Julie Otsuka was born and raised in California. She is a graduate of Yale University and received her M.F.A. from Columbia. She is the author of the novels When the Emperor was Divine and The Buddha in the Attic and a recipient of the Asian American Literary Award, the American Library Association Alex Award, and a Guggenheim fellowship. She lives in New York City.
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A Conversation with Julie Otsuka, author of When the Emperor was Divine
What was your inspiration for setting the novel, When the Emperor Was
Divine, in the Japanese internment camps in the U.S. during World War II?
Quite truthfully, I never set out to write a novel about the internment camps. I started out writingor trying to writecomedy, in fact, and never thought of myself as a "serious" writer. But images of the war kept surfacing in my work, so for reasons I didn't quite understand, the war was something I needed to write about.
The obvious inspiration for the novel is my own family's history. My grandfather was arrested by the FBI the day after Pearl Harbor and incarcerated in various camps administered by the Department of Justice for "dangerous enemy aliens." My mother, my uncle and my grandmother were interned for three and a half years in Topaz, Utah.
My grandfather died when I was quite young, so I don't remember much about him, but one day, several years ago, we found a box in my grandmother's house. Inside the box were letters and postcards my grandfather had written to his wife and children during the war. My mother read them first and I remember her telling me ...
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