Mitsuye Yamada (she/her)

By Najma Abdille

A drawing of a pink lotus.
“Website Logo” by Anonymouse.

Mitsuye Yamada, a Japanese American poet, essayist, and feminist activist, was born in 1923 in Seattle’s Japantown neighborhood. Growing up in a close-knit community that celebrated her heritage, Yamada’s life took an abrupt turn when she and her family were interned during World War II alongside other Japanese Americans living in the Pacific Northwest. Despite this traumatic experience, Yamada found solace and strength through writing, ultimately becoming an influential voice for Asian American women.

While attending Cleveland High School in Seattle, Yamada excelled academically before her family was forcibly removed from their home following the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. At just 19 years old, she found herself at the Minidoka Relocation Center in Idaho. It was there that Yamada began to write poetry as a means of coping with her emotions and addressing themes such as loss, trauma, and discrimination faced by Japanese Americans during this time period. One of her most famous poems is “Camp Notes,” which poignantly describes life inside the internment camp.

After leaving the internment camp, Yamada continued to use her writing to explore her experiences as a Japanese American woman. She published several collections of poetry including Camp Notes and Other Poems (1976) and Desert Run: Poems and Stories (1988), both of which delved into issues of racism and sexism. Her activism extended beyond writing; she co-founded the Asian Women United organization in Boston and worked tirelessly to promote multiculturalism and diversity within feminist movements.

Yamada’s dedication to advocating for marginalized communities has not gone unnoticed; numerous awards have been bestowed upon her throughout her career like the Give Women Voice Award—during International Women’s Day, U.S.A in 1997. This collection of powerful poetry and stories reflects Yamada’s experiences as a woman of color in the United States while highlighting the struggles that many Asian Americans faced during this time period. As a result, Yamada has solidified her place as an important figure in Asian American literary history.

Inspiring and empowering women of all backgrounds with her work, Yamada’s story is one that deserves to be told alongside other badass womxn connected to the Pacific Northwest. Her unwavering commitment to promoting social justice and equality serves as an example for future generations to continue advocating for change. Through her poetry, essays, and activism, Yamada ensures that the voices of marginalized communities are heard, making her a true trailblazer in both literature and human rights advocacy.


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