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That Damned Fence


The Literature of the Japanese American Prison Camps

Heather Hathaway

12 July 2022

ISBN: 9780190098315

256 pages

In Stock

Price: £22.99


That Damned Fence paints a haunting and intimate portrait of the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans. Drawing on fiction, journalism, poetry and art produced by the internees themselves, the book explores how factors such as the camps' physical settings; the class, gender and generational composition of their populations; and the attitudes of camp administrators toward the enterprise shaped the experiences of the detained. In so doing, it reveals the sorry and the humor, the despair and resilience with which Japanese Americans faced the injustice of their wartime incarcerations.

  • Includes previously unpublished interviews with detainees
  • Offers the first comparative analysis of life in various internment camps and presents a significant new interpretation of how and why the cultures in each camp emerged and compared to one another
  • Examines the literature and art produced in the camps themselves

About the Author(s)

Heather Hathaway, Professor of English, Marquette University

Heather Hathaway is Professor of English at Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin and author of Caribbean Waves: Relocating Claude McKay and Paule Marshall.

Table of Contents

    Prefatory Poem: "That Damned Fence," by Jim Yoshihara
    Part 1: Topaz, A Literary Hotbed
    Chapter 1. After the Bombs: The Experience of Toyo Suyemoto
    Chapter 2. Writing as Resistance in Topaz: TREK and All Aboard
    Chapter 3. Toshio Mori: A Literary Life Derailed
    Chapter 4. Miné Okubo: An Aesthetic Life Launched
    Part 2: Writing Elsewhere
    Chapter 5. The Pulse of Amache/Granada
    Chapter 6. Dispatches from Tumultuous Tule Lake
    Chapter 7. Internment Novels: Toshio Mori's The Brothers Murata and Hiroshi Nakamura's Treadmill
    Chapter 8. Jerome's Magnet
    Chapter 9. Humiliation and Hope in Rohwer's The Pen
    Further Reading
    Works Cited


"Heather Hathaway's That Damned Fence provides the first ever in-depth study of the writing produced by Japanese Americans confined in the different WRA camps during World War II. Particularly novel and intriguing is how Hathaway connects the lived experience of confinement for the inmate authors with their writing." - Greg Robinson, Professor of History, University of Quebec at Montreal

"Heather Hathaway expertly delves into the inner turmoil that Japanese Americans expressed in fiction, poetry, editorials, and graphic arts during their unjustified wartime incarceration. Focusing on familiar and lesser-known works, her book is a significant, well-written study of an ethnic minority's questioning and assertions of Americanness when Japan and the United States came to blows." - Edward Tang, author of From Confinement to Containment: Japanese/American Arts during the Early Cold War

"Writing in the camps was often an act of resistance to the camps, as That Damned Fence so clearly reveals. Heather Hathaway breaks new ground in showing how the incarcerated people disguised their protest while writing under the eyes of government censors. This is essential reading for any study of the literature of incarceration." - Frank Abe, graphic novelist, We Hereby Refuse: Japanese American Resistance to Wartime Incarceration

"Heather Hathaway's That Damned Fence takes a fresh approach to the study of Japanese American literature of incarceration. Instead of considering the incarceration as a single experience with a single oeuvre, she focuses on the distinctiveness of each camp's setting and literary culture. Imagery and artistry are different in Tule Lake versus Topaz versus Rowher and so on. This is a revelation." - Floyd Cheung, Professor of English Language & Literature and American Studies, Smith College

"What sets this book apart from others about the Japanese American wartime concentration camps is Heather Hathaway's ability to adeptly and clearly differentiate the characteristics of each camp— types and classes of people, the weather and climate, landscape, educational facilities, extracurricular activities, and other details which have never been explored. She uses first-hand accounts and diaries which add an immediacy and freshness to the text. This book is a must-read for scholars and general public members wishing to deepen their knowledge of this dark period in American history." - Lily Havey, author of Gasa Gasa Girl Goes to Camp

"Through engaging analysis of camp literary magazines and novels, Heather Hathaway illuminates Japanese Americans' wide-ranging responses to their forced confinement. Whether incisive critiques of government hypocrisy or poignant portrayals of camp life, their writing provided a critical outlet through which they grappled with the oppressive environmental, political, and cultural conditions of their incarceration. At a time when most Americans silenced Japanese American voices or viewed them as suspect, That Damned Fence underscores their outspoken views on wartime policy and the lasting power they wielded with their pens." - Connie Y. Chiang, author of Nature Behind Barbed Wire: An Environmental History of the Japanese American Incarceration

"What Heather Hathaway has done in That Damned Fence is showcase for us— through meticulous documentation and excavation—a stunning generation of Japanese American writers and artists who produced vibrant literary magazines in the internment camps. The genius of their collective creative work—most of which has remained largely unknown these past seventy-five years—is revealed in Hathaway's pages, waiting to be discovered and enjoyed by a new audience of readers." - Elena Tajima Creef, author of Shadow Traces: Seeing Japanese/American and Ainu Women in Photographic Archives

"In making so valuable a contribution to the scholarship on Japanese American incarceration literature, That Damned Fence provides a rich resource for further inquiry." - Zhou Xiaojing, University of the Pacific , ALH Online Review