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Moving Recounting of Japanese Internment wins 2015 Evans Biography Award

Monday, Jul. 20, 2015

author Lily Yuriko Nakai Havey is an Evans Award winner

Lily Yuriko Nakai Havey is this year's recipient of the Evans Biograph Award presented for a book written during the previous calendar year. The award is administered by Utah State University.

book cover for 2015 Evans Award winner

Literary and visual imagery intertwine in Lily Yuriko Nakai Havey’s evocative narrative of childhood’s end in a Japanese Internment Camp.

For more than 80 years, she has lived up to her childhood Japanese nickname “Gasa Gasa Girl” — a true “girl on the move.”

At age 83, Lily Yuriko Nakai Havey’s life continues to be one of energy and accomplishment, with her latest accolades bestowed by a national jury that selected her childhood memoir, Gasa Gasa Girl Goes to Camp: A Nisei Youth Behind a World War II Fence, as the Evans Biography Award winner for books published in 2014.

The award is administered by Utah State University’s Mountain West Center for Regional Studies, a program and research area in USU’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Announced by Patricia Lambert, director of the Mountain West Center for Regional Studies, the Evans Biography Award carries a cash prize of $10,000. Submissions must focus on individuals who spent a significant part of his or her life in the Interior West, the region historically influenced by Mormon institutions and social practices, though neither the biography’s subject nor author need belong to the Mormon faith.

It was 1942 when Havey (nee Nakai), a 10-year-old Los Angeles native, was told that she and her family would be “going to camp.” Camp turned out to be the Amache Relocation Center — an internment facility located on a barren stretch of sagebrush in eastern Colorado, where more than 7,000 people of Japanese descent were imprisoned during World War II. For three years, the Nakai family occupied a single room in a barrack, tending to their washing and bathing needs in another, and sharing meals in a communal mess hall.

When Amache was closed Oct. 15, 1945, the Nakai family was left to pick up the pieces of their fractured lives. They moved to Salt Lake City and began to build a new life in the Intermountain West. Havey went on to earn degrees from the New England Conservatory of Music and University of Utah. She taught high school English for more than a decade before opening a stained glass business.

More than 40 years after leaving “camp” Havey began to explore long-veiled childhood emotions surrounding the period of confinement through the medium of watercolor, capturing visually her memories and dreams of Amache. Her book evolved from short descriptions crafted to elucidate her paintings to an engrossing, at times humorous, and often heart-wrenching story told through her evocative watercolors, poignant prose and vintage photos.

As one jurist noted, “‘Gasa Gasa Girl’ is both a fine literary achievement and a rare and important addition to the history of the Japanese internment, an event that played out almost entirely within the Intermountain West. With the addition of Havey’s haunting watercolors, the book is a work of art as well as literature.”

Initiated in 1983, the Evans Awards were endowed by the family of David Woolley Evans and Beatrice Cannon Evans. Born in 1894, David was an editor, writer and owner of one of the largest advertising and public relations firms in the western United States. Beatrice was an historian and family genealogist. The award named in their honor celebrates the couple’s legacy of writing and biography.

The Mountain West Center will host an awards ceremony and book-signing for Havey Sept. 25, 2015, at 1:30 p.m. in the Haight Alumni Center on the USU campus. The public is invited to attend.

Related links:

USU’s Mountain West Center for Regional Studies

USU College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Writer and contact: Kristin Middaugh, CHaSS communications director,

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