Lawson Fusao Inada was born in 1938 in Fresno, California, a third-generation Japanese American. His grandparents founded the Fresno Fish Market, his father was a dentist, and his mother was a teacher. In 1942, Inada and his family were sent to internment camps, first in Fresno, then in Arkansas and Colorado; he was one of the youngest to live in the camps. A jazz bass player and jazz aficionado, he studied poetry with Philip Levine at Fresno State University. Inada’s collections of poetry are Before the War: Poems as They Happened (1971); Legends from Camp (1992), winner of the American Book Award; Just Into/Nations (1996); and Drawing the Line (1997), winner of the Oregon Book Award. Both jazz and the experience of internment are influences in Inada’s writing. The section titles of his Legends from Camp reveal these ongoing concerns: Camp, Fresno, Jazz, Oregon, and Performance.

Inada edited the anthology Only What We Carry: The Japanese Internment Experience (2000), a major contribution to the record of the Japanese American experience. He narrated the PBS documentaries Children of the Camps and Conscience and Constitution and is featured in the video What It Means to Be Free: A Video About Poetry and Japanese American Internment and the animated film Legends from Camp, made with his son Miles Inada.

Inada was appointed Oregon poet laureate in 2006. His awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship, fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, and a Creative Arts Grant from the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund. One of his poems is inscribed on a stone at the Japanese American Historical Plaza in Portland, Oregon.