Lawson Inada: Poet

“Poetry has a place in our ceremonial or spiritual way. ”

Awards & Honors

American Book Award (Legends from Camp) - 1994
Governor's Arts Award - 1997
Oregon Book Award - 1997
NEA Poetry Fellowships - 1972, 1985
Guggenheim Fellowship 2004

Willamette Writers Lifetime Achievement Award - 2006
Oregon Poet Laureate 2006 - 2010

Three Northwest Poets: Drake, Inada, Lawder - 1970
Legends from Camp - 1993
In This Great Land of Freedom (Contributor) - 1993
Just Intonations
- 1996
Drawing the Line
- 1997
Before the War: Poems as they Happened -

Only What We Could Carry: The Japanese American Internment Experience (Editor) - 2000*

*The resulting documentary was awarded the 2011 Best Documentary Award in short form faculty documentaries in the 2011 Broadcast Education Association (BEA) Festival of Media Arts.

Lawson Inada, Authors RoadPoet interview: Lawson InadaLawson Inada, Authors RoadLawson Inada. Oregon Poet Laureat
Lawson Inada speakswriter interview: Lawson InadaLawson Inada laughsLawson Inada, poet
Lawson Inada is a man with an exuberance for life!


Shady Cove, Oregon

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Fresno, CA. Spent time in relocation camps in Fresno, Arkansas and Colorado during WW II.

Youthful influence:

His mother, a teacher, and support from his family. Jazz. Professor Phil Levine, US Poet Laureate 2011-12.

Influential authors:

Chogyam Trungpa, William Carolos Williams, Robert Lowell, Rilke, Lorca, Japanese and Chinese poets in translation.

Literary Habit:

"When it comes to me, I try to be ready for it." Keeps a checkbook handy to write notes in.

Interview Movie
(Embedded version below)

MP3 Audio File
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A third generation Japanese-American whose Fresno roots went back to the beginning of the 20th century, Lawson and his family were sent to WW II relocation camps when he was four. Finding that he didn't quite know where he fit in when he came out of the camps after the war, he gravitated toward the black and Chicano groups in his high school. He also gravitated toward their music, and by the time he went to Fresno State, he had taken up the jazz string bass. The music, repetition, rhythm, spontaneity and disciplined freedom of jazz infuse all aspects of his life - but especially his writing.

When we first heard Lawson Inada speak, the cadence of his voice said 'jazz,' his remarkably frequent laugh said 'joy,' and his words conveyed a serene wisdom. The interview felt like a gift as he conducted with his hands, bathed us in intimate rhythms and shared his delight with writing, music and life in general.

We were to meet at the Rogue River Lodge on a sunny autumn afternoon, but when I (Salli) gave him directions I said 'inn' instead of 'lodge.' The result was a long drive for Lawson, and a long wait for us. But he remained unperturbed, and reported that the beautiful drive along the river while contemplating the importance of a single word will likely result in a new poem. I hope so.

writer interview: Lawson Inada, Authors Road

It was a natural step from the rhythm of the bass to the rhythm of poetry, at the behest of poet and professor Phil Levine. Lawson started writing and publishing, attended the Iowa Writers Workshop, and got an MFA from the University of Oregon. He is Professor Emeritus of Southern Oregon University and former Oregon Poet Laureate. We are grateful for his insights.