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Velina Hasu Houston
Born Velina Hasu Houston
May 5, 1957 (1957-05-05) (age 52)
At sea, in route between America and Japan
Occupation Poet, essayist, screenwriter, playwright, author, editor
Nationality American
Period mid 1970s - present
Genres Multiple
Subjects racism, sociology, feminism, immigration, assimilation
Official website

Velina Hasu Houston, born Velina Avisa Hasu Houston, (on May 5, 1957)[1] is an award winning American playwright, essayist, poet, author, editor, and screenwriter. She has had many works produced, presented, and published, with some drawing from her experience of being multiracial, as well as from the immigrant experiences of her family and those she encountered growing up in Junction City, Kansas. Her work in general focuses on the shifting boundaries of identity with regard to gender, culture, and ethnicity, often embracing a transnational view of identity based upon her own Japanese and American background. Her works' themes also have extended beyond these issues to explore stories related to women in society. She is best known for one of her most popular plays Tea which portrays the lives of Japanese war brides who move to the United States with their American servicemen husbands. Her plays are widely studied in the US, Asia, and Europe in high schools and in colleges and universities. She is the only American playwright to amass a body of work that explores the transnational US-Japan relationship through various stories that include a bilateral, global view of identity and belonging. The former Honorable Consul General of Japan of Los Angeles Kazuo Kodama paralleled Houston’s work in drama to the work of Isamu Noguchi in fine art, both being offspring of one Japanese parent and one American parent.


Early life

The youngest of three, Houston was born on international waters on a military ship at sea in route to a U.S. base in Japan. Her father, Lemo Houston, was African Native American/Blackfoot-Pikuni Native American Indian] originally from Linden, Alabama. Her mother, Setsuko Takechi, is Japanese originally from Matsuyama, Ehime, a provincial town in Shikoku Island. Houston's ancestral lineages include historical ethnic ties to India, Cuba, Armenia, Greece, and China, with family ties to Hawai'i, England, Germany, Brazil, Argentina, and Scotland.[2]

Her parents met in Kobe in 1946, beginning their nine year courtship at the disapproval of Velina's maternal grandfather who committed suicide as a result of his country's defeat in World War II (exacerbated by his daughter's desire to marry an American) and by the loss of his family's land due to the land reform policies supported by the US occupation. After the couple married, they eventually severed ties with both their families. The couple went on to adopt their only son Joji Kawada George Adam Houston, an Amerasian, in Tokyo after he was left orphaned at eight years old during the U.S. occupation.

In 1949 Velina's father returned to the United States; in order to be reunited with Setsuko, he volunteered for active duty in the Korean War and returned to Asia in 1951. Lemo and Setsuko's nine-year courtship was due to the fact that he respected her wishes to remain in Japan to care for her ailing mother. The couple married in 1954 and came to the US in 1957 with the adopted Joji and Velina's sister Hilda Rika Hatsuyo, Velina being born enroute and granted citizenship at her father's first US military assignment at Fort Riley. Their new American experience was met with being discriminated against by Americans (including Japanese Americans) from both within and outside of their family, but the experience strengthened them and planted the seeds for the young writer. The family eventually settled in Junction City, Kansas, a small town adjacent to the military base, living a culturally Japanese lifestyle at the insistence of Velina's mother, Setsuko. In 1969, as a result of combat-related stress and alcoholism (what might be diagnosed as Post-traumatic Stress), Velina's father's died. Setsuko continued raising her family in Junction City, a community consisting of hundreds of mostly Japanese and European immigrant women who married Americans after World War II. The family continued to have little influence of American culture from any extended family.


Houston attended graduate school at both University of California at Los Angeles and well as at University of Southern California.


Houston is an internationally acclaimed playwright of over twenty plays as well as a published poet and essayist, and screenwriter. She has published two anthologies of Asian American drama, one of them being the first anthology of plays by Asian American women. Houston's body of work focuses on transnational themes that explore the shifting boundaries of identity, particularly with regard to immigrants, women, and persons of the Asian, African, or Latin Diasporas.

