Momoko Iko

Playwright and writer Momoko Iko (1940-2020) was the author of several acclaimed plays as well as prose, poetry, and fiction. Her first play, Gold Watch , (1970) about the impact of Executive Order 9066 on a Japanese American farming community just before forced removal, is her best-known work, having been performed widely and televised on the Public Broadcasting System. Over the span of her career, Iko won awards from the East West Players, the Rockefeller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Zellerbach Foundation.

Iko was born in Wapato, Washington, on March 30, 1940, the youngest of six children (brothers Tets and Kei and sisters, Yae, Mina and Sono,) born to parents Kyokuo and Natsuko (Kagawa) Iko. The family worked as truck farmers, raising seasonal vegetables for wholesale markets. When she was two years old, she and her family were forcibly removed from their homes and incarcerated at the Portland Assembly Center before being transferred to the WRA concentration camp in Heart Mountain , Wyoming. In July 1945, the family was sponsored by a Quaker family who found employment for them as migrant farm workers in New Jersey before they moved to Chicago where her brother Tets had resettled. In Chicago, her father found work as a day laborer and her mother did piecework as a seamstress. Because her mother worked during the day, Iko was raised mostly by her dad and older sisters. [1] Iko later reminisced, "As I was growing up, our house was like a center for young Nisei... There were always people coming in and out... I know a lot of my stories come out of that period." [2]

After graduating from Hyde Park High School, Iko enrolled at Northern Illinois University and continued at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in English (with honors) in 1961. She began writing fiction as a university student. In the mid-1960s, she began her masters in fine arts in creative writing at the Iowa Writers Workshop, but left the program before completing her degree. She briefly lived in New Mexico and studied at the Instituto Allende in Mexico before returning to Chicago, where she helped found the Asian Liberation Organization and edited and contributed to their Asian Liberation newsletter. [3]

Although she originally intended to be a novelist, after attending a performance of Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun , she decided to adapt her novel-in-progress into a play, entitling it Gold Watch . In 1970, she read an announcement that the newly-formed East West Players theater company in Los Angeles was sponsoring a national playwriting contest for Asian-American writers, submitted her play and won, leading to the first staging and production of Gold Watch , by the Inner City Cultural Center in Los Angeles in 1972. Her play Old Man (1971) won the same contest the following year. [4]

In 1976, the play was produced for television by KCET in Los Angeles and aired nationally that same year. The cast included Mako , Shizuko Hoshi, Jesse Dizon, Richard Narita, Robert Ito, Nobu McCarthy and JoAnne Lee. In 2016. the New York Women in Film restored the PBS production of Gold Watch . [5]

Her other plays included Old Man (1971), When We Were Young (1973), Flowers and Household Gods (1975), Hollywood Mirrors (1978), Second City Flat (1976-77), and Boutique Living and Disposable Icons (1987-88). Her works have been primarily produced by ethnic American theaters, most notably the Pan Asian Repertory, New York City; the Asian American Theater Company, San Francisco; the North West Asian Theater Company, Seattle; the East West Players, Los Angeles; and the Inner City Cultural Center, Los Angeles. Flowers and Household Gods was staged in New York in 1981.

She was an active member of the Pacific Asian American Women Writers West (PAAWWW) in Los Angeles, a collective of Asian American women poets, fiction writers, screenplay writers, actresses, producers and directors including Emma Gee, Jude Narita, Joyce Nako, Naomi Hirahara, Amy Uyematsu, Akemi Kikumura, Velina Hasu Houston, Miya Iwataki, Diane Ujiiye, June Chim, Chungmi Kim, and others that was founded in 1976. With the passage of the 1988 Civil Liberties Bill , she wrote a personal essay titled "Redress: Act of Atonement So They Can Face Their Gods" for the Los Angeles Times that reflected on the serious impact of the WWII concentration camps on her mother.

Gold Watch is anthologized in Aiiieeeee! An Anthology of Asian-American Writers (1974) and Unbroken Thread: An Anthology of Plays by Asian American Women (1992).

She married James "Jimmy" Otis McCloden on January 17, 1994 and passed away at her home in Los Angeles on July 19, 2020 at age 80.

Authored by Patricia Wakida

For More Information

Iko, Momoko. "Redress: Act of Atonement So They Can Face Their Gods." Los Angeles Times , August 11, 1998.

Parascandola, Louis. "Momoko Iko." Asian American Playwrights: A Bio-bibliographical Critical Sourcebook . Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002.

"Playwright Momoko Iko, Author of 'Gold Watch.'" The Rafu Shimpo , August 20, 2020.

Smith, Susan. "The Creativity of Asian Americans." Los Angeles Times July 5, 1980.


  1. "Playwright Momoko Iko, Author of 'Gold Watch,'" Rafu Shimpo , Aug. 20, 2020, accessed on Mar. 30, 2022 at .
  2. Roberta Uno, "Iko, Momoko," in The Oxford Companion of Women's Writing in the United States, edited by Cathy N. Davidson, et al. (Oxford University Press, 1995), accessed on Apr. 1, 2022 via Oxford Reference online at .
  3. "Playwright Momoko Iko, Author of 'Gold Watch.'"
  4. Frank Chin, Jeffrey Paul Chan, Lawson Fusao Inada, and Shawn Wong, ed., Aiiieeeee!: An Anthology of Asian American Writers (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1974), 163.
  5. "NYWIFT Announces Visions: TV Dramas by Maya Angelou and Momoko Iko," Aug. 30, 2016, accessed on Mar. 28, 2022 at .

Last updated May 14, 2024, 3:36 p.m..