Onoto Watanna

Onoto Watanna : The Story of Winnifred Eaton

4.12 (16 ratings by Goodreads)
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In 1901, the young Winnifred Eaton arrived in New York City with literary ambitions, journalistic experience, and the manuscript for "A Japanese Nightingale", the novel that would sell many thousands of copies and make her famous. Hers is a real Horatio Alger story, with fascinating added dimensions of race and gender. While commercially successful women writers were uncommon a century ago, Winnifred Eaton (1875-1954) cultivated a particular persona to set herself apart even within this rare breed. Born to a British father and a Chinese mother, Winnifred decided to capitalize on her exotic appearance while protecting herself from Americans' scorn of Chinese: she "became" Japanese, assuming the pen name Onoto Watanna. While her eldest sister, Edith Maude Eaton (now acknowledged as the mother of Asian American fiction), was writing stories of downtrodden Chinese immigrants under the name Sui Sin Far, Winnifred's Japanese romance novels and stories became all the rage, thrusting her into the glittering world of New York literati.
Diana Birchall chronicles the sometimes desperate, sometimes canny, always bold life of her "bad grandmother," about whom she knew almost nothing until her own adulthood. Here are the details of an amazing professional career as a journalist, a bestselling novelist, and a Hollywood scriptwriting protge of Carl Laemmle at Universal Studios. Here, too, is the personal saga of a woman who bore "a book and a baby a year" during her troubled first marriage - and who, at the age of fifty-six, wooed back her estranged second husband when her Hollywood career hit the skids during the Great Depression. Having achieved early fame as a Japanese romance writer, Winnifred later jettisoned the kimono and wrote books (including one entitled Cattle) set on the plains of Alberta, where her husband owned a ranch. A chameleon? A desperate poseur? A shrewd businesswoman? She was all that, and much more, as Diana Birchall demonstrates. Navigating the shifting boundary between life and art, Birchall probes Winnifred's conflicting stories, personal tempests, and remarkable accomplishments, presenting a woman whose career was "sensational" in every sense.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 296 pages
  • 161.5 x 237.2 x 26.2mm | 662.26g
  • Baltimore, United States
  • English
  • 0252026071
  • 9780252026072

Review quote

"Birchall's engaging biography of her grandmother will appeal to a broad range of readers: scholars of Asian American literature, students of literary life in New York City, feminist historians exploring the careers of literary women, cinema historians concerned with the medium's early development in Hollywood, critics of Canadian literature, and teachers and practitioners of family history... Birchall was a novice biographer when she began work on this study; but in the process of writing it she transformed herself into a scholar." -- Choice "[Birchall] portrays a curiously fascinating and remarkably bold woman, best-selling novelist, and Hollywood scriptwriter who lived a life as intermingled with fact and fantasy, reality and fiction, as her novels and short stories." -- Library Journal "A scholarly work as well as a delight to read." -- Ginny Lee, Multicultural Review "Birchall, a novelist and Warner Brothers story analyst, reports the life of her 'bad grandmother' in straightforward and heartfelt prose, offering both a fascinating life story and a social history of fin de siecle literary life in New York." -- The Globe and Mail ADVANCE PRAISE "This finely crafted, meticulously researched, and very witty biography of Onoto Watanna/Winnifred Eaton makes the fascinating novelist come alive in all her human contradictions. Birchall's prose reflects her grandmother's gift for spellbinding narrative, mirroring the disarming charm, grace, energy, and vigor of Watanna--as woman and writer--herself. Poignant and moving, but always alive to humor, Birchall's riveting biography is a timely gift to students of Asian American literature, filling a century-long void in Eaton scholarship." -- Samina Najmi, Wheaton College "Immensely enjoyable reading... Eaton is a fascinating woman, both in her personal and professional choices and in the many lives she led and the many worlds she inhabited. This is a story that must be told, and Birchall is the ideal person for the job. She tells Eaton's story with affection, energy, and sensitivity to her subject's unique voice and personality." -- Eve Oishi, California State University at Long Beach
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Rating details

16 ratings
4.12 out of 5 stars
5 31% (5)
4 50% (8)
3 19% (3)
2 0% (0)
1 0% (0)
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