Satsuki Ina in conversation with Brandon Shimoda
City Lights and Heyday Books celebrate the publication of
The Poet and the Silk Girl: A Memoir of Love, Imprisonment, and Protest
By Satsuki Ina
Published by Heyday Books
A compelling and prismatic love story of one family’s defiance in the face of injustice—and how their story echoes across generations.
In 1942 newlyweds Itaru and Shizuko Ina were settling into married life when the United States government upended their world. They were forcibly removed from their home and incarcerated in wartime American concentration camps solely on account of their Japanese ancestry. When the Inas, under duress, renounced their American citizenship, the War Department branded them enemy aliens and scattered their family across the U.S. interior. Born to Itaru and Shizuko during their imprisonment, psychotherapist and activist Satsuki Ina weaves their story together in this moving mosaic. Through diary entries, photographs, clandestine letters, and heart-wrenching haiku, she reveals how this intrepid young couple navigated life, love, loss, and loyalty tests in the welter of World War II-era hysteria.
The Poet and the Silk Girl illustrates through one family’s saga the generational struggle of Japanese Americans who resisted racist oppression, fought for the restoration of their rights, and clung to their full humanity in the face of adversity. With psychological insight, Ina excavates the unmentionable, recovering a chronicle of resilience amidst one of the severest blows to American civil liberties. As she traces the legacies of trauma, she connects her family’s ordeal to modern-day mass incarceration at the U.S.-Mexico border. Lyrical and gripping, this cautionary tale implores us to prevent the repetition of atrocity, pairing healing and protest with galvanizing power.
Satsuki Ina is a licensed psychotherapist specializing in community trauma. She helps victims of oppression to claim not only their voice but also their power to transform the systems that have oppressed them. Her activism has included cofounding Tsuru for Solidarity, a nonviolent, direct-action project of Japanese American social justice advocates working to end detention sites. Ina has produced two documentaries about the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans, Children of the Camps and From a Silk Cocoon. She has been featured in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, TIME, Democracy Now! and the documentary And Then They Came for Us. A professor emeritus at California State University, Sacramento, she lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Brandon Shimoda is a yonsei poet/writer, and the author of eight books of poetry and prose. His published works include The Desert (Song Cave, 2018) and Evening Oracle (Letter Machine Editions, 2016), which received the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America. His memoir and book of mourning, The Grave on the Wall (City Lights, 2019) received the 2020 PEN Open Book Award. His most recent book is Hydra Medusa (Nightboat Books 2023.) He is also the curator of the Hiroshima Library, an itinerant reading room/collection of books on the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He teaches at Colorado College.
Advance Praise for The Poet and the Silk Girl
“The internal landscape of injustice is made heartbreakingly visible in this exquisitely written and passionate memoir. It reminds us of what we might otherwise forget: that injustice is an intimately lived experience, endured day to day and hour to hour, and full of complexities roiling deep in the heart and mind.”
-David Guterson, author of Snow Falling on Cedars
“I could not put this book down; The Poet and the Silk Girl is storytelling as activism at its finest. Satsuki Ina counters the “kaleidoscope of distorted stories” that is U.S. history and trauma-informed familial silences with vivid, complex testimonies about the discriminatory injustice of Japanese American internment camps. Tracing the lives of her newlywed U.S.-born Japanese American parents through no less than six different camps and the births of two children, and following the trail of her own intergenerational scars, Ina weaves archival and family ephemera together, heightened by her insights as a psychotherapist. Learning compassion and empathy for what her parents suffered, Ina reclaims anger, grief and action as appropriate responses to the manipulations and deceptions of government officials. With brilliant extrapolation, Ina cautions us against the national amnesia that allows all-too-similar events to repeat. Satsuki Ina’s voice is a clarion reminder that the political is still personal, the personal still political, and we repeat these crimes at our own peril. Brava!”
-Deborah Miranda, author of Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir
“A profound and moving testimony to intergenerational trauma and resistance.”
