The Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles issued the following statement on Aug. 24.


The Japanese American National Museum mourns the passing of Wakako Yamauchi, a pioneering playwright, poet, and short story writer.

Wakako Yamauchi

Yamauchi was one of three female artists profiled in “Words, Weavings and Songs,” a 2002 documentary by JANM’s Frank H. Watase Media Arts Center. She also participated in a number of JANM public programs over the years. Yamauchi became a JANM member in 1994 and donated her papers to the museum in 1999 and 2007.

“Wakako was an inspiring woman who was among the first writers to bring Japanese American and Asian American experiences to the stage. Her work was powerful and influential. She will be missed but her writing will live on and be appreciated forever,” said Ann Burroughs, president and CEO of JANM.

Yamauchi was born in the Imperial Valley in 1924; her parents were farmers. She was 17 when she and her family were forcibly removed and incarcerated at the concentration camp for Japanese Americans in Poston, Ariz., during World War II. Her childhood and camp experience informed her writing, which often explored racism and injustice.

Her first play, “And the Soul Shall Dance,” was commissioned by East West Players, the nation’s longest-running professional theater of color, and won the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for new play in 1977.

The Wakako Yamauchi Papers, 1950-2005, contain items created and collected by Yamauchi from the 1970s through 2003. The collection includes play scripts, correspondence, short stories, promotional materials, reviews, contracts, and photographs.

Survivors include her sister Yuki Sugiyama, son-in-law Victor Matsushita, grandson Lucas Matsushita, and granddaughter Alyctra Matsushita, who currently works at JANM.

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