Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Jeanne Toyo Wakatsuki Houston’s literary reputation rests primarily on her sensitive account of the incarceration of Japanese people at the Manzanar internment camp during World War II. The story is told with humor through the eyes of a child at the beginning and segues gracefully to her final “farewell” to the now deserted campsite thirty years after the family’s release.{$S[A]Wakatsuki Houston, Jeanne;Houston, Jeanne Wakatsuki}

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, setting up ten “relocation” camps to which 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry were evacuated. These enforced dislocations tore the fabric of many lives. However, to seven-year-old Jeanne, moving to Manzanar seemed at first an adventure. Her father, Ko, did not accompany the family to the camp, because as an Issei (native-born Japanese) he had been taken for interrogation to Fort Lincoln, North Dakota, and was not released for nine months. Ko had lived in the United States for thirty-five years; his wife and ten children were all Nisei (native-born Americans). The only reason he had not become naturalized was the immigration law of 1911, which prohibited Asians from applying for citizenship.

With several adult sons in the group, the Wakatsuki family managed to overcome some of the hardships of camp life, and things were not too unbearable until Jeanne’s father returned to claim his place as head of the family. A proud man, descendant of Samurais, Ko had made his way, finally achieving status as the owner-operator of a large fishing boat, when the war broke out. Always somewhat dictatorial in regard to his wife and children, Ko was suddenly in a position in which he had no power over his own life or the lives of his family. The result was tragic.

For one thing, Ko was outraged at the implication of disloyalty to the American government. At the same time, his early release from Fort Lincoln, plus his overbearing and unfriendly behavior toward other inmates in the camp, gave rise to his being branded an inu, or “collaborator.” He became an alcoholic, frequently behaving like a frenzied, caged...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Byrkit, James W. Review of Beyond Manzanar, by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston. Western American Literature 21 (August, 1986). Some useful background is presented. Comments on the myth and reality of various views of Asian American women.

Cahill, Susan Neunzig, ed. Writing Women’s Lives: An Anthology of Autobiographical Narratives by Twentieth Century American Women Writers. New York: HarperPerennial, 1994. Houston’s memoirs are addressed.

Houston, Jeanne Wakatsuki, and James D. Houston. Farewell to Manzanar: A True Story of Japanese American Experience During and After the World War II Internment. New York: Houghton, 1973. Houston’s own memoir is the best source for information about her childhood.

“Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston.” In Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series, edited by Hal May and James G. Lesniak. Vol. 29. Detroit: Gale Research, 1990. An overview.