John Okada Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Although the accolade is based on only one novel, John Okada (oh-KAH-dah) is hailed as one of the most influential Asian American writers. The inclusions of No-No Boy in The Heath Anthology of American Literature (1990), Columbia Literary History of the United States (1988), and The Columbia History of the American Novel (1991) indicate the recognition of the novel’s importance among literary critics.

Okada also left a manuscript on the experience of the first generation of Japanese immigrants when he died of a heart attack at the age of forty-seven. His wife, Dorothy Okada, burned it after she could not find an interested publisher. When she moved from their old apartment, she also destroyed many of his papers and letters—part of the reason little is known of Okada’s life.

Okada grew up in Seattle and attended Seattle High School. He received two B.A. degrees (in English and library science) from the University of Washington and an M.A. degree in English from Columbia University. He served in the U.S. military in World War II, broadcasting messages from a plane to Japanese soldiers in their language. After being discharged a sergeant in 1946, Okada worked at the Seattle Public Library and then the Detroit Public Library. He supplemented his income by writing manuals for Chrysler Missile Operations.

When No-No Boy was first published in 1957, it received little attention. To Okada’s disappointment, his own community rejected the novel. The vivid portrayal of the agony of being Japanese American during and after World War II was perhaps too close to home for Japanese Americans, who preferred to forget rather than be made to feel again the intense pain of their dehumanizing treatment at the hands of the U.S. government. In 1970 a group of Asian American writers discovered a copy of the novel in a San Francisco bookstore; they collected money among themselves to have it reprinted in 1976.

No-No Boy begins with the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and the anti-Japanese American hysteria that...

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(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

John Okada was a Nisei, or second-generation Japanese American. He grew up in the Pacific Northwest and witnessed the internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II. Unlike the character Ichiro in No-No Boy, however, Okada was not a no-no boy (a person who answered no to two critical questions on the loyalty questionnaire—refusing to serve in the American armed forces and refusing to forswear allegiance to Japan and pledge loyalty to the United States). He volunteered for military service and was sent to Japanese held islands to exhort Japanese soldiers to surrender. The experience helped him shape his perspective on the war.

After he was discharged from the military in 1946, Okada went to the University of Washington and Columbia University. He earned two B.A. degrees and an M.A. degree studying, in his own words, “narrative and dramatic writing, history, sociology.” He started working on No-No Boy while he was an assistant in the Business Reference Department of the Seattle Public Library and at the Detroit Public Library. After a stint as a technical writer for Chrysler Missile Operations of Sterling Township, Michigan, he and his wife Dorothy moved back to Seattle. No-No Boy was completed in 1957. Okada had a hard time trying to find publishers who were interested in his work. No-No Boy was first published by Charles Tuttle of Tokyo. After Okada died, his wife offered all of his manuscripts, including the one of his second novel, to the Japanese American Research Project at the University of California at Los Angeles. They were rejected. Dorothy burned them shortly after, when she was preparing to move.

Okada was proud to be a Japanese American. He examined the double consciousness of the Japanese American community. No-No Boy portrays the psychological confusion and distress experienced by many Japanese Americans, especially second generation Japanese Americans (U.S. citizens by birth, culturally Japanese) during and after World War II. No-No Boy portrays the struggle of those who are caught between two worlds at war.


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

John Okada, a nisei (a person of Japanese descent born in America), was born in Seattle, Washington in 1923 to Japanese parents. He...

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(Novels for Students)

John Okada was born in Seattle, Washington, in September 1923, of Japanese American parents. He attended Broadway High School, but his...

(The entire section is 373 words.)