Joy Kogawa Biography

Joy Kogawa Biography

Joy Kogawa's childhood home in Vancouver was first slated for demolition in 2005. Since then, “Save the Kogawa House!” has been the cry of many across Canada. Kogawa is a noted and much-loved Canadian novelist and poet. Her somewhat autobiographical novel Obasan, which focuses on the internment of Japanese Canadians during World War II, is her most popular and well-known work. It has been adapted as a children’s book and an opera and is considered one of Canada’s most important historical novels. In addition to writing, Kogawa has also been an elementary school teacher and studied music at the college level. Her latest projects include a children’s work titled Naomi’s Tree.

Facts and Trivia

  • Kogawa was sent to an internment camp in British Columbia as a young child. This experience greatly shaped her later writing.
  • In 1982, she became involved with Sadan-Kai, an activist trying to get the Canadian government to provide redress to Japanese-Canadians mistreated in the 1940s.
  • Kogawa’s work has tended more toward poetry and become far more free-form in her later years.
  • Kogawa has been praised for the feminist themes explored in Obasan, a word which can be translated to mean “aunt” or “woman.”
  • Itsuka is the sequel to Obasan and picks up the story of Naomi, the lead character in Obasan. Although interesting, it has not been as widely loved or critically well-received as Obasan.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Joy Kogawa was born Joy Nakayama in Vancouver, Canada. She is a second-generation Japanese Canadian, or nisei, born to Reverend Gordon Goichi Nakayama, an Anglican priest, and Lois Masui Nakayama, who had immigrated to Canada as a Christian missionary. She was taught as a child to assimilate into Canadian culture, which she wanted very much to do. She became a person who often would not speak, would not question, and did not expect to be heard.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Canadian government began a movement of Japanese people to internment camps and also confiscated their possessions and property, including land, houses, boats, cars, and personal possessions. Kogawa, age six, and her family were evacuated from their comfortable Vancouver home to an internment camp in Slocan in central British Columbia and later to Coaldale, Alberta. At the camps, she and her family lived a life of field labor until the late 1940’s.

Kogawa pursued studies in education at the University of Alberta and taught elementary school in Coaldale for a year. She then studied music at the University of Toronto, followed by studies at the Anglican Women’s Training College and the University of Saskatchewan.

She later fought for redress from the Canadian government for the internment of twenty thousand Japanese Canadians during the war. Kogawa worked with the National Association of Japanese Canadians. In 1988, they received a formal apology from the Canadian government for injustices. They also received a $350 million settlement for retribution.

In 1957, she moved permanently to Toronto. There she married, had two children, and divorced in 1968. In 1959, she began writing. By 1964, she had her first short story published. Kogawa...

(The entire section is 727 words.)

Joy Kogawa Biography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Canada includes people of diverse races and ethnicities. Joy Kogawa’s novels consider the victimization of the Japanese Canadians and how their dual culture inflects their experience during three generations, the issei, nisei, and sansei. Traditional Japanese values strengthen the revolutionary elements in the community so it can speak to the government to achieve justice. She also explores victimization of children by a British Canadian clergyman who fogs over his crimes with the privileges of class and religion. The light of truth prepares the way for healing mercy.

Joy Kogawa Biography

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Joy Kogawa grew up in the relatively sheltered environment provided by her minister father in Vancouver. That security was shattered with World War II relocation policies, which sent Japanese Canadians to internment camps in the inhospitable interior lands of Canada. The atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States also profoundly affected her.

As a young woman Kogawa attended the University of Alberta, the Anglican Women’s Training College, and the Conservatory of Music. She married David Kogawa on May 2, 1957; they had two children, Gordon and Deirdre. The years 1967 to 1968 seem to have been a transitional period in Kogawa’s life, since her first book of poems (The Splintered Moon, 1968) was published, she divorced David Kogawa, and she returned to college, attending the University of Saskatchewan, in those two years.

