The passing of short-story writer and essayist Hisaye Yamamoto is being mourned by her friends and fans across the country and beyond. The author of “Seventeen Syllables and Other Stories” died in Los Angeles on Jan. 30 at the age of 89. (Services will be held on Wednesday, Feb. 16, at 11 a.m. at Fukui Mortuary, 707 E. Temple St., Los Angeles.)Read it in full here.
Filmmaker Emiko Omori, who combined Yamamoto’s short stories “Seventeen Syllables” and “Yoneko’s Earthquake” in the 1991 film “Hot Summer Winds”:
“Hisaye was my first babysitter, and throughout the following years I was not good at keeping in touch. But she was always in my heart. She allowed me to make a movie from two of her wonderful short stories. She agreed to be in a documentary, ‘Rabbit in the Moon,’ that my sister, Chizu, and I made about our internment experiences. She loved to play Scrabble and she always won. She had a beautiful way with words. I miss you, dear Hisaye—my inspiration, my mentor.”
One of the first Asian American writers to earn literary distinction after World War II, Yamamoto died in her sleep on Jan. 30, 2011, Los Angeles Times quoted the writer's daughter, Kibo Knight.
Yamamoto was born in Redondo Beach in 1921 to immigrant strawberry farmers from Kumamoto, Japan.
She began writing in the 1930s and her early stories were published in prestigious journals such as Partisan Review, as well as in anthologies, including The Best American Short Stories of 1952.
She was 20 when the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor sent the United States into war and her family into an internment camp in Poston, Arizona.
Yamamoto wrote her best stories, including Seventeen Syllables and The Legend of Miss Sasagawara on the preoccupations of the Japanese immigrants and their families.
"She wrote in a true voice," said Japanese-American dramatist and Yamamoto's childhood friend Wakako Yamauchi. "She wrote about what she knew and that was about us - Asians, Japanese Americans. Her stories were wonderful, beautiful legacies."
Yamamoto started working as a reporter and columnist for the African American weekly of Los Angeles Tribune after the World War II.
Her breakthrough came with the 1948 High-Heeled Shoes, a Memoir, followed by other successful stories including the 1950 Wilshire Bus.
"I write when something sticks in my craw," Yamamoto told A. Magazine in 1994. "Writing is a compulsion - or an itch."