Houston is the recipient of fifteen playwriting commissions from distinguished institutions such as Manhattan Theatre Club, Los Angeles Opera, Asia Society, Lila Wallace-Readers Digest Foundation, Mark Taper Forum (two), State of Hawai’i Foundation on Culture and the Arts, Jewish Women's Theatre Project, Sacramento Theatre Company (three), Cornerstone Theatre Company, Mixed Blood Theatre Company, Honolulu Theatre for Youth, and Silk Road Theatre Project in association with the Goodman Theatre.Houston began her writing career as a teenager after receiving the Young Kansas Writer awards for her poetry, as well as recognition from the Kennedy Center/American College Theatre Festival for her one-act play, Switchboard.[2] By twenty-two, her play, Asa Ga Kimashita (Morning Has Broken) garnered two national first prize awards, The Lorraine Hansberry Award for the best new play about the African American experience and The David Library Award for the best new play about American freedom (Kennedy Center/ACTF). By twenty-four, she was produced Off-Broadway with American Dreams at the Negro Ensemble Company and regionally in Los Angeles at the nation’s oldest Asian American theater company, East West Players, with Asa Ga Kimashita. Within six years, she was Off-Broadway again at Manhattan Theatre Club with the world premiere of her play, Tea, which has become a hallmark of her work with numerous productions around the globe including U.S. nationwide, Osaka, Tokyo, Hiroshima, nationwide radio in Japan, People’s Republic of China, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

Across the span of her career, Houston has been recognized as a Japan Foundation Fellow, a Rockefeller Foundation Fellow (twice), a Sidney F. Brody Fellow, a James Zumberge Fellow (thrice), a California Arts Council fellow, and a Los Angeles Endowment for the Arts Fellow. She is a Pinter Review Prize for Drama Silver Medalist for Calling Aphrodite, which also was a finalist for the American Theatre Critics Association Steinberg New Play Award for its 2007 world premiere. Calling Aphrodite has been embraced by The former Honorable Consul General of Japan of Los Angeles Kazuo Kodama as a "remarkable and appropriate exploration" of the Hiroshima experience. In 2008, Calling Aphrodite was presented at Tokyo Engeki Ensemble (TEE), Tokyo. TEE and Houston continue to collaborate toward an international presentation of the play in Hiroshima. Houston’s work in Messy Utopia, a commissioned project at Mixed Blood Theatre, was the recipient of the Twin Cities 2007 Ivey Award. Along with California Poet Laureate Carol Muske Dukes, Houston was a part of Visions and Voices: The USC Arts & Humanities Initiative, receiving a 2008 grant to explore the power of language in theatre and poetry. Her play, Ikebana, was honored by PEN Center USA West. She is the 2008 recipient of the Made in America Visionary Award from East West and a 2009 Red Carpet Award from Women in Theatre. She also received a second USC Visions and Voices grant to support a special performance event of Calligraphy directed by Jon Lawrence Rivera; Dramaturge, Luis Alfaro, in September 2009.

For film, Houston has written for Columbia Pictures, Sidney Poitier, PBS (adapted Yoshiko Uchida’s Journey Home for WonderWorks, staff writer for Puzzle Place), Lancit Media and several independent producers. A documentary film that Houston co-produced –Frank Suffert and Lillemor Mallau’s Desert Dreamers – premiered on PBS-KQED’s “Truly California” series in September 2006 with Peter Fonda as Narrator.

Her critical essays and poetry are published in journals and anthologies. Her book “Writer’s Block” Busters: 101 Exercises to Clear the Dead Wood and Make Room for Flights of Fancy, a cornucopia of writing exercises to jump-start the imagination, is published by Smith and Kraus, which also has published her work in The Best Women's Stage Monologues of 2008. She has edited two Asian American drama anthologies: The Politics of Life (Temple University Press, 1993) and But Still, Like Air, I’ll Rise (Temple, 1997). Besides these volumes, her plays appear in anthologies published by Vintage Books-Random House, Applause Books, University of Massachusetts Press, University of Illinois Press, Rowman & Littlefield, Heinemann, and University of Texas Press. An acting edition of Tea is published by Dramatists Play Service. A majority of her works is available from Alexander Street Press. She penned the foreword to Yuko Kurahashi’s book, Asian American Culture on Stage: The History of the East West Players; and is included in the books Encounters: People of Asian Descent in the Americas (Editors Roshni Rustomji-Kerns, Rajini Srikanth, and Leny Mendoza Strobel), Amy Ling’s Yellow Light: The Flowering of Asian American Arts, as well as other books of cultural criticism. She has written for American Theatre magazine and the Los Angeles Times. She has been published in Japan by Akashi Shoten (Contributor, Crossing the Ocean: A new Look at the History of Japanese Picture Brides and Japanese War Brides, Editor: Noriko Shimada, Tokyo 2009). Forthcoming publications include: Japanese War Brides' Experiences: Immigration, Gender, and Ethnicity, Editor: Fumiteru Nitta, University of Hawaii Press, 2010, Chapter: "Matsuyama Daughter: Japanese War Brides in Kansas"; The Eyes of Bones in Living and Writing on America's Left Coast: Contemporary Women's Plays, 2010; and Outstanding Women's Monologues, Dramatists Play Service 2010.

