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BACKGROUND INFORMATION - BIOGRAPHY
David Guterson was born and raised in Seattle, Washington in 1954. His father was a criminal defense lawyer and his mother was a stay-at-home mom. He was one of five children. He earned a B.A in English in 1978 and a M.A in English in 1982 from the University of Washington. He briefly studied creative writing at Brown University.
He first became interested in writing while earning his bachelor’s degree. His literary influences include Leo Tolstoy and Harper Lee. Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird greatly influenced Snow Falling on Cedars. Guterson emulated the structure and subject matter of Lee’s work in this novel.
Snow Falling on Cedars is Guterson’s first novel. It became a popular paperback bestseller and has won the PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction and the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award. In 1999, it was adapted for the movie screen.
Prior to publishing Snow Falling on Cedars, Guterson was a high school English teacher for 10 years. After the novel’s success, Guterson quit teaching and devoted his time to writing and home schooling his 4 children. Guterson is a contributing editor to Harper’s, Sports Illustrated, and Gray's Sporting Journal. He wrote East of the Mountains, another fictional novel, in 1999. He also wrote a short story collection, The Country Ahead of Us, The Country Behind, which was published in 1999 but was written before Snow Fallingon Cedars, and the nonfiction book, Family Matters: Why Home Schooling Makes Sense.
In interviews, Guterson has stated his belief that literature is a vehicle to examine philosophical and moral issues. He believes that fiction should present readers with moral questions to reflect upon and should motivate readers to consider more deeply who they are.
The novel takes place 9 years after World War II. At this time, distrust and hostility toward Japanese Americans was still high, despite that fact that the Japanese had been apart of the population for centuries and the second and infant third generation of Japanese were born in the U.S. The first emigration of Japanese immigrants began to in the late 1880s as the need for laborers arose. Most did agriculture work on the Pacific Coast, but they also worked on railroads, in lumber camps, and in fisheries. Many Japanese decided to stay in the U.S. Though the Gentleman’s Agreement of 1908 curbed emigration of Japanese men, Japanese women and children were still allowed to enter the U.S. Soon the Japanese began to lease land and successful raised vegetable and fruit crops. Their success prompted competitors to ask for restrictions against them. This resulted in the Alien Land Law of 1913, which banned non-citizens from purchasing land and prevented the Japanese from becoming citizens.
Discrimination against the Japanese intensified on December 7, 1941, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Shortly after the attack, the United States declared war on Japan and formally entered World War II. This attack was the catalyst for Executive Order 9066, which allowed for the internment of approximately 120,000 people of Japanese descent. There were 10 internment camps, including Manzanar. Most camps were located on uninhabitable federal land. The conditions were harsh. The U.S. government justified this as a “military necessity,” but in 1983, the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians report found that there was no "military necessity" and that the historical causes for it were "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” As a result of the internment, many Japanese lost most of their property.