(Originally published in the October 2012 issue of the Sunset Beacon newspaper, a community news source serving the Sunset District of San Francisco.)
By Thomas K. Pendergast
He was a charmer, cheater, sensitive and caring philanderer, manipulative and shameless opportunist, perhaps crafty in some ways but foolish in others, hopeless romantic and not much of a father to his most famous son.
By modern standards, a quick read of Yone Noguchi's life might prompt anyone to conclude he was all of these and more.
Sunset District resident and author Amy Sueyoshi, however, cautions that a Japanese poet in San Francisco, who published his work in the English language more than a century ago, was not living with today's expectations.
In her book "Queer Compulsions: Race, Nation and Sexuality in the Affairs of Yone Noguchi," Sueyoshi, San Francisco State University's new associate dean of the College of Ethnic Studies, sketches out a controversial and sometimes contradictory figure.
While some laud his poetry, says Sueyoshi, others are not so impressed. He established his reputation in Japan based on his knowledge of English but others rated his English as poor. He effectively abandoned his son, the sculptor Isamu Noguchi, and denied him the use of the family name, although in the end Isamu kept his family name and went on to become more famous than his father.
There is even disagreement about whether Yone Noguchi was truly gay or bisexual.
Although such details and questions might be salaciously entertaining enough for a good soap opera, answering them is not why Sueyoshi wrote the biography. She has a much bigger goal in mind than focusing on his sexual orientation.
"I know the temptation is there for readers to try to figure it out because we're so wedded to sex acts and sexual identity. It makes us able to digest information better but I really want readers to not necessarily focus on his identity, but think about the tragedy of the kinds of social conscriptions that forced him to live the life that he did," Sueyoshi said.