Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation Releases Translations of Rare Camp Writings

The Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation is releasing a new digital exhibit featuring English translations of poems, essays and short stories written in Japanese by first-generation immigrants incarcerated at Heart Mountain during World War II.

Called the Heart Mountain Bungei, the poems were published in Japanese and distributed primarily to the Japanese-speaking residents who lived in the camp between August 1942 and November 1945.

Cally Steussy, the museum’s director of interpretation, directed the translation project, which involved a team of translators working remotely from around the country in 2021 and 2022. The project was supported by a grant from the Foreign Ministry of Japan.

“The voices of the Issei are often absent in accounts of life in the Japanese American incarceration camps, lost with the passing of the Issei generation, their reticence in speaking about the camp experience, and the fact that for most of them, English was not the language that they preferred to express themselves in,” Steussy said. “The Heart Mountain Bungei represents a priceless archive of Issei voices, speaking in their own language about the experience of life in these camps and their longing for the homes they had been forced to leave behind. Now this resource is available both in the original Japanese and in English translation, so that scholars working in either or both languages can finally hear these voices.”

There were six editions of Bungei published at Heart Mountain between January and September 1944. They were the product of several poetry clubs in camp during the war. 

Editors Iwamuro Yoshiaki and О̄kubo Tadashige decided to collect the work produced by these clubs, as well as essays and short stories and works by independent writers, and published them as a literary magazine.

The Foundation hopes to finish translating the remaining Bungei over the next few years.