Philip Kan Gotanda (goh-TAHN-dah) in his writing gives voice to the Japanese American experience in plays, films, and spoken word which ranges from realism, to film noir, to dreamlike dialogue. His father, Wilfred Itsuta Gotanda, was a nisei (second-generation Japanese American) born in Hawaii who practiced medicine in Stockton, California. Dr. Gotanda was interned, along with all West Coast Japanese Americans, during World War II. After returning to Stockton, he married Catherine Matsumoto, a schoolteacher, and Philip was the youngest of their three sons.
Philip entered the University of California, Santa Cruz in 1969, becoming involved in the emergent Asian American political-cultural movement. He visited Japan before earning a B.A. from the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he studied Asian art and culture. He received a J. D. degree from Hastings Law School in 1978. His first interest was music, and his early script, The Avocado Kid: Or, Zen in the Art of Guacamole, 1979, was a musical based on the Japanese story of the peach boy, Momotaro. This production drew together Japanese mythology and American pop music and dance. Produced by the East West Players in Los Angeles, the musical was a collaboration with Don Kuramoto of the Jazz fusion group Hiroshima. Gotanda’s poetic works have also involved collaboration with Kuramoto.
His development was linked with the rise of Asian American theater in the 1980’s. A dramaturge for the San Francisco Asian American Theater Company, Gotanda emerged along with playwrights David Henry Hwang and Canadian Rick Shiomi to bring Asian American perspectives to the stage. A Song for a Nisei Fisherman, developed in the Asian American theater workshop at Stanford, was partially based on the internment...
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