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Integration of Local Poetic Voices: an Interview with Lawson Inada By Alma Rosa Alvarez and John R. Almaguer Lawson Inada is considered one of the fathers of Asian American Literature. Much of his work has been in creating a space for Asian American writers through anthologies like Aiiieeee! An Anthology of Asian American Writers (co-editor 1974) and Only What We Could Carry: The Japanese American Internment Experience (editor and author of introduction 2000). Lawson also worked on recuperating writers like John Okada, writer of No-No Boy (1957). Before Lawson’s work with other writers, however, he was already a poet in his own right. He published Before the War: Poems as They Happened in 1971. His most famous work, for which he won the American Book Award, is Legends from the Camp (1993), which poetically and hauntingly renders his internment camp experience. In 1997 he won the Oregon Book Award for Poetry for Drawing the Line. The interview that follows was conducted over three sessions at a local coffee house in Ashland, Oregon, where Lawson lived and taught for over thirty years. I first met Lawson when I interviewed for my job at Southern Oregon University. Lawson was my greatest champion when I joined the faculty in 1996. My son, John Rafael Almaguer, has known Lawson all of his life. The interview with Lawson reminded us of the debt we owe to those who were trailblazers in ethnic literature. –Alma Rosa Alvarez AALDP: What were the struggles that Asian American writers faced when you were starting out as a writer? Lawson Inada: It is important for people to understand that when I was growing up, the category of Asian American did not exist. If I had been asked to categorize myself, aside from identifying as a writer, I would have said that I was a Japanese writer. I would have said I was sansei. At the time that I began writing, things were still quite segregated. There was an us/them mentality, meaning Caucasian American as the “us” and



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An interview with Lawson Fusoa Inada



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