Karen Tei Yamashita

Award-winning Author

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  • An Evening with Karen Tei Yamashita

Biography

“Karen Yamashita’s powerful, deeply felt, and impeccably researched fiction is irresistibly evocative.” —Publishers Weekly

“Karen Yamashita is playful and experimental; she loves spectacle and cultural complications.” —Vida: Women in Literary Arts

“Smart, funny and entrancing.” —NPR

Karen Tei Yamashita was born in Oakland, California; her parents were both survivors of incarceration at the Topaz internment camp during World War II. Yamashita is the author of eight books traversing short story, memoir, and novel – all published by Coffee House Press – including: Through the Arc of the Rain Forest, Brazil-Maru, Tropic of Orange, Circle K Cycles, Anime Wong, and I Hotel, which was a finalist for the National Book Award, the American Book Award, the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association Award, and the Association for Asian American Studies Book Award. Her most recent publication, Sansei and Sensibility (2020), is a collection of buoyant and inventive stories where Yamashita transfers classic tales across boundaries and questions what an inheritance – familial, cultural, emotional, artistic – really means.

In 2021, Yamashita was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from the National Book Foundation. In the judges citation, David Steinberger, Chair of the Board of Directors, observed, “In her various roles as a public intellectual—author, lecturer, teacher, mentor—Yamashita models a deep desire to understand and to embrace life as she finds it. Her body of work has been credited with transforming the approach toward Asian American literary and cultural studies from one that is U.S.-centric to one that is hemispheric and transnational. In prose brimming with electric narrative energy, she employs humor, politics, sardonic wit, and lush polyvocality to invite readers into her nuanced but accessible literary worlds; her writing evinces a breathtaking capacity to transform conventions in genre, voice, intertextuality, and characterization.”

Yamashita is the recipient of the John Dos Passos Prize for Literature, and a U.S. Artists’ Ford Foundation Fellowship. Her awards include the California Book Award, Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association Award, and multiple Association for Asian American Studies Book Awards.

Yamashita was awarded a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship to travel to São Paulo for research on the extensive history of Japanese immigration to Brazil where she remained for a decade. While there, Yamashita formed a study of Japanese Brazilian agricultural life, conducting interviews with Japanese immigrants, their descendants, and members of a commune. On her return to Los Angeles in 1984, Yamashita worked on translations and screenplays, and produced dramatic works such as Hannah Kusoh: An American Butoh, Tokyo Carmen vs. L.A. Carmen, and Noh Bozos, which she has linked to the content and style of her novel Tropic of Orange.

She is currently professor emerita of literature and creative writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Short Bio

Karen Tei Yamashita is the author of seven books, including I Hotel, finalist for the National Book Award, and most recently, Sansei and Sensibility, all published by Coffee House Press. Recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from the National Book Foundation, the John Dos Passos Prize for Literature and a U.S. Artists’ Ford Foundation Fellowship, she is professor emerita of literature and creative writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

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