Photographer Unknown, Courtesy of Graham and Pamela Lee private collection. More photographs HERE.

The November sky without a star
Droops low over the midnight street;
On the pale pavement, cautiously
A leaf moves.
– Jun Fujita



Groundbreaking poet and photojournalist Jun Fujita is the focus of a new exhibition presented by the Newberry Library and the Poetry Foundation. A multi-media experience comprising poetry, photographs, personal correspondence and archival artifacts, Jun Fujita: American Visionary explores the life and career of one of Chicago’s master chroniclers.

As the first Japanese American photojournalist, Fujita captured many of the most infamous moments in Chicago history, including the Eastland Disaster, the 1919 race riots and the St. Valentine’s Day massacre. As an English-language poet writing in the Japanese tanka tradition, his poems appeared regularly in Poetry magazine, published in Chicago since 1912.

Jun Fujita was a visionary ahead of his time, both in his visual and written art forms, as well as his contemporary 45-year partnership with Florence Carr,” said Katherine Litwin, Poetry Foundation library director and exhibition cocurator. “We’re honored to partner with the Newberry to further expand and unfold the layers of his life and Chicago legacy through this exhibition.”

As anti-Japanese xenophobia crested during World War II, Fujita faced hostility, prejudice, and persecution. The U.S. government declared him an “enemy alien,” and his assets were frozen. Yet despite this adversity, Fujita achieved unprecedented success in his profession and offered an alternative model of what it means to be “American.”

“Jun Fujita put forth a vision for what’s possible, particularly love, acceptance, and sanctuary in a place bent on exclusion,” adds Fred Sasaki, Poetry art director and exhibition curator.



Morning Woods
A static mood, in the morning woods
Wet and clear –
In a majestic pattern, leaves are spellbound
By a fawn, ears perked.

JUN FUJITA was born Junnosuke Fujita on 13 December 1888 in Nishimura, a village near Hiroshima, Japan. When he was older, Fujita moved from Japan to Canada, where he worked odd jobs to save enough money to move to the United States of America, which he considered to be a “land of opportunity.” He moved to Chicago, Illinois, where he attended and graduated from Wendell Phillips Academy High School, a four-year predominantly African-American public school whose notable alumni include Nat “King” Cole, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Archibald Carey, Jr. Following his high school graduation, he studied mathematics at the Armour Institute of Technology, which later became the Illinois Institute of Technology, with plans to become an engineer. To help pay his way through college, Fujita took a job as the first and only photojournalist at the Chicago Evening Post, which later became the Chicago Daily News. MORE [Wikipedia]

Read more of Jun Fujita’s poetry HERE at Poetry Foundation. His collection is available through Amazon but is unfortunately prohibitively priced. It is not available through the Gutenberg Project or Internet Archive. Poems and journal articles about Fujita’s photography are accessible at JSTOR HERE.



Jun Fujita: American Visionary runs from January 24 through March 31 at the Newberry. The exhibition is free and open to all.

Throughout the exhibition, a series of related public programs will further explore its major themes. These programs include:

Curator Talk with Katherine Litwin, Fred Sasaki, and Graham Lee
Tuesday, February 4, at 6:00 PM

The Love and Life of Jun Fujita
Thursday, February 13, at 6:00 PM

Photographic Memory: Carlos Javier Ortiz Reflects on Jun Fujita’s Iconic Images
Tuesday, March 10, at 6:00 PM

*****

This post is compiled courtesy of the Poetry Foundation, Wikipedia, and Amazon. The poems are courtesy of Poