American writer, September 1923-February 1971.

John Okada was born and raised in Seattle, the son of Japanese immigrants. He was nineteen and well into college the year that Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, sending Okada and his family to a camp in Idaho. As a Nisei, he was ultimately offered the chance to serve in the armed forces during World War II, which he accepted. After being discharged as a seargent in 1946, he returned to school and received two B.A.s from the University of Washington: one in English and the other in library science. He got his M.A. at Columbia in 1949.

In 1957, Okada published what was to be his only completed novel, No-No Boy, which is considered the first great Japanese American novel. It was the story of Ichiro, a Nisei who spends two years in prison for disloyalty rather than serve in the war. "No-no boy" was the derogatory term given to men who chose to do this. The book begins with his return to his family's home in Seattle and chronicles his identity crisis as he attempts to reconcile the demands of being labeled Japanese or American.

It was not well received by the Asian-American community.

Speculation suggests that the effects of 9066 were still too close for comfort, that a book dealing with the subject in such a raw, uncensored way was too much to handle. In any case it was unpopular with Okada's peers, to his lasting disappointment.

This did not, however, keep him from writing the better part of another novel. The subjects of this new work were to be Issei, his parents' generation. He had nearly completed the first draft before he died of a heart attack at the age of forty-seven. He was survived by his wife Dorothy and two children.

After his death, Dorothy took his remaining writings— what there was of his novel, as well as some notes and letters— to the Japanese American Research Project at UCLA. Incredibly, the project refused to so much as glance at Okada's papers. In fact, they encouraged Dorothy to burn them. Not knowing what else to do with them, that's exactly what she did. Only a scrap or two was left when, a few months after John Okada's death, writers Frank Chin and Lawson Fusao Inada came to Seattle looking for him. Having discovered and loved his novel, they wanted to meet him, or, failing that, learn as much as possible about who he had been. After interviewing Dorothy, John's brothers, and his former employer at the Seattle Public Library, they supervised the 1976 republication of No-No Boy by the University of Washington Press. Today it has the status of a classic. The little information that is available on John Okada today comes primarily from his surviving novel, which includes reminiscences by Inada and Chin.

Chin, Frank. "In Search of John Okada." Originally published in the Weekly of Metropolitan Seattle, 1976. Published in a slightly altered form as "Afterword: In Search of John Okada" in No-No Boy, University of Washington Press, 1976.

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