Cynthia Kadohata Biography


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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...

(The entire section is 759 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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.


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Cynthia Lynn Kadohata aspired to be a journalist after she was graduated from college, believing that only nonfiction can express the truth. Her parents, as were other Japanese Americans, were uprooted during World War II and traveled extensively across the country in search of work. Kadohata’s keen observation of landscape and people during these long drives prepared her for her later career.

Kadohata changed her plans for the future after she was seriously injured in an automobile accident. While recuperating, she read extensively and discovered the power of fiction, its ability to say what could not be said otherwise. She tried her hand at writing short stories, and, after several rejections, one of her stories was accepted by The New Yorker. She felt encouraged to devote her life to writing fiction.

Kadohata’s two attempts at obtaining formal instruction in creative writing were of little use to her. She found her own observations and travels to be more useful than any theoretical discussions. In her first novel, The Floating World, Kadohata drew upon her own experiences of moving with her family from various cities on the Pacific coast to Arkansas. The protagonist and narrator, Olivia Osaka, is a third-generation Japanese American whose years of growing up are typical of all adolescents. The novel was well received and commended for its portrayal of a Japanese American migrant family. The success of the novel enabled her to win awards from the Whiting Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

In the Heart of the Valley of Love, Kadohata’s second novel, depicts Los Angeles in the 1950’s. Her picture of grim and bleak life in the years to come is based on the implications of the changing demographics in California in the 1990’s. Living in a period when a widening chasm between the classes breeds discontent and lawlessness, the protagonist, Francie, a young woman of Asian-African American ancestry, undergoes traumatic experiences. She loses her parents and then her surrogate parents, but eventually finds love, hope, and the possibility of renewal. She expresses Kadohata’s optimism about the survival of a multicultural society in the future.

Kadohata is clearly influenced by writers such as Maxine Hong Kingston and Amy Tan, who draw upon their Chinese heritage. She adds another dimension to the multicultural experience by adding the Japanese American perspective.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

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...

(The entire section is 516 words.)