Janice Mirikitani (b. 1942)
Contributing Editor: Shirley Lim
Classroom Issues and Strategies
Students need to learn about the internment of Japanese-American citizens during World War II. You might consider reading historical extracts of laws passed against Japanese-Americans during internment or passages from books describing camp life. If possible, show students paintings and photographs of internment experience. Students tend to resist issues of racism in mainstream white American culture; counter this tendency by discussing the long history of persecution of Asians on the West Coast.
Deal with the strong aural/oral quality of Mirikitani's writing--the strong protest voice.
Students often raise questions about the poet's anger: How personally does the reader take this? How successfully has the poet expressed her anger and transformed it into memorable poetry? What kinds of historical materials does the poet mine? Why are these materials useful and significant?
Major Themes, Historical Perspectives, and Personal Issues
Themes are the historical documentation of legislation against Asians in the United States; internment during World War II; Mirikitani's father's experience in Lake Tule during World War II; economic and psychological experiences of Japanese-Americans during that period; stereotypes of Asian-American women in U.S. popular culture.
Significant Form, Style, or Artistic Conventions
Consider the issue of protest and oral poetry; traditions of such poetry in black literature in the 1960s and 1970s; influence of "black is beautiful" movement on Mirikitani.
Consider the didactic and sociopolitical nature of the writing: a divided audience; her own people and an audience to be persuaded and accused of past prejudices. Much of her poetry was written in the 1970s at the peak of social protests against white hegemony.
Comparisons, Contrasts, Connections
Compare her poems with Sonia Sanchez and Don L. Lee, for example, on sociopolitical and minority concerns.
Questions for Reading and Discussion/Approaches to Writing
1. Personal accounts or observations of racism at work in their own society.
2. How they themselves perceive Asian-Americans; their stereotypes of Asian-American women.
Refer to Mini Okubo's books on camp life, the movie of the Houstons' book on Manzanar, and newspaper accounts of the recent debate and settlement of repayments to Japanese-Americans for injustice done to them by the U.S. government during their internment period. See also Deirdre Lashgan's "Disrupting the Deadly Stillness: Janice Mirikitani's Poetics of Violence" in Violence, Silence, and Anger: Women's Writing as Transgression (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995); and Stan Yogi's Yearning for the Past: The Dynamics of Memory in Sansei Internment Poetry" in Approaches to American Ethnic Literatures (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1996).