The organizers of the 2011 APIA Spoken Word Poetry Summit made it a priority to create an inter-generational dialogue. Part of the strategy was to invite four first generation guests, who have had many years of impacting APIA performance poetry and community activism. We have posted extensive bios and a special message from three of our first generation guests: Joe Kadi, David Mura, and Brenda Wong Aoki. Here is the last but certainly not the least.
Born in Fresno, California, in 1938, Inada is a third-generation Japanese American. His father was a dentist and his mother a teacher, and his maternal grandparents founded the Fresno Fish Market in 1912. In 1942, shortly after the United States entered World War II, Inada and his family were sent to internment camps with his parents and grandparents—first to the Fresno County Fairgrounds Assembly Center; then to a camp in Jerome, Arkansas, in the Mississippi Delta; and, finally, to Amache Camp in the Colorado desert.
In 1971, Inada’s Before the War: Poems as They Happened was the first volume of poetry by an Asian American published by a major publishing house. By then, Inada had earned a master of Fine Arts at the University of Oregon and had been teaching at Southern Oregon College (now Southern Oregon University) for five years. He is the author of two other collections of poetry: Legends from Camp (1992), which won the American Book Award, and Drawing the Line (1997), which won an Oregon Book Award.
In addition to these individual publications, Inada has written critical introductions to a number of works, such as John Okada’s No-No Boy.
He is also a contributing editor for the Northwest Review and was the narrator for PBS specials on “Children of the Camps” and “Conscience and the Constitution.” In 2004 he was one of only 185 artists, scholars and scientists chosen from a nationwide pool of 3,200 applicants to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship. He is currently serving as the Steinbeck chair for the National Steinbeck Center, a forum established to promote a community-wide celebration of literature in the tradition of John Steinbeck.
Inada has been recognized by the President of the United States, appearing at the White House in “A Salute to Poetry and American Poets.” Inada served as Oregon’s Poet Laureate from 2006 to 2010.
In 1997, he was awarded a Creative Arts Grant from the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund and his work has been the subject of a documentary titled “What It Means to Be Free: A Video about Poetry and Japanese-American Internment” and an award-winning animated film of “Legends from Camp” made in collaboration with his son, artist Miles Inada.
Lawson’s special message to the Summit: “I look forward to the expedition that will scale Mt. Minneapolis to the very Summit. But who will plant which flag? And where to go from there?”