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Author Julie Otsuka to discuss displacement and belonging at Loyola’s 2023 Humanities Symposium

An illustration of an origami bird in a birdcage

Loyola University Maryland’s Center for the Humanities will hold the annual Humanities Symposium with award-winning novelist Julie Otsuka. She will deliver the keynote address, “An American Story: War, Memory, and Erasure,” about her family’s experience in Japanese internment camps during World War II. The symposium will take place Thursday, March 16, at 6:30 p.m. in McGuire Hall.

“We hope that this event will not only bring attention to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, but also allow students and community members to reflect upon a larger history of exclusion and racism toward immigrants in the United States,” said Marian Crotty, Ph.D., Humanities Symposium director and associate professor of writing. 

“It is very timely as we are living in an age in which immigrants are being used as scapegoats and political pawns while American history is being whitewashed in many school districts,” Crotty added. “The recent banning of Otsuka’s novel by a Wisconsin school board reflects a growing resistance to examining painful parts of American history as well as the growing need to provide spaces for these important conversations.” 

Otsuka’s keynote address will explore how people who are forcibly displaced or estranged from home find a sense of belonging. She will discuss the reception of her first novel, When the Emperor Was Divine, over the years and the nationwide attempts to erase and suppress certain histories from the official record. 

Born and raised in California, Otsuka received a Guggenheim Fellowship and an Arts and Letters Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Her writing has appeared in Granta, Harper’s, Newsweek, 100 Years of The Best American Short Stories, The Penguin Book of the Modern American Short Story, The Best American Short Stories 2012, and The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2012. 

She based her first novel, When the Emperor Was Divine, about the incarceration of a Japanese-American family during World War II, on her own family history. It won the Asian American Literary Award and the American Library Association’s Alex Award and was named a New York Times Notable Book and a San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year. The novel has been assigned reading to incoming first-year students at more than 60 colleges and universities, but it was banned by Wisconsin’s Muskego-Norway school district in 2022. 

Otsuka also wrote the award-winning novel, The Buddha in the Attic, published in 2011, and her third novel, The Swimmers, published in 2022. 

Prior to the Humanities Symposium, Loyola will hold student-faculty colloquia to discuss When the Emperor Was Divine on Wednesday, March 15, and Thursday, March 16, in McManus Theater. The Humanities Symposium is free and open to the public, but registration is required. For more information and to register, visit