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Lawson Inada honored for lifetime of writing

Southern Oregon’s Lawson Fusao Inada has been named the 2020 Charles Erskine Scott Wood Distinguished Writer, an honor given by Oregon Literary Arts that recognizes a lifetime of literary accomplishment. The award will be presented at the annual Oregon Book Awards ceremony on April 27 in Portland.

The award was named for C.E.S. Wood, a prolific Portland writer, poet and cultural influencer who lived from 1852 to 1944.

Inada’s writings have inspired, motivated and moved thousands over the years, not only in Southern Oregon but internationally. His words amplified the voices of Asian-American writers and brought to light the experiences of Japanese-American citizens who were sent to internment camps. Inada’s writings reflect a wry wit, the rhythms of jazz and an observant and articulate mind that understands reality, and also illusion, allusion and metaphor.

Inada, who taught writing at Southern Oregon University from 1966 to 2006, was Oregon’s Poet Laureate from 2006 to 2010. As a teacher, Inada showed how poetry could explain and express ideas, transforming the lives of his students with poetry that helped make sense of the usual and unusual. While poet laureate, Inada traveled the state in a beat-up Honda, enchanting people with his words and conversation.

Many people nominated Inada for the C.E.S. Wood Distinguished Writer Award, including Oregon poet laureates Paulann Peterson and Kim Stafford and National Book Award winner Mary Szybist.

“I have through the decades met so many people who have been tremendously moved by Lawson’s work ... at readings he’s given, presentations he’s made,” said Peterson. “What a master storyteller he is and how inclusive he is, every one of his poems and stories is so inclusive in that it draws everyone within earshot into that story, that poem. He is remarkable.”

Ashland poets Vince and Patty Wixon also wrote in support of Inada’s nomination. The Wixons received the Steward H. Holbrook Literary Legacy Award in 2014 for their work to preserve and celebrate the work of William Stafford and to develop the poet’s archives at Lewis & Clark College.

Literary Arts of Portland is the agency that organizes the Oregon Book Awards and manages the special awards that recognize significant contributions to Oregon’s literary culture. Literary Arts programs include the Portland Arts and Lectures series, writing fellowships, the Portland Book Festival, workshops and youth programs such as Writers in the Schools, Students to the Schnitz and Verslandia!

Oregon Book Awards began in 1987, and every year Literary Arts receives 200-250 submissions in eight categories that include poetry, fiction, nonfiction, children’s works and graphic novels. Thirty-four works are selected as finalists. The requirements for submission are that the submission be an original work published or produced by an Oregon resident within the previous 12 months and that the work carries an ISBN.

“We don’t prescreen any of the titles, and we send all the titles to the judges, who are all out of state,” explained Susan Moore, director of programs for writers at Literary Arts. “Beginning with the 2020 awards, we have three judges per genre because we wanted the process to involve more of a conversation among several judges rather than have one judge decide the award.”

Among the finalists for the 2020 Stafford/Hall Award for Poetry was Allan Peterson’s latest work, “This Luminous: New and Selected Poems,” published by Panhandler Books in 2019. It is the second time the Ashland writer has come close to winning the prestigious Stafford/Hall Award for Poetry. Peterson was also an Oregon Book Award finalist in 2013 for his book of poetry “Fragile Arts” published by McSweeney’s.

The Stafford/Hall Award for Poetry is named for William Stafford, who served as Oregon’s poet laureate from 1975 to 1990, and Hazel Hall, who has been called the Emily Dickinson of Oregon.

Peterson’s work was the only book from Southern Oregon to be named as a 2020 Oregon Book Award finalist.

In 2019, Phoenix writer Brook Colley’s work, “Power in the Telling: Grand Ronde by Warm Springs and Intertribal Relations in the Casino Era” was a finalist for the general nonfiction award, and in 2018, Ashlander Victor Lodato’s “Edgar and Lucy” was a finalist for the Ken Kesey Award for fiction. Also in 2018, Patricia Bailey of Klamath Falls won the Young Reader Award for children’s fiction for “The Tragically True Adventures of Kit Donovan.”

For more information on Lawson Fusao Inada’s writings, see encyclopedia.densho.org/Lawson_Fusao_Inada/. For more information on the Oregon Book Awards and Literary Ashland, see literary-arts.org.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Maureen Flanagan Battistella at mbattistellaor@gmail.com.

Photo courtesy Southern Oregon Digital Archives at SOULawson Fusao Inada teaching at Southern Oregon College in the 1980s