Table of Contents | Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version
BACKGROUND INFORMATION - BIOGRAPHY
JEANNE WAKATSUKI HOUSTON and JAMES D. HOUSTON
Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston jointly author Farewell to Manzanar. The novel is the real life account of Jeanne and her family during World War II, when they were detained in an American concentration camp out of national paranoia.
Jeanne Toyo Wakatsuki is the youngest daughter of Ko and Riku Wakatsuki, natives of Japan who come to the United States in search of the American Dream. Born on September 26, 1934, in Inglewood California, Jeanne is the youngest of four boys and six girls in the Wakatsuki family.
Jeanne Wakatsuki was only seven years old when Pearl Harbor was attacked and her family was displaced to a Japanese detention camp. She struggled to understand why she was living in a place surrounded by guards and guns. When the camp was closed, Jeanne struggled to be a poor teenager of Japanese descent in a country that was very anti-Japanese. Jeanne, however, did not let her troubles stand in the way of her success. She became the first member of the Wakatsuki family to go to college, studying Journalism and Sociology at San Jose State; after graduation, she worked as a social worker at a juvenile detention hall and probation officer in San Mateo, California, from 1955 to 1957. Jeanne was also the first Wakatsuki to marry outside her race. Her husband, James Houston, is a co-author of the memoir. They married in 1957. Ten years later, in 1967, Jeanne gave birth to twins, Joshua and Gabriel. A third child was born several years later.
James Houston was born to Albert Dudley Houston and Alice Loretta Wilson Houston, on November 10, 1933, in San Francisco. His father had been a Texas blacksmith and sharecropper. James graduated from Lowell High School in San Francisco, studied at San Jose State College and Stanford University, and achieved the rank of lieutenant in the U.S. Airforce. James' proposal for marriage, inscribed on a ti leaf and sent to Jeanne all the way from Hawaii, was accepted; the couple married in 1957.
In 1967, James began his writing career with the publication of Gig, which earned him the Joseph Henry Jackson Award from the San Francisco Foundation. He also received the Wallace Stegner Creative Writing Fellowship at Stanford. In 1969, James wrote and published his novel, Between Battles, and the family moved to the University of California, where James taught English.
For the first twenty years of their relationship, James knew nothing about Jeanne's painful childhood. As he learned more about her experiences in post-war America, he suggested that Jeanne should write 'a story everyone in America should read.' The couple decided to jointly write Jeanne's book of memoirs after James overheard Jeanne sharing her painful childhood with her nephew, Gary Nishikawa; he had been born in the Manzanar camp hospital.
The Houston family traveled to Manzanar, which is written about in the last chapter of the book. The revisit heals Jeanne's scars as she strolls through the ruins of the camp. In an interview with The Los Angeles Times, she confesses feeling "sullied, like when you are a rape victim...you feel you must have done something. You feel a part of the act," but returning to Manzanar has a cathartic effect upon her. She is able to accept the past and at the same time put it behind her.
In 1984, Jeanne was awarded the Warner Communications' Wonder Woman award for "the pursuit of truth and positive social change," as a result of her work on Farewell to Manzanar. . Since the publishing of the Farewell to Manzanar in 1973, the authorial team has written several other works on multicultural topics; they include Beyond Manzanar and Other Views Of Asian-American Womanhood; One Can Think About Life After The Fish Is In The Canoe and Other Coastal Stories; and Barrio, an eight part mini series for NBC.
Aside from her books, Jeanne also writes articles for Mother Jones, California, West, California Living, Reader's Digest, and the New England Review. She is also a lecturer at several colleges and universities around the United States. James is a prolific writer who is constantly publishing new works.
At present, the Houstons live in Santa Cruz, California.