We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more

E-book purchase
Choose a subscription

Downloaded copy on your device does not expire. Includes 4 years of Bookshelf Online.


Where applicable, tax will be added to the above price prior to payment.

E-book purchasing help


That Damned Fence

The Literature of the Japanese American Prison Camps

Heather Hathaway

Publication Date - 10 May 2022

ISBN: 9780190098315

288 pages
6 1/8 x 9 1/4 inches

In Stock


Until the late twentieth century, relatively few Americans knew that the United States government forcibly detained nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II. At war's end, the nation, including many of those who were confined to the ten Relocation Centers--which President Roosevelt initially referred to as "concentration camps"--wished to wipe this national tragedy from memory.

That Damned Fence, titled after a poem written by a Japanese American held at the Minidoka camp in Idaho, draws on the creative work of the internees themselves to cast new light on this historical injustice. While in captivity, detainees produced moving poetry and fiction, compelling investigative journalism, and lasting work of arts to make sense of their hardships and to leave a record of their emotional and psychological suffering.

Heather Hathaway explores the experiences of inmates in five camps--Topaz in Utah; Granada/Amache in Colorado; Rohwer and Jerome in Arkansas; and Tule Lake in northern California--each with their own literary magazines, such as TREK, All Aboard, Pulse, The Pen, Magnet, and The Tulean Dispatch. Conditions in the camps varied dramatically, as did their environments, ranging from sweltering swamplands and sun-blasted desert to frigid mountain terrain. So too did the inhabitants of each camp, with some dominated by farmers from California's Central Valley and others filled with professionals from the San Francisco Bay area. This disparity extended to the attitudes of camp administrators; some deemed the plan a mistake from the outset while others believed their captives to be a significant threat to national security.

That Damned Fence reveals the anger and humor, and the deep despair and steadfast resilience with which Japanese Americans faced their wartime incarceration. By emphasizing the inner lives of the unjustly accused and the myriad ways in which they portrayed their captivity, Heather Hathaway gives voice to Americans imprisoned by their own country for their country of origin or appearance.


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


"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

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

Related Titles