Garrett Hongo

Poet, memoirist, and editor Garrett Hongo was born in Volcano, Hawai’i, in 1951 to Japanese American parents. He grew up in Hawai’i and Los Angeles, and received his BA in English and East Asian Studies from Pomona College before attending University of Michigan to study Far Eastern Languages and Literature but left without a degree. He lived in Kyoto, Japan at a monastery for year from 1973 to 1974. He earned his MFA from the University of California-Irvine, where he studied with the poets C. K. Williams, Howard Moss, and Charles Wright. His collections of poetry include Yellow Light (1982), The River of Heaven (1988), which received the Lamont Poetry Prize and was a finalist for a Pulitzer, and Coral Road: Poems (2011). His book of essays, The Mirror Diary: Selected Essays was published in 2017 His poetry explores the experiences of Asian Americans in Anglo society, using lush imagery, narrative techniques, and myth to address both cultural alienation and the trials of immigrants, including the forced internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, as well as the anti Japanese sentiment today. Because he delves into history and his own memory to express resistance to prejudice and defiance of ongoing oppression, Hongo’s poems frequently take the form of character studies and anecdotal first-person narratives. As Hongo told Contemporary Authors: “My project as a poet has been motivated by a search for origins of various kinds, a quest for ethnic and familial roots, cultural identity, and poetic inspiration—all ultimately connected to my need for an active imaginative and spiritual life. One might get at these through religion or the contemplation of moral and socioeconomic problems, but for me the way has led to the study of and the desire to contact, through the writing of poetry, those places and peoples from which I’ve been separated by either history or personality… I write to be a voice that I can listen to, one that makes sense and raises my own consciousness. And I write for all the people who might want the same thing, no matter what race, class, or nationality.”

Prize anthology mentions

Best American Poetry 2012

Best American Poetry 2016

Best American Poetry 2019

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