Louis Adamic


Name Louis Adamic
Born March 23 1898
Died September 4 1951
Birth Location Slovenia

Slovenian-born author, translator and editor who supported Nisei writers and favored equal rights.

Born in Slovenia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (either in 1898 or 1899, accounts differ), Louis Adamic was the eldest son of a well-off peasant family. After being expelled from school in Ljubljana because of political activities, Adamic emigrated to the United States at age 15 and settled in New York. In 1916, he joined the U.S. Army, and during his service he became a naturalized U.S. citizen. During the 1920s, after leaving the military, he spent a period of time wandering around the United States. Adamic ultimately settled in California, where he became known as a journalist and writer for magazines such as The American Mercury. In the early 1930s, he became nationally known as an author and advocate of socialism. His book The Native's Return (1934), on his visit to his old home in Yugoslavia, became a nationwide best-seller. By the mid-1930s, Adamic distinguished himself by championing cultural pluralism and the rights of immigrants. In scores of magazine articles and in books such as My America (1938) and Two-Way Passage (1941), he hailed the contributions of "new Americans" from different ethnic backgrounds.

Although Adamic did not initially center his attention on nonwhite groups, in 1939 he decided to devote a section of his forthcoming book From Many Lands, an anthology of biographies of ethnic Americans, to Japanese Americans. He interviewed or corresponded with a variety of West Coast Nisei including Shuji Fujii, Mary Oyama Mittwer, Yori Wada, and James Sakamoto. Adamic ultimately used the life of Nisei writer and social scientist Charles Kikuchi as the basis of his chapter, "A Young American with a Japanese Face." Adamic's adaptation (some critics have said appropriation) of Kikuchi's life story as a representative Japanese American story was problematic, as Kikuchi (who was raised in an orphanage and estranged from his family) was anything but typical. Still, Adamic's work brought Nisei some of their first mass media exposure, and his was an influential voice endorsing the loyalty and Americanism of the group in a troubled time.

From 1940 to 1942, Adamic served as founding editor of the pro-immigrant quarterly Common Ground. Under Adamic's direction, the journal published essays by Japanese Americans such as Mary Oyama Mittwer and Asami Kawachi about their difficulties following the outbreak of war. Under the direction of his successor M. Margaret Anderson, the journal became a conspicuous defender of wartime Japanese Americans. Adamic himself repeatedly spoke out in defense of Japanese Americans and against the removal policy. During mid-1942, he proposed in his monthly bulletin "Two-Way Passage" and his book What's Your Name? that the government train U.S-born Nisei to serve as leaders in a democratic Japan after the war. In a public address in late 1943, "The Foreign Born Unite for Victory," Adamic stated, "The relocation of the Japanese group on the Pacific Coast... was promoted by exclusionist hysteria as well as military need." In his 1946 book Dinner at the White House, a controversial recounting of Adamic's evening in January 1942 with Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, Adamic charged that during the dinnertime conversation Eleanor Roosevelt displayed bias against Japanese Americans and hypothesized that FDR had already decided on mass action against West Coast Issei and Nisei. During the postwar years he continued to publish writings by and about Japanese Americans in his journal T&T. As General Editor of the Peoples of America book series produced by the Lippincott Publishing Company, Adamic commissioned Bradford Smith's landmark 1948 study Americans from Japan.

Louis Adamic died in New Jersey in 1951, apparently from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Because he had supported the regime of Marshal Tito (Josip Broz) both during and after World War II, there was speculation that he might have been assassinated, but no certain evidence supports such a theory.

Authored by Greg Robinson, Université du Québec À Montréal

For More Information

Adamic, Louis. From Many Lands. New York: Harper's, 1940.

Briones, Matthew M. Jim and Jap Crow: A Cultural History of 1940s Interracial America. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012.

Ichioka, Yuji. Before Internment: Essays in Prewar Japanese American History. Ed. Gordon H. Chang and Eiichiro Azuma. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006.

Shiffman, Dan. Rooting Multiculturalism: The Work of Louis Adamic. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2003.