Janice Mirikitani


Name Janice Mirikitani
Born 1941
Birth Location Stockton, CA
Generational Identifier

Sansei

Award-winning poet, dancer, activist and educator Janice Mirikitani (1942– ) is renowned for her commitment to work that addresses the horrors of war, and advocates against institutional racism and the enslavement of women and the poor. She is the author of four collections of poetry and has edited numerous literary anthologies. In 2000, she was appointed Poet Laureate of the city of San Francisco.

Born in Stockton, California, Mirikitani was incarcerated as an infant with her family in the Rohwer concentration camp in Arkansas during World War II. Following their release from camp, her family moved to Chicago to avoid the racism that was still rampant on the West Coast, but soon after her parents divorced. When Mirikitani's mother re-married and relocated to rural Petaluma, the five-year-old Mirikitani was forced to endure years of emotional isolation, poverty, and the trauma of sexual abuse by her stepfather, which lasted for nearly a decade. These repressed emotions, both personal and those of the Japanese American community who suffered during the war, became the basis of her poetry in coming years.

As depicted in her own writing, the 1960s were a tumultuous time for her both personally and politically. Although she graduated from UCLA and received a teaching credential from UC Berkeley in this period, she continued to struggle with questions of identity and stereotypes of Asian American women. She was married in 1966 and gave birth to a daughter in 1967, although this first marriage ended in divorce. In 1970, while pursuing a graduate degree in creative writing at San Francisco State College, she participated in the Third World Liberation Front, joined the artist collective Third World Communications and became the editor of Aion (1970–1971), one of the earliest Asian American literary publications. In the late 1970s, she began working with artists and writers to edit AYUMI, A Japanese American Anthology (1980), a major bilingual anthology featuring four generations of Japanese American writers, poets, and graphic artists. Her first book of prose and poetry, Awake in the River, was published in 1978.

In addition to being a prolific writer, Mirikitani is also the founding president of the Glide Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing services for San Francisco's marginalized communities. She joined Glide Memorial Church in 1969 as program director, and after two decades of activism, she was promoted to president of the Glide Foundation. In 1982, she married Reverend Cecil Williams. Over the years, in partnership with her husband Reverend Williams, she has developed more than eighty programs for the poor and homeless to encourage them to make meaningful changes in their lives to break the cycle of poverty and dependence.

Her dedication to community activism and advocacy has received worldwide recognition; she is the recipient of more than 40 awards and honors, including the Governor and First Lady's Conference on Women and Families' "Minerva Award," San Francisco State University's "Distinguished Alumnae Award," the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce's "Lifetime Achievement Ebbie Award," the prestigious American Book "Lifetime Achievement Award for Literature," and the University of California at San Francisco Chancellor's "Medal of Honor Award." In 1988, the California State Assembly named Mirikitani "Woman of the Year" in the 17th Assembly District.

She is a distant cousin of artist Tsutomu "Jimmy" Mirikitani (daughter of his cousin, Ted), who is the subject of an award-winning documentary film, The Cats of Mirikitani (2006).

Janice Mirikitani's published books are: Awake in the River (1978); Shedding Silence (1987); We, the Dangerous (1995); and Love Works (2002). In 2014, she released a fifth collection of poems entitled Out of the Dust: New and Selected Poems through the University of Hawai'i Press. Thematically, it examines the layers of tragedy surrounding the bombing of the World Trade Center, the U.S. war in Afghanistan, and the many levels of reactive racial profiling of Muslims and Arab Americans and draws connections between the experiences of Japanese Americans during World War II.

Authored by Patricia Wakida

For More Information

"Breaking Silence: Janice Mirikitani, San Francisco's New Poet Laureate", Poetry Flash, 2000.

Carabi, Angels. "Janice Mirikitani". In Truthtellers of the Times: Interviews with Contemporary Women Poets, edited by Janet Palmer Mullaney. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998.

Cats of Mirikitani. DVD. Directed by Linda Hattendorf. New York: Arts Alliance America, 2008.

Cheung, King-kok, ed. Words Matter: Conversations with Asian American Writers. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2000.

Mirikitani, Janice. Awake in the River. San Francisco: Isthmus Press, 1978.

———. Shedding Silence. Berkeley: Celestial Arts, 1987.

———. We, the Dangerous. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 1995.

———. Love Works. San Francisco: City Lights Foundation Books, 2002.

———. Interviewed by Grace Kyungwon Hong.

———. "Rebirth: Janice's Story." In No Hiding Place, edited by Cecil Williams. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1993.

———. Out of the Dust: New and Selected Poems. University of Hawai'i Press, 2014.