hisaye-yamamoto
Hisaye Yamamoto | Biography

Quick Information

  • Full Name Hisaye Yamamoto
  • Occupation Author
  • Nationality American
  • Birthplace Redondo Beach, California, USA
  • Birth Date August 23, 1921
  • Death Date January 30, 2011
  • Age At Death 89
 Japanese-American Short Story Writer

Hisaye Yamamoto | Biography

Author of Stories like 'Seventeen Syllables' (1949), 'The Brown House' (1951), 'Yoneko's Earthquake' (1951) 

After being released from the prison camp upon the conclusion of World War II in 1945, Yamamoto and her family returned to California, LA. She subsequently went to work for the Los Angeles Tribune, an African American weekly newspaper. Primarily employed as a columnist, she also became a field reporter and editor in the publication. Those experiences led her to write for the Asian American community and other communities that also endured discrimination. She wrote her experiences of those three years in her 1985 memoir, 'Fire in Fontana,' tracing the origins of her sense of solidarity with the African American community.


Hisaye Yamamoto was an acclaimed Japanese-American short story writer known for literary works about post-WWII racism, immigrant discontent, and sexual harassment.

Who Is Hisaye Yamamoto?

A Japanese-American short story writer, Hisaye Yamamoto, was among one of the first Asian Americans to receive post-war national literary recognition. As a child of immigrant Japanese in America, she experienced several barriers caused by racism and faced violence during WWII. 

She chronicled her overall experience during and after WWII into her short stories and memoir. Among her other stories, she was known for her collection of short stories titled 'Seventeen Syllables and Other Stories,' which was first published in 1988. Most recently, Google Doodle featured her on 4 May 2021 to mark the beginning of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

Early Life and Education

Hisaye Yamamoto was born on 23 August 1921 in Redondo Beach, California, United States. She was born to immigrant strawberry farmers from Kumamoto, Japan. Her family frequently moved because of race-focused laws. As a result, she became familiar with barriers put up by the United States government around Japanese Americans and Japanese immigrants in the US. 

She then found comfort in reading and writing about those obstacles at a young age. At age 14, she started writing short stories and letters under Napoleon's pseudonym, but her writing was initially rejected. But as a teenager, she regularly contributed to the English-language section of the Japan-California daily newspaper Kashu Mainichi ShinbunShe worked in high school and junior college yearbooks. She attended Compton Junior College, where she studied French, Spanish, German, and Latin and earned an Associate of Arts degree.

WWII and Works

Following World War II, Yamamoto's family were among the over 120,000 Japanese-Americans forcefully moved to the United States government prison camps in Poston, Arizona, in 1942. She was 21 years old when they were imprisoned at prison camps, where they faced physical, social, and psychological violence and harsh conditions. Despite the ordeals, she wrote articles and a serialized mystery titled 'Death Rides the Rails to Poston' for the prison camp newspaper The Poston Chronicle.

 In 1944, she was granted to leave the camp to work as a cook in Springfield, Massachusetts, but returned after a short period when her brother, Johnny, was killed. Her brother was killed while fighting with the United States Army's 442nd Regimental Combat Team in Italy. Her three years of experience in prison camp later laid the foundation for her writing that followed. 

Post-WWII Career

After being released from the prison camp upon the conclusion of World War II in 1945, Yamamoto and her family returned to California, LA. She subsequently went to work for the Los Angeles Tribune, an African American weekly newspaper. Primarily employed as a columnist, she also became a field reporter and editor in the publication.

Gathering news for the Los Angeles Tribune for the next three yearsshe discovered the widespread racism that many underrepresented groups faced in the United States. Those experiences led her to write for the Asian American community and other communities that also endured discrimination. She wrote her experiences of those three years in her 1985 memoir, 'Fire in Fontana,' tracing the origins of her sense of solidarity with the African American community.

Literary Works

In 1948, when she was 27, Yamamoto published her first short story, 'The High-Heeled Shoes: A Memoir,' based on the sexual harassment women frequently underwent. The publication of her short story, as well as an offer of help from her brother Jemo and an insurance bequest from her brother Johnny's death, motivated and enabled her to leave journalism and focus full time on writing. She then began writing on topics related to racism, sexism, and violence. 

The following year, she published 'Seventeen Syllables' (1949), exploring the generation gap between Issei and Nisei from the point of viewpoint of a Nisei daughter. In 1950, she received an opportunity fellowship from the John Hay Whitney Foundation, which allowed her a further year to write full time. As a result, her stories appeared in several publications, including Partisan Review, Kenyon Review, Carleton Miscellany, Arizona Quarterly, and Furioso. In the same year, she published the short story 'The Legend of Miss Sasagawara,' narrating the tragedy of Miss Sasagawara in an American relocation camp during WWII.

She would follow that up with 'Wilshire Bus' (1950), 'The Brown House' (1951), 'Yoneko's Earthquake' (1951), 'Morning Rain' (1952), 'Epithalamium' (1960), and 'Las Vegas Charley' (1961). Moreover, in 1979, she published 'Life Among the Oil Fields: A Memoir.' Later, her collection of short stories titled 'Seventeen Syllables and Other Stories' was first published in 1988 by Kitchen Table-Women of Color Press. She also fictionalized her family's trip to Italy to visit her brother's grave in her 1995 story 'Florentine Gardens.'

Awards and Recognitions

Even though Yamamoto was recognized since her earlier writings, she received wide acclaim in the 1970s. Her short story, 'Yoneko's Earthquake' (1951), was named one of the Best American Short Stories: 1952In 1986, she earned the Before Columbus Foundation's American Book Award for Lifetime Achievement for her contribution to American multicultural literature. In 1988, her first edition of 'Seventeen Syllables and Other Stories' was presented the Award for Literature from the Association of Asian American Studies.

Personal Life and Death

In 1955, Yamamoto married Anthony Desoto. The couple together had four children. In 1948, she also adopted a five-month-old boy, Paul. During the busy child-rearing years, she suffered a nervous breakdown, and she had to spend a month at a Los Angeles treatment facility. She passed away at 89 on 30 January 2011 in Los Angeles. She also suffered a stroke earlier.

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