Cynthia Kadohata was born on July 2, 1956, in Chicago, to Japanese American parents. Her father immigrated to the United States in the 1920s and was sent to an internment camp during World War II, but he later served with the U.S. Military Intelligence Service. Her mother was born in California.
When Cynthia Kadohata was growing up her family moved a lot, and she lived in Illinois, Michigan, Georgia, Arkansas, and California. In Georgia, her father worked as a chicken sexer, just as Masao Takeshima does in Kadohata’s novel, Kira-Kira. When Kadohata was two, her father found another job as a chicken-sexer in Arkansas, and the family lived there until Cynthia was nine.
Kadohata attended Los Angeles City College and graduated from the University of Southern California with a B.A. degree in journalism. She did graduate study at the University of Pittsburgh and Columbia University.
Her first novel was The Floating World (1989), which drew on her experiences as an Asian American who when she was young moved frequently from state to state. The novel is told through the eyes of a twelve-year-old girl. The novel received many favorable reviews. Her next novel, In the Heart of the Valley of Love (1992) was a work of science fiction that also drew on her own experiences. The story is set in Los Angeles in 2052.
Since that time Kadohata has concentrated on writing novels for young adults. The first of these was Kira-Kira (2004). Kira-Kira was enormously successful, winning the following awards: Whiting Writers Award from the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation; Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature from the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association, 2004-05; Newbery Medal and “notable childrens book” designation from the American Library Association, 2005.
Kadohata followed Kira-Kira with four more young adult novels within the space of five years, many of them about the Japanese American experience. These books are Weedflower (2006), Cracker! The Best Dog in Vietnam (2007),
Outside Beauty, (2008), and A Million Shades of Gray (2009).
On her Web site (www.kira-kira.us/index.html), Kadohata writes this about her hobbies: “I’m a road hawg!†I love to travel around this amazing country.†The beautiful landscape, the highways—I love it.†Traveling, seeing the country, is one of the things from which I derive my ‘writing energy.’†Just thinking about the American landscape and focusing on it puts me in touch with what I think of as the real, essential me.†I have to be in touch with this real, essential me whenever I sit down to write.”†