Houston’s awards and honors include the Made in America Visionary Award, Pinter Review Prize for Drama Silver Medal, Women in Theatre Red Carpet Award, Inaugural Recipient of the USC Provost's Mentoring Award, Twin Cities Ivey Award, Remy Martin New Vision Screenwriting Award from Sidney Poitier and the American Film Institute, Japan Foundation fellowship, James Zumberge Innovation Fund individual fellowship (twice), James Zumberge Innovation Fund interdisciplinary collaborative fellowship for 2002-2003 (with Dr. Dorinne Kondo for her play Seamless and for Houston’s play Calling Aphrodite), Lorraine Hansberry Playwriting Award, David Library of American Freedom Playwriting Award, California Arts Council fellow, Japanese American Woman of Merit 1890-1990 by the National Japanese American Historical Society, twice-named Rockefeller Foundation fellow, and others. In Japan, several documentary films about her work and family have been produced by Japan’s key broadcasting concerns: Nippon Hoso Kai, Mainichi Hoso, and Television Tokyo Channel 12.

A Phi Beta Kappa, Houston is Professor of Theatre, Director of Dramatic Writing, Associate Dean of Faculty, and Resident Playwright at the School of Theatre, University of Southern California, where she founded the graduate playwriting program in 1990. She also guest-taught the 434 Advanced Screenwriting Workshop in the School of Theater, Film, and Television at her alma mater, the University of California at Los Angeles, for a decade. In 1999-2000, she was a Visiting Professor at Doshisha University, Kyoto. Houston has a Ph.D. from the School of Cinema Arts, USC; a Master of Fine Arts from UCLA’s School of Theater, Film, and Television; and a Bachelor of Arts in journalism, mass communications, and theater (minor in philosophy) from the A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications, Kansas State University.

Currently, Houston is a Commissioner for the U.S. Department of State's Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission, a member of the U.S.-Japan Conference on Cultural and Educational Interchange (a binational cultural advisory panel), and a member of the Japan-US Bridging Foundation. In Japan, she also has served as a Research Advisor for "Studies on Modernization of Classic Greek Theatre and Myth in Contemporary British, Irish, and American Poetic Drama and Theatre," Curator: Professor Mariko Hori Tanaka, Aoyama Gakuin Daigaku, Tokyo.

Professional memberships include The Writers Guild of America, west; The Dramatists Guild, and the Alliance of Los Angeles Playwrights.

Her works and papers are archived in The Velina Hasu Houston Collection; Huntington Library, Art Collections, & Botanical Gardens; San Marino, California; Curator: Ms. Sara Sue Hodson. To access partial archives on-line at the Huntington, go to: A smaller collection of her work exists at the University of California, Santa Barbara; and in New World Theatre’s Asian American Theater Collection at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

For many years, she has maintained the same literary agent: Ms. Mary Harden, Harden-Curtis Associates, New York.

Present Day

Currently, Houston continue to write plays and also work in other genres of writing. New works include Calligraphy (Los Angeles Theatre Center 2010), The DNA Trail (Silk Road Theatre Project/Goodman Theatre 2010, commissioned), and a Los Angeles Opera commission. Works-in-progress include a novel version of her play Tea and several new plays: The Last Resort, Cymru Am Byth (Wales Forever), The Territory of Dreams, The Tongues of Men and Angels, and Cinnamon Girl, and a screenplay, Disenchanted Christmas.

Houston is Professor, Associate Dean of Faculty, Resident Playwright, and Founder/Director of the undergraduate Playwriting Program and Master of Fine Arts in Dramatic Writing at the University of Southern California. She continues to lecture nationwide while teaching courses about playwriting and adaptation at the University of Southern California School of Theatre. For several years, she taught master classes in screenwriting at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Theater, Film, and Television.[3]

Personal life

Houston resides in Los Angeles, with cultural homes in Hawai'i and Kyoto. She is married to Peter H. Jones of Manchester, England with whom she has two children and two stepsons: Kiyoshi S. S. Houston, K. Leilani Houston, Evan W. Jones, and Jason K. Jones. Raised as a Buddhist and Shintoist, Houston attends an Episcopal parish, but practices a polytheistic faith.[2]





  1. ^ a b "Asian American Playwrights: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook, Book by Miles Xian Liu". Greenwood Press, 2002. Retrieved 2009-11-07. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Official Velina Hasu Houston Website". Velina Hasu Houston. Retrieved 2009-11-07. 
  3. ^ a b "Velina Hasu Houston". Discover Nikkei. Retrieved 2009-11-07. 


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