Ross M. Levine

Ross M. Levine is a published writer who “supplements” his income as an associate director of communications at the University of Southern California. He began his writing career as a playwright in New York, and had a number of shows produced, including California Gothic (critic’s choice, Los Angeles Times), Twilight Messiah (winner of the Lawrence S. Epstein Playwriting Award) and A Change from Routine (published by Samuel French). He then returned to L.A. where he’s written screenplays, novels (including The Romantichondriac), short stories, magazine articles and political commentary. He is currently at work on Gulliver’s Travels, Part V: A Voyage to Los Angeles.

Updated January 2019

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Wakako Yamauchi - Japanese American Soul

Part 6: The Final Years

Yamauchi for the most part left playwriting behind her in the last decades of her life, devoting most of her efforts to writing a series of semi-autobiographical short stories, including “McNisei,” about a group of aging Japanese Americans who meet at the local McDonald’s to have coffee and share gossip, jokes and painful truths.

She wrote the script for a documentary, Nurtured by Love, about Dr. Shinnichi Suzuki, inventor of the Suzuki method of music instruction. Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley honored her with a “Wakako Yamauchi Day” proclamation from the city, and she and my mother traveled to ...

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Wakako Yamauchi - Japanese American Soul

Part 5: A Personal Portrait

What may be most notable about The Memento is what it reveals of the author herself, about her own emotional and spiritual life. It is here where I wish to step away from the writer and talk about the person whom I grew to know so well over many decades. I can easily infer that she, too, felt spurned by a man she had loved. Not only did her husband Chester divorce her after their nearly 30 years together, but he soon remarried, this time to a much younger Japanese woman, with whom he had two more children. Their conflicts ...

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Wakako Yamauchi - Japanese American Soul

Part 4: Career as a Playwright

Yamauchi returned to the world of the Depression-era desert in The Music Lessons, which premiered in 1980 at the New York Public Theater. The play, based like Soul on one of Yamauchi’s short stories (In Heaven and Earth), is a Tennessee Williams-esque tale of an itinerant laborer in his 30s named Kaoru who comes to a widow’s farm looking for work. The widow, Mrs. Sakata, has three children: two sons and a daughter, Aki. The rootless Kaoru begins giving violin lessons to the 15-year-old Aki, who, innocent and isolated, falls in love with him. One night, when Mrs ...

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Wakako Yamauchi - Japanese American Soul

Part 3: And the Soul Shall Dance

In 1974, Yamauchi’s life was about to change again as four Asian American writers began putting together an anthology of Asian American prose and drama under the title Aiiieeeee!—a reference to the cries of suicidal Asians in WWII U.S. propaganda films. At Si’s behest, Yamauchi submitted some of her stories, and the editors—Frank Chin, Jeffrey Chan, Lawson Inada and Shawn Wong—chose to include one entitled And the Soul Shall Dance.

Soon after the publication of Aiiieeeee!, Yamauchi’s own domestic situation fell apart. Her husband of 27 years asked her for a divorce; it ...

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Wakako Yamauchi - Japanese American Soul

Part 2: Postwar Years

Yamauchi’s elder sister Yukiko described to me the announcement that blared over the loudspeakers throughout the camp on August 14, 1945: “The war is over. You can all go home now.” She recalled thinking at that moment: '…but we have no home.’1

With the camp closing down and their patriarch cremated, the Nakamuras caught one of the last trains out of Poston, which left from nearby Parker, Arizona, with Yamauchi’s mother clutching a container with her husband’s (she claimed) still-warm ashes. The family went to San Diego where they lived for a time in a government-owned ...

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