The next ten years of Kogawa’s life became increasingly productive. Her second collection of poems, A Choice of Dreams, was published in 1974. Kogawa worked in the Office of the Prime Minister in Ottawa, Ontario, as a staff writer from 1974 to 1976. A third collection of poetry, Jericho Road, was published in 1977. During this time Kogawa worked primarily as a freelance writer. Kogawa contributed poems to magazines and journals in Canada and the United States.

In 1981, Obasan was published. Widely acclaimed as one of the most psychologically complex and lyrically beautiful novels on the topic of Japanese Canadians’ wartime experiences, Obasan continues to intrigue readers and critics alike with its powerful story of a silent, reserved woman, Megumi Naomi Nakane, learning of the fate of her family in Japan many years after the fact. Naomi’s experience of dispossession, relocation, and internment, as well as the loss of her parents, has made her ethnicity, her self-image, and her relationships with others deeply problematic. Published in 1986, Naomi’s Road retells the tale of Obasan in a manner intended for child readers.

Itsuka is Kogawa’s sequel to Obasan. Itsuka follows Naomi’s political awakening and the healing of her wounds from the past.

Joy Kogawa Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Joy Kogawa (koh-gah-wah) was born Joy Nozonie Nakayama in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1935. Gordon Goichi Nakayama, her father, was an Anglican clergyman; Lois Masui Yao Nakayama, her mother, was a musician and kindergarten teacher. Kogawa’s very early childhood in Vancouver was secure and full of wonder; she later spoke of loving the fun of the city, with Christmas lights and escalators, and being surrounded by a warm family circle. A gathering danger, however, was the fact that her parents were second-generation Japanese immigrants. Although loyal Canadian citizens, like all Japanese Canadians on the country’s West Coast, they were subject to laws hastily enacted after the attack on Pearl Harbor, which ordered all residents “of Japanese ancestry” to be relocated inland. In 1942, some 21,000 people, most of them Canadian citizens, were forced to leave their homes near the Pacific coast. Their property was confiscated, many men were sent to labor camps, and the rest, including whole families, were resettled in ghost towns in interior British Columbia.

The Nakayama family ended up in Slocan, an almost deserted mining town amid the wooded mountains of inland British Columbia. They spent the World War II years there, living in a shack with newspaper walls. Kogawa attended school there and read everything she could find, although her choices in this ghost town were limited. The Slocan internees did retain features of community, however. Enough Japanese Canadians were living there to start stores and a school and to maintain some traditional customs.

When the war ended in 1945, the Canadian government inexplicably refused to let Japanese Canadians return to their West Coast homes. Instead, they were offered two choices: to move farther east to the prairies or to be “repatriated” to Japan. Kogawa and her family settled in Coaldale, Alberta, where their living conditions were even more primitive than before. Kogawa completed high school there and spent one year studying at the University of Alberta. She then took a job teaching elementary school in Coaldale. In 1955, she moved to Toronto and studied...

(The entire section is 873 words.)

Joy Kogawa Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Joy Kogawa’s portrayal of the damage done to Japanese Canadian citizens by their forced removal and internment pricked the nation’s conscience and led to her further concern with righting past injustices. Themes of justice, cultural identity, gender, and the meanings of silence infuse her work, making it a unique part of the contemporary Canadian canon.

Joy Kogawa Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Joy Kogawa (koh-gah-wah) is known primarily for Obasan, the first novel to deal with the internment of Japanese Canadians during World War II. Born in Vancouver as Joy Nozomi Goichi, Kogawa had a comfortable childhood; her father, a minister, and mother, a teacher, were both second-generation Japanese Canadians. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Canadian authorities ordered the evacuation of all West Coast residents of Japanese origin; Kogawa’s family was sent to Alberta. Even after the war was over, the Canadians of Japanese ancestry were prohibited from returning to their homes. The discriminatory acts of the government left a lasting imprint on Kogawa and became the subject of her fiction.


(The entire section is 992 words.)

Joy Kogawa Biography

(Novels for Students)
Joy Kogawa Published by Gale Cengage

Born in Vancouver, Canada, in 1935 as the daughter of Lois (Yao) and Rev. Gordon Goichi Nakayama Joy Kogawa...

(The entire section is 342 words.)