Kenzaburo Oe

Oe, Kenzaburo (kĕnˌzäbŏrˈō ōˈā) [key], 1935–, Japanese writer, b. Ose, on the island of Shikoku. At 18, he left his remote village and traveled to the capital, where he studied at Tokyo Univ. and began writing. In 1958 he won the Akutagawa Prize for a short story and published his first novel, Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids (tr. 1995).

Five years later the birth of his severely brain-damaged son marked a turning point in his life and work. His best known novel, A Personal Matter (1964, tr. 1968), deals with a father's slow acceptance of his similarly handicapped infant son. Several of his other works concern this theme. In life, he and his wife have devoted much of their lives to their son's care.

Oe's other works include more than 20 novels, among them The Silent Cry (1967, tr. 1974), The Pinch Runner Memorandum (1976, tr. 1993), and A Quiet Life (1990, tr. 1996), several short-story collections, essays, and Hiroshima Notes (1965, tr. 1995), which chronicles the courage of the victims of the nuclear attack. His often angry and politically charged tales, his recurrent themes of abnormality, sexuality, and marginality, and his gritty, realistic style set him apart from the mainstream Japanese literary tradition. Oe was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1994. Somersault (2003), his first novel since winning the prize, concerns a terrorist religious cult and its charismatic leader. The Changeling (2010) is a highly autobiographical novel that revolves around the suicide of the main character's filmmaker brother-in-law, an event that mirrors the Oe's own experience.

His firstborn son, Hikari Oe, 1963–, although initially uncommunicative and still only minimally functional, developed impressive musical abilities and has become an accomplished composer.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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