John Okada

Author John Okada

Author John Okada

John Okada was born in Seattle to Japanese immigrant parents. He was an 18-year-old student at the University of Washington when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Despite Okada’s proud status as an American, he was forced to quit his university studies to be interned with his family at the Minidoka Relocation Center near Hunt, Idaho. At the camp all the young men were given a loyalty questionnaire containing the infamous Questions 27 and 28, which asked whether the respondent was willing to serve the U.S. in combat duty, and whether he was willing to “forswear allegiance” to the Japanese Emperor. Because he answered “yes” to both of those questions, Okada served in the Air Force during World War II. Those who answered “no” to both questions were indignantly called “No-No Boys.”

After his discharge in 1946, Okada completed two Bachelor’s Degrees from the University of Washington and a Master’s Degree from Columbia University. In 1957, he published his one and only completed novel, No-No Boy, a fictional account of Ichiro, a Seattle-born Japanese American, who returns to Seattle from prison after answering in the negative to Questions 27 and 28 of the loyalty questionnaire. His novel, the first ever published by a U.S.-born Japanese American, received little attention and was even rejected by the Japanese American community, which probably wasn’t ready to be reminded of the demeaning treatment which had been received at the hands of the U.S. government.

Okada, discouraged and unknown, had almost completed his second novel when he died of a heart attack in 1971 at the age of 47. When his widow, Dorothy, tried to contact publishers about her late husband’s unfinished novel, her calls went unreturned. Out of despair, she burned the works when she moved. It wasn’t until later in the 70’s that No-No Boy was rediscovered as a seminal work in Asian American fiction. No-No Boy has presently been adapted as a play and continues to sell out shows in theatres in California.

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