When Japanese-American writer Hisaye Yamamoto began her career as a scribe as a teenager, it was under a pen name: she went by the moniker Napoleon, which signaled the level of her ambition and the scope of things to come. Tragically, however, Yamamoto and her family were forced into Japanese internment camps under Executive Order 9066, but she continued to write; producing reporting and columns for the “Poston Chronicle,” the camp’s newspaper. Today’s Google Doodle champions Yamamoto and her extraordinary career, which illustrates just how much adversity marginalized writers in America have to face in order to be successful.
After the conclusion of World War II, Yamamoto found work as a journalist at the Black-owned “Los Angeles Tribune,” where she was able to write firsthand about the racism and persecution those in her community faced. Shortly thereafter she published her first short story, entitled The High Heeled Shoes; always, intersectional themes of race, gender and class were at the heart of her work, no matter what form it came in.
In her short stories, she also addressed what it had been like to survive an internment camp, and became a radicalized lifelong advocate against war and all that war comes with. Throughout her prolific career, Yamamoto was featured in the Partisan Review, Kenyon Review, Harper’s Bazaar, Carleton Miscellany, Arizona Quarterly and Furioso, but she also found time to raise children and be a housewife.
Perhaps Yamamoto’s best-known piece is, “Seventeen Syllables,” wherein a young girl tells the story of her mother, who writes haikus to transcend the boredom of working on a farm. However, the mother is punished for her hobby by her ignorant husband. The point of the story seems to mirror Yamamoto’s own life, which illustrates that one should always find a way to make art, even if it is suppressed or misunderstood.