For poet Sawako Nakayasu, 45, a multicultural upbringing is what forged her distinctive perspective of language and artistic expression. Nakayasu was born in Yokohama and moved to the United States with her family when she was six. Although she was raised mostly in the U.S., Nakayasu also lived in France and China. In 2002, Nakayasu, who was already a published poet by then, became interested in translation while earning her Master of Fine Arts at Brown University.

“The people important to me at the time, my professors — Keith Waldrop, Rosmarie Waldrop, Forrest Gander — were doing it,” she says, “and I understood intuitively that it was a fascinating kind of engagement with literature. At that time, I translated from French because that was my stronger second language and because we were told, as an exercise, to translate something that already had a translation.”

After graduation, Nakayasu was awarded a Creative Artists Fellowship from the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission, which brought her back to Japan. “I started learning about Japanese poetry by going to Poem Parole, which was a little corner of Libro bookstore in the Seibu department store in Ikebukuro and supposedly had the largest selection of poetry in Tokyo,” she says. “I went there and read and read and read. I pulled books off the shelf at random and read as much as I could.” Her deep dive into Japanese poetry cemented her commitment to translating from Japanese to English as she continued her own artistic pursuits.