Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Featuring Asian American Authors: John Okada

John Okada was born in Seattle in 1923.  His family was moved into the internment camps during WWII.  He joined the army and served in army intelligence, broadcasting requests for Japanese soldiers to surrender. He was discharged in 1946 and earned his bachelor's degrees in English and Library Science, and earned his masters from Colombia University in English.  He couldn't find enough time to write while working in libraries, so he worked as a technical writer.  He died of a heart attack in 1971.

No-No Boy is Okada's only published work and it did not become popular until after he had died.  At his death, there were still unsold copies of the 1500 copies in the first edition.  But Jeffry Paul Chan found a copy of No No Boy in a San Francisco bookshop and he and Frank Chin included an excerpt from the book in the first Asian American literature anthology Aiiieeeee!  The entirity of the novel was republished in 1976.

No-No Boy is about a Japanese American man who, when drafted, answered 'No' to two key questions:

--"Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States, on combat duty, wherever ordered?"
--"Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any or all attack by foreign or domestic forces and forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, to any foreign government, power, or organization?"

The main character doesn't know why he answered "no" but he was put in jail for two years because of it.  No-no Boy begins with Ichiro Yamada's return from prison and the detainment camps at the end of the war and deals with themes centered around family, faith and loyalty. 

For more information about John Okada, please see the articles in Literature Resource Center including the full text   Asian American Writers. Ed. Deborah L. Madsen and part of the Dictionary of Literary Biography series. Or check out  No-No Boy from Burling Library:

No-No Boy (1979)
Burling 3rd Floor PS3565.K33 N6 1979

Submitted by Kelly Musselman '11

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