English Literature
Joy Kogawa

Joy Kogawa

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A Closer Look at the Life and Works of Acclaimed Author Joy Kogawa

Joy Kogawa, a celebrated Canadian author, is known for her influential works that explore the Japanese-Canadian experience. Born on June 6, 1935 in Vancouver, Canada, Kogawa's childhood was shaped by the events of the Second World War. Her parents, who had migrated from Japan, raised her in a loving home until she was six years old. However, they were forced to leave their home due to racial discrimination and were sent to live in an internment camp in Slocan, Canada until the end of the war. This experience left a lasting impact on Kogawa and served as a major source of inspiration for her writing.

Life During and After the War

Kogawa's family was one of many who were sent to internment camps during the war. These camps, including the one in Slocan, housed around 22,000 Japanese Canadians in various old buildings, mine houses, and hotels. After the war ended, Kogawa and her family moved to Coaldale, Canada where she attended high school. She then pursued a degree in education at the University of Alberta and went on to become an elementary school teacher in Coaldale in 1954.

In 1955, Kogawa left teaching to follow her passion for music and attended the Anglican Women's Training College and Conservatory of Music in Toronto. Later, she transferred to a music school in Vancouver where she met and married David Kagawa in 1957. The couple had two children, but unfortunately divorced in 1968. Kogawa also attended the University of Saskatchewan from 1967-1968.

Joy Kogawa's Literary Career

In 1968, Kogawa published her first collection of poetry, "The Splintered Moon," followed by "A Choice of Dreams" in 1974. During this time, she also worked as a staff writer for the Canadian prime minister. Kogawa continued to write poetry, with works such as "Jericho Road" (1977) and "Six Poems" (1978). In 1978, she served as a writer-in-residence at the University of Ottawa before relocating to Toronto in 1979.

In 1981, Kogawa released her most notable work, "Obasan," a novel that delves into the painful experiences of Japanese Canadians during the war. The book had a significant impact in Canada and played a role in the government's decision to provide reparations to those who were mistreated during internment. Kogawa continued the story from "Obasan" in her second novel, "Itsuka" (1992). She also wrote "The Rain Ascends" in 1995, which was her first novel not centered around Japanese Canadian issues.

Aside from her novels, Kogawa has also published various poetry collections, including "A Song of Lilith" (2000) and "A Garden of Anchors: Selected Poems" (2003). In recent years, Kogawa has been a vocal advocate for preserving her childhood home in Vancouver, which was ultimately saved from demolition in 2006. The house is now managed by the Historic Joy Kogawa House Society, hosting tours, events, and author residencies.

Legacy of Joy Kogawa

The impact of Kogawa's first novel, "Obasan," continues to resonate as a powerful and poignant representation of the Japanese-Canadian experience during the war. In one passage, she writes, "Where do any of us come from in this cold country? Oh Canada, whether you admitted it or not, we come from you." These words perfectly capture the pain and struggles endured by Kogawa and countless others during this dark chapter of Canadian history. Her literary legacy continues to educate and inspire readers, shedding light on the lasting effects of racism and discrimination.

Joy Kogawa: The Influential Poet and Feminist Who Sheds Light on History

Joy Kogawa is a well-known Canadian author who has made a significant impact in the literary world with her thought-provoking novels and collections of poetry. While most recognize her for her novels, her poetry collections are equally powerful and have garnered much attention. Some of her notable works include The Splintered Moon, A Choice of Dreams, Jericho Road, Six Poems, Woman in the Woods, and her latest poetry collection, What Do I Remember of the Evacuation? These poems, especially the last collection, offer a poignant and deeply personal insight into Kogawa's experience as a Japanese-Canadian internment camp survivor.

Beyond Poetry: The Diverse Creations of Joy Kogawa

In addition to her poetry, Kogawa has also ventured into other forms of literature. She has written two children's books, Naomi's Road and Naomi's Tree, which tackle the theme of intergenerational trauma. Gently to Nagasaki is a non-fiction book that details Kogawa's journey towards forgiveness and reconciliation with her past, while East of the Rockies is an augmented reality game that educates players about the history of Japanese-Canadians during WWII.

An Impactful Legacy

Kogawa has become a prominent figure in Canadian literature, shedding light on the often-overlooked history of Japanese-Canadians and the lasting effects of internment camps. She has sparked important conversations and raised awareness through her works. Her powerful quotes, such as “Oh Canada, whether you admitted it or not, we come from you we come from you.” from her novel Obasan and “There are so many stories of betrayal in the world. This is one. There are so many hells. This is one. I have been brought down to this particular hell, into the liquid fire, into judgement and despair.” from her book The Rain Ascends, continue to resonate with readers and showcase Kogawa's impact.

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