Biography

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 436

Mitsuye Yasutake Yamada spent most of her formative years in Seattle, Washington, until a few months after the outbreak of World War II, when her family was removed to a concentration camp at Minidoka, Idaho. Her poems in Camp Notes and Other Poems recount this experience. Her need to integrate her art, her beliefs, and her commitment to human rights stems largely from the impact this event had on her.

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Yamada earned a bachelor’s degree in English and Art at New York University and a master’s degree in literature at the University of Chicago. She had a distinguished career as a teacher, working for many years at a community college in Cypress, California, and serving as writer-in-residence at Pitzer College and San Diego State University.

In her writings, Yamada has characteristically focused on her bicultural heritage, women, and human rights. During the early 1960’s she began working as a volunteer with Amnesty International, and her continuing commitment to human rights through that organization eventually led to her service on the national board of Amnesty International USA and participation in international committees seeking increased Asian involvement in human rights work. She made several trips to South Korea, Japan, and other countries in Asia on behalf of Amnesty International.

Commitment to diversity in all areas of life has led Yamada to multidisciplinary as well as multicultural commitments. While a community college professor she team-taught an interdisciplinary course in biology and poetry which involved field trips to research and experience the wilderness areas of California. Out of this experience came many of the poems in Yamada’s second collection, Desert Run. This book returns to the themes of alienation, human rights, and protest against injustice that reverberate through the earlier collection. In Desert Run, seeing the desert from a new perspective enables a healing process to take place. The title poem, “Desert Run,” makes the comparison explicitly as the speaker returns in memory to an earlier, enforced encampment on the desert, where armed guards stood watch over American men, women, and children, and contrasts it with the silence, agelessness, and demanding beauty of the desert as seen on a class camping trip. Other poems celebrate the beauty of seemingly insignificant flowers and, especially, the strength and endurance of desert plants such as cacti and lichens.

Another avenue of Yamada’s activism is her formation of a writers’ group, MultiCultural Women Writers. This loosely formed association works to raise support and awareness of diversity in the arts and has published an anthology, Sowing Ti Leaves: Writings by Multi-Cultural Women (1992), coedited by Yamada, which has gone through several editions.

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