-Tony Platt, author of Beyond These Walls and The Scandal of Cal
“It is both overwhelming and affirming to imagine, in the midst of their darkest hours, and in the middle of a country and a war that willfully misperceived them as enemy aliens, that the future, for Itaru and Shizuko Ina, was not only possible, but would deliver redemption in the form of the intimate, inexhaustible attention of a daughter. Satsuki Ina’s The Poet and the Silk Girl is this revelation. Beautifully woven together by her mother’s diary and her father’s haiku—through which they are both still speaking—it is memoir as healing, as self- and soul-determination, and as vigilance, the keeping vigil over past lives that are still becoming.”
-Brandon Shimoda, author of The Grave on the Wall
“The Poet and the Silk Girl is a ground-breaking contribution to the literature on the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans. Based on the personal correspondence, diary entries, and haiku written by author Satsuki Ina’s parents, this book provides a rare and vivid glimpse into the complexities of the family’s incarceration traumas and resilience. Adding to the richness, Ina includes her own perspectives as a psychotherapist, born during her parents’ wartime imprisonment. This combination of first-hand accounts from the past with Ina’s personal experiences and expertise brings incarceration history to life in unique, powerful, and insightful ways.”
-Donna Nagata, Professor of Psychology and author of Legacy of Injustice
“A powerful quilt work of memory, The Poet and the Silk Girl sutures the traumatic wounds of Japanese American incarceration with care for the past and struggle for the future.”
-Andrew Leong, author of Lament in the Night
“A must-read! This is a seminal, beautifully rendered intergenerational narrative of a courageous young couple who spoke truth to power and found themselves fighting deportation, that re-centers the Japanese American incarceration story as civil rights activism, past and present.”
-Barbara Takei, co-author of Tule Lake Revisited
“A tremendous, and tremendously moving, account of injustice, resistance, and resilience. The indignities endured by Satsuki Ina’s parents were beyond healing, but in telling their story unflinchingly and drawing its lessons for our time, she herself reaches impressive closure.”
-Frederick Crews, author of Freud: The Making of an Illusion
“Satsuki Ina’s family-rooted memoir, The Poet and the Silk Girl, is a genuinely classic work in Asian American Studies. In it, she draws upon her multiple talents as an accomplished university teacher, a published poet, a skilled psychotherapist, a seasoned documentary filmmaker, an author of novelistic prose studies, and an activist of social conscience to produce a richly documented and reasoned investigation of how the U.S. government’s unjust World War II oppression of some 125,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry set in motion an intergenerational transmission of trauma that now urgently needs to be addressed and redressed.”
-Art Hansen, author of Barbed Voices and A Nikkei Harvest
“This incredibly poignant account reveals how a daughter uncovered why her parents went from buying war bonds and voting in every election to renouncing their citizenship during the World War II mass incarceration. As you view photographs and read her parents’ letters, diary entries, and lyrical poetry, you can’t help but feel their anxiety, fear, anger, and emotional turmoil as they lose faith in the US and decide their future lay in Japan. In writing this family memoir, Satsuki Ina pays tribute to her parents’ courageous protest and love of family while also showing how their suffering inspired her support of recent Central American migrants experiencing indefinite detention and family separation.”
-Alice Yang, Professor of History and Co-Director of the Center for the Study of Pacific War Memories
“The Poet and the Silk Girl is one of the most compelling accounts of the forced removal, unjust incarceration, and family separation experienced by the Japanese American community during WWII. Born in an American concentration camp, Satsuki Ina weaves her own experiences into conversation with her parents’ wartime letters and father’s haiku poetry from behind barbed wire to show how family history is a part of the very fabric of the struggle to belong in America. A beautifully-crafted memoir and community history that brilliantly reveals how past, present, and future are interlinked.”
-Duncan Ryuken Williams, Professor of Religion and East Asian Languages and author of The Other Side of Zen: A Social History of Soto Zen Buddhism in Tokugawa Japan
This event is made possible by support from the City Lights Foundation