Born in Fukuoka, Japan, Mitsuye Yamada moved to Seattle, Washington, in 1926 with her family. Her father was an interpreter for the US Immigration and Naturalization Service, and the family was taken to an internment camp in 1942 when her father was wrongfully accused of spying. Yamada and her brother were allowed to leave the camp, Minidoka Relocation Center in Idaho, when they renounced their allegiance to Japan. Yamada attended the University of Cincinnati and earned a BA from New York University and an MA from the University of Chicago.
Yamada has been an activist for women’s rights, and her poetry recounts her experience of internment, racial violence and discrimination, as well as feminist issues. She is the author of the poetry collections Camp Notes and Other Poems (1976) and Desert Run: Poems and Stories (1988). She coauthored, with Nellie Wong and Merle Woo, 3 Asian American Writers Speak Out on Feminism (2003) and has brought her activism and teaching together in Teaching Human Rights Awareness Through Poetry (1999). She also coedited Sowing Ti Leaves: Writing by Multicultural Women (1991).
Yamada has been a professor of English at Cypress College in Seattle, Washington. She is a founder of Multicultural Women Writers of Orange Country and, with Nellie Wong, is featured in the 1981 documentary Mitsuye and Nellie: Asian American Poets.