Joy Kogawa: Biography

Joy Kogawa

06 jun 1935

Joy Kogawa is a novelist and poet who was born in Vancouver, Canada in 1935. Her parents were both first-generation Japanese immigrants to Canada living in a white middle-class community in British Columbia. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour during the Second World War, Joy Kogawa and her family were sent to an internment camp for Japanese people living in Canada. She and her family were released, they went to live in Coaldale, Alberta once the war was over.

Kogawa’s first poem, The Splintered Moon, was published in 1968, a few years before she started to work as a writer for the Canadian Office of the Prime Minister, based in Ottawa. Her first novel, Obasan, the first piece of prose which she published, was written in 1981. It also remains the work for which she is best known. It is a semi-autobiographical novel, told from the point of view of a young Japanese child who is sent to an internment camp during World War II. It explores the persecution of Japanese citizens in 1940s Canada. It is widely considered to be one of the most important books ever written by a Canadian citizen and is often featured on Canadian Literature courses to this day.

In total, Joy Kogawa has had 8 collections of poetry, 3 novels and 2 works of children’s literature published during her career. She has not had a book published since her children’s story, Naomi’s Tree, came out in 2009.