as a waitress in Hawaii before moving to Chicago. There, Kadohata’s parents met and married. Her older sister was born in Chicago as well.
The Kadohatas moved to Springdale, Arkansas, where her father worked as a chicken sexer, determining the gender of newborn chickens, like many adult characters in Kadohata’s first and fourth novel. Her brother was born in Arkansas.
Next, the family moved to Tifton, Georgia, and on to Michigan, but in 1965, her parents divorced and Kadohata moved with her mother and siblings back to Chicago, before moving to Los Angeles in 1971. Dropping out of Hollywood High School over a dispute of transfer grades from Chicago, Kadohata held menial jobs but entered Los Angeles City College in 1974. Soon, she transferred to the University of Southern California and graduated with a B.A. in journalism in 1977.
Seriously injured in a car accident in 1977, Kadohata...
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When Kira-Kira, Kadohata’s novel for young adults, won the prestigious John Newbery Medal for 2005, it restored the fortunes of the struggling author. In 1989, after a decade of breaking into the short-story market, Kadohata was met with unambiguous critical praise for her first novel, The Floating World. The episodes of the life of young Olivia Ann and her Japanese American family living through a transient, rural, and near-forgotten America and the somewhat bizarre setting of the world of the chicken sexers fascinated readers.
Moving away from realism proved near-disastrous for Kadohata. Readers did not know what to do with the “soft” science-fiction novel In the Heart of the Valley of Love. Similarly, the fantasy novel The Glass Mountains failed both because of its small publisher and because Kadohata was more interested in her characters than the conventions of the genre.
Returning to realism and writing the extraordinary Kira-Kira won for Kadohata young readers who liked her characters and their adventures. Mixing the hilarious, the gross, the funny, and the serious into an overall narrative that moves along a clearly discernible plot while introducing the readers to a world none too familiar but existing right in America gives Kira-Kira its particular strength.
Cynthia Lynn Kadohata was born on July 2, 1956, in Chicago, Illinois, to Toshiro and June Kadohata, both California natives. Her paternal grandparents had emigrated from Japan to California. When Kadohata was a toddler, she moved with her parents and older sister to Tifton, Georgia, where her father worked for the Chemell Hatchery as a chicken sexer, separating female and male chicks, a job many Japanese Americans performed in the decades after World War II. Her family later relocated to Arkansas towns, including Springdale, where her father secured similar poultry industry work and her younger brother was born.
By age nine, Kadohata had moved north to Michigan and then to Chicago with her mother and siblings when her parents divorced. She maintained contact with her father in Arkansas. Wherever she lived, Kadohata read voraciously, especially animal books and science fiction, and wrote stories. She attended a Chicago alternative high school. Relocating with her family to Los Angeles when she was fifteen, Kadohata dropped out of Hollywood High School in her senior year, in 1973, when that school refused to accept many of her Chicago high school’s credits.
At eighteen, Kadohata started taking journalism courses at Los Angeles City College. She then transferred to the University of Southern California, where by 1977 she earned a bachelor of arts degree in journalism. In college, a creative nonfiction class and Maxine Hong Kingston’s The...
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