David Mura Analysis

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

David Mura (MEW-rah) is the author of A Male Grief: Notes on Pornography and Addiction (1987). His poems and essays have been published in The Nation, The New Republic, New England Review, Utne Reader, Quarry, and American Poetry Review, among other journals. His two memoirs, Turning Japanese: Memoirs of a Sansei (1991) and Where the Body Meets Memory: An Odyssey of Race, Sexuality, and Identity (1995), provide an intimate glimpse of the author’s struggles to come to terms with his heritage and his sexuality. His vivid descriptions of places and people captivate the reader, though some may be repelled by his obsession with sex and pornography. Discovering his Japanese identity forms the core of Turning Japanese, and Where the Body Meets Memory is an account of his addictions, what he deems their genesis, and his struggle to come out of the depths of self-hatred. He published a novel, Famous Suicides of the Japanese Empire, in 2008.

Mura is also a noted performance artist. He wrote and performed in Relocations: Images from a Japanese American (pr. 1990), Silence and Desire (pr. 1994; with Tom Rose, Kim Hines, and Maria Cheng), and Internment Voices (pr. 1997; with Esther Suzuki). In 1994, with Alex Pate, he helped create the multimedia performance piece Secret Colors, about the lives of men of color and relations between Asian Americans and African Americans, which was later adapted for television for the Public Broadcasting Service. Other theater pieces include The Winged Seed (pr. 1997), adapted from Li-Young Lee’s memoir, and After Hours (pr. 1995; with actor Kelvin Han Yee and pianist Jon Jang). He founded and served as artistic director of the Asian American Renaissance.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

David Mura is known for his outspoken discussion of the interconnection between race and sexuality, a predominant theme in all his literary works. He has won numerous honors for his poetry and nonfiction works. He was the U.S./Japan Creative Artist Fellow in 1984 and was awarded the National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship in 1985. Other fellowships and grants include two National Endowment for the Arts grants, two Bush Foundation Fellowships, four Loft-McKnight Awards, and several Minnesota State Arts Board awards. He received the Fanny Fay Wood Memorial Prize from the American Academy of Poets (1977), the Creative Nonfiction Prize from Milkweed (1985), and the Discovery/The Nation Award (1987). After We Lost Our Way was selected for the National Poetry Series in 1989, and he received the Pushcart Prize in 1990. Turning Japanese received the Josephine Miles Book Award from the Oakland, California, chapter of PEN in 1991 and was cited by The New York Times as a Notable Book of the Year. It has been translated into Japanese and Dutch. He won the Carl Sandburg Literary Award from the Friends of the Chicago Public Library for The Colors of Desire and a Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writer’s Award in 1995. Famous Suicides of the Japanese Empire was a finalist for the Binghamton University John Gardner Fiction Book Award, the Minnesota Book Award in fiction, and the Virginia Commonwealth University Cabell First Novelist Award.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Franklin, Cynthia. “Turning Japanese/Returning to America: Problems in Gender, Class, and Nation in David Mura’s Use of Memoir.” Literature Interpretation Theory 12, no. 3 (2001): 235-265. Discusses the growing trend toward autobiography among Asian American writers and its relationship to trends in Asian American studies.

Gidmark, Jill B. “David Mura: Tearing Down the Door.” Asian America: Journal of Culture and the Arts 2 (Winter, 1993): 120-129. Gidmark discusses how Mura’s cultural and sexual identity defines the themes of his major works.

Jason, Philip K., ed. Masterplots II: Poetry Series. Rev. ed. Pasadena, Calif.: Salem Press, 2002. Contains an in-depth analysis of the poems “An Argument: In 1942,” “Strawberry Issei,” “Grandfather and Grandmother in Love,” and “Relocation.”

Mura, David. “David Mura.” Interview by Bill Moyers. In The Language of Life: A Festival of Poets, edited by Moyers. New York: Doubleday, 1995. Mura sheds light on the technique in his poetry and how he achieves the effects through a judicious choice of words and tone. He describes his poetry as existing between two poles: “the tension between the moment of the aesthetic and the beautiful . . . and the process of history which is often brutal and unjust.” Poetry allows him to “combine...

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