David Mura Biography

Biography

David Alan Mura was born in Great Lakes, Illinois, in 1952 to Tom K. Mura and Tesuko Mura. Mura’s grandfather, like many other men of his generation, lost his business during World War II, after President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which forced the relocation of Japanese residing on the West Coast to hastily created camps. The internment left indelible marks on the lives of the Nisei, second-generation Japanese Americans. Seeing the disintegration of the lives of their parents, who had been denied civil rights and had been treated as traitors, the Nisei often turned their energies to becoming assimilated and proving their loyalty to the American way of life at the expense of their own heritage. By the time David was born, his father had shortened his family name Uyemura to Mura and converted to Christianity so that he could meld into mainstream America. David grew up in comfortable circumstances in a prosperous section of the city.

Mura’s childhood was typical of all Sansei, or third-generation Japanese Americans. The oldest of four children, he was expected to excel in academics and extramural activities. However, his childhood and adolescence were not very happy: Like many children of minority families who quickly become Americanized in their behavior and thinking, he chafed under his father’s autocratic ways and felt that denying his Japanese roots would grant him acceptance at the majority white school he attended. He was a...

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Biography

In his writing, Mura processes a private and a public pain with which Asian Americans can readily identify. A third-generation Japanese American, or Sansei, Mura grew up on baseball and apple pie in a Chicago suburb where he heard more Yiddish than Japanese. He avidly read white male writers, cheered for the John Wayne-led actor soldiers against the Japanese in war films, and identified with European culture at the expense of his Japanese heritage. His parents never mentioned their years in the Japanese relocation camps during World War II. Obliterating their ethnicity became a way of claiming the American “good life” for themselves and their son.

In adulthood Mura came to realize the devastation that such denial of identity had brought to his own life. He began an addictive cycle of drug abuse and sexual promiscuity that led to difficult self-interrogation and a painful passage to awareness and self-esteem. In A Male Grief, Mura powerfully examines child abuse, addictive family systems, and the adult male’s consumption of pornography as a way of coming to terms with his own destructive sexual behavior. When he began to feel shame about racist images such as submissive houseboys and geishas, he realized that it was himself of which he was really ashamed.

Mura’s embrace of his ethnicity is a major theme of his work. His Japanese ancestors play an important role in the poems in his early collection, After We Lost Our Way. A part of his claiming Japan entailed a prolonged visit to the country, made possible for Mura when he was awarded a U.S./Japan Creative Artist Exchange Fellowship for 1984-1985. A book of memoirs, Turning Japanese, resulted, which wrestles with the complexities of self, sexuality, politics, cultural mores, and literary criticism. The Colors of Desire lays bare his private infidelities and the more public wounds of racism. Mura’s writing vigorously smashes stereotypes, honestly processes wrong behavior, and aggressively claims his identity.

Biography

The evocative poetry and insightful nonfiction of David Mura (MEW-rah) is unusual for being both very private and very public. In his writing, Mura processes painful issues that have haunted him all his life and that are familiar to all Asians and Asian Americans. A third-generation Japanese American—a sansei—Mura grew up in an Americanized environment in a Chicago suburb where he heard more Yiddish than Japanese. He avidly read white male writers, and he identified with European-derived culture at the expense of his Japanese heritage. His parents seldom spoke about their ethnic roots and never mentioned their experiences in the Japanese relocation camps during World War II. The family name had originally been Uyemura, but Mura’s father, a journalist, shortened it to make it sound less exotic. Obliterating their ethnicity was a way to claim the American good life for themselves and their son.

Only when he reached adulthood did Mura come to realize the devastation that such denial of identity could wreak on an individual. He succumbed to an addictive cycle of drug abuse and sexual promiscuity that only gradually led to a period of difficult self-interrogation. His passage to awareness and self-esteem was painful. In A Male Grief Mura powerfully examines child abuse, addictive family systems, and the adult male’s consumption of pornography. He acknowledges that his early destructive behavior, which continued until he was in his late twenties, was a self-hatred resulting from a learned repression of his sansei identity. When he began to feel shame about racist images, such as submissive houseboys and geishas, he realized that he was really ashamed of himself. It became necessary to smash the stereotypes so as to be able to claim his identity and, as he writes in the poem “Nantucket Honeymoon,” to learn “—how else can I say it?—to love my own sweet skin.”

Mura’s embrace of his own ethnicity is a major theme of his...

(The entire section is 811 words.)