Author Biography Research Worksheet

Name of Author: Joy Kogawa Date of Birth: June 6, 1935 Date of Death:  She still alive

Place of Birth:  Vancouver, British Columbia  Place of Death: none

Family Information: (parents, siblings etc.)

Father: Gordon Goichi Nakayama, Mother: Lois Yao Nakayama

Important childhood experiences and interests:

During World War II, the Japanese military attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and twelve weeks later Kogawa was sent with her family to the internment camp for Japanese Canadians at Slocan during World War II.

Information about the author’s education/development as a writer:

After the war she resettled with her family in Coaldale, Alberta, where she completed high school. In 1954 she attended the University of Alberta, in 1956 the Anglican Women’s Training College and The Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. !968 divorce with David ogawa, then she went to University of Saskatchewan. Kogawa was first published as a poet in 1968 with the divided moon. She began working as a staff writer in the prime minister’s office in Ottawa in 1973. In 1981, she published her first prose works: “Obama sang” semi-autobiographical novel, being her most famous works. In 1981, the Canadian book publishers awarded the “first novel prize”, kenzo ogawa ichiro won the Canadian writers association in 1982 before the annual book award and the Columbus foundation of the American book award. Ogawa’s children’s adaptation of Naomi’s Road, 1985

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Other important/relevant experiences that helped shape the writer (relationships, other occupations, travel)

The Historic Joy Kogawa House Society has operated a writer-in-residence program in the house since 2008. They have hosted four writers to date: poet and editor Dr. John Asfour of Montreal in 2009, novelist and writing educator Nancy Lee of Richmond in 2010, creative non-fiction author Susan Crean in 2011, short-fiction author Deborah Willis in 2012, and PEN Canada writer-in-exile, novelist, editor, freelance journalist, and faculty member Ava Homa in 2013.

The sequel Itsuka (1992) was rewritten and renamed Emily Kato (2005). Obasan was named one of the most important books in Canadian history by the Canadian literary review, and listed as “Canada’s best” by the Toronto star. Later, obasan adapted the children’s book Naomi’s Road (1986), and the vancouver opera house adapted a 45-minute opera that toured every elementary school in British Columbia. The opera has also been performed in the greater vancouver area, reddill and Seattle, and lethbridge, alberta. National war museum in Washington and Ottawa, Ontario. Toronto’s tapestries opera house performed a revival in November 2016 to great acclaim, especially on the Toronto star. The Toronto star admits its setting is “significant: st. Davis is home to the city’s last japanese-canadian Anglican diocese”.

Writing influences (who were other writers or artists he/she admired? Other works?)

Kogawa, who currently divides her time between vancouver and Toronto, Ontario, was the 2012-13 resident author at the university of Toronto. In 2018, Kogawa and vancouver-based Japanese poet Soramaru takayama formed a group called Yojaros. The ave Kogawa House committee has launched a campaign to save Kogawa’s childhood home in vancouver’s mapolai neighborhood from demolition. They have received national support from writers and writing organizations across Canada, suggesting that the house at 1450 west 64th street is considered by many to be of historical and literary interest, akin to the burton building, the Emily carr building and the haig brown institute

Significant works (books, plays, poems, particularly important pieces)


Split moon. Fredericton, NB: a collection of violinhead poems, 1967.

The choice of dreams. Toronto: McClelland&Stewart, 1974.

Jericho road. Toronto: McClelland&Stewart, 1977.

Six poems. Toronto: league of Canadian poets, 1980.

What are my memories of the evacuation? Canadian school education, 1985

The woman in the woods. Oakville, Ontario: Mosaic press, 1985.

Lilith song. Vancouver: north star, 2000.

Anchor garden: selected poems. Oakville, Ontario: Mosaic, 2003.

A novel

Obasan. Toronto: Lester and Orpen Dennys, 1981. (winner of the 1982 Canadian prize for first novel)

Escape. Toronto: penguin press, 1992. (rewritten as Emily garten – 2005)

The rain. Toronto: Knopf, 1995. (revised version released in 2003)


Gently go to Nagasaki. Catelyn press. In 2016,

Children’s literature

Naomi’s way. Toronto: Oxford University press, 1986; Fitzhenry&Whiteside, 2005.

Naomi’s tree. Toronto: Fitzhenry&Whiteside, 2009.

Common topics/themes in author’s work

In Naomi’s life, important things were kept quiet. Silence is considered a positive quality in Japanese culture, especially for women. Silence represents carefulness, prudence, and unmet needs. Naomi’s aunt Obasan had this virtue. Not that she doesn’t talk at all; Instead, she didn’t talk about anything important in their lives. Her comments were an incomprehensible shorthand for her thoughts. Kogawa’s poems prefigure most of the themes of her novels, but also include many Lamentations and understandings of identity and marriage. Of particular note is the poem written in “the choice in a dream” in 1969. In Hiroshima, ancestral graves and her mother’s girlhood are revealed among objects preserved in the harbor.

Success during author’s lifetime?  (awards, money, popularity)

In 1986, Kogawa was made a Member of the Order of Canada; in 2006, she was made a Member of the Order of British Columbia.

In 2010, the Japanese government honored Kogawa with the Order of the Rising Sun “for her contribution to the understanding and preservation of Japanese Canadian history.”[9]

Kogawa has been awarded several honorary doctorates. The most recent was by the University of Victoria, on June 12, 2017.

Influence/relevance of author today (what was/is unique or revolutionary about his/her writing?  Which authors or literary movements were influenced by this author?

The themes found in her anut Obasan also reflect Kogawa’s other works: bigotry and its poisonous fruit, personal and national identity, justice, maternal bonds and their harms, memory and silence. Her other works of fiction have dabbled in new disciplines, but each shows a multi-level consciousness that contradicts the simple black-and-white advocacy of the question. At naokazuka, even after Naomi was “depoliticized,” there was still conflict between Japanese canadians who wanted to forget the past and those who continued to fight. Rainrise revealed her daughter’s plight when she discovered that her father, the “good man”, was also a child molester.

How did the writer’s life experiences shape her/his work (from your research and/or your inference)

Her great education experience that came from the university that she used to study and the people who used to around her also become the reason that influence herself.

What can the reader learn through reading this author’s work about the social and cultural constructs of the time the works were written?

Some of Kogawa’s works are meditations on the lessons of history. Together, her work reflects research on major events, such as the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and the subsequent U.S. nuclear attack on Hiroshima. What lessons do you seem to have learned?

In Obasan Kogawa’s narrator’s notes, “all our ordinary stories change over time, now as much as in the past. Intense and pervasive prairie dust storms, memories and dreams seeping in and intermingling in crevices, placed on furniture and upholstered.” Discuss several ways in which Kogawa USES memory to find, define, and/or establish an identity, her own identity or her cultural identity. Provide examples in the text. In Obasan, for example, Naomi’s earliest memories of her womb-like comfort and belonging with her mother are described in great detail.

With Obasan, who wrote gulin grewal, “ogawa proved herself to be one of the best feminist, humanist writers.” From her first work, The Splintered Moon (1968), Kogawa’s feminism is also evident in her poetry. Studying feminism in Canada. Consider surveying Canada’s sports, education and work communities. When did people begin to recognize women’s equality? How does movement manifest itself in ogawa’s works?

Several of Kogawa’s works isolate trivial activities, which the poet makes meaningful as a ritual and as an experience of belonging and sharing in Japanese culture. Give examples of Kogawa’s use of national traditions in her work and discuss how she portrays cultural connections through such traditions.

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