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Michiko Wilson

Professor Emeritus

Professor Emerita Michiko Wilson joined the Faculty of Arts & Sciences at the University of Virginia in 1977 to respond to the then-Dean’s dire warning that his office may consider eliminating the struggling Japanese program altogether if the newly appointed assistant professor could not succeed in turning things around.

When Ms. Wilson first took the helm, there were barely 12 students interested in Japanese. Over the next 40 years, under her leadership and vision, UVA’s Japanese Program grew dramatically as its home base changed several times. Originally housed in the French Department under Linguistics, Chinese, Japanese, Hindi, and Arabic eventually coalesced into the Division of Oriental Languages thanks to efforts by Gil Roy.  It later changed its name to the Division of Asian Middle Eastern Languages & Cultures, a diverse group that was given Departmental status in 2000.  Five years later in 2005, the current Department of East Asian Languages, Literatures & Cultures was officially launched.   

Upon arrival, Ms. Wilson immediately adopted the pedagogical principle of equally emphasizing all four areas of language acquisition: speaking, listening, writing, reading. Program enrollments grew steadily. The increasing enrollments were also due to the efforts of dedicated language instructors. To retain these talented native speakers, she had early on negotiated with the Dean’s Office to offer a multiple-year contract and sponsor their applications for permanent residency status, decisions that also benefited other instructors of foreign languages within the College of Arts & Sciences. 

With the basic foundation in Japanese Language in place, Ms. Wilson soon began to offer Modern Japanese Literature, later a series of Advanced Language Seminars. With the support of an East Asian Studies colleague, Ron Dimberg, a tenure-track position in PreModern Japanese Literature was approved in 1993 to balance offerings in the modern and classical literary periods. UVA now offers a thriving, comprehensive, and nationally recognized Japanese Program. 

Besides serving as the Director of the Program, Ms. Wilson has been a seasoned scholar and translator of Japanese literature. Her 1986 book-length work, The Marginal World of Ôe Kenzaburo: A Study in Themes and Techniques, proved to be a pioneering project, published eight years ahead of the news that Mr. Ôe was chosen as the 1994  Nobel Laureate in Literature. More recently, she has published Modern Japanese Women Writers as Artists as Cultural Critics: Miyamoto, Saegusa, Ôba, with an extensive introduction. Their critical essays translated for the first time, the book celebrates their  egalitarian voices in re-visioning gender, society and humanity. 

Ms. Wilson’s interests in reaching out to audiences beyond the academic world have led to translating two works of fiction:  The Pinchrunner Memorandum by Mr. Ôe and Of Birds Crying by Minako Ôba. Ms. Wilson is currently an editor of New Japanese Horizons at Cornell University Press, a literature-in-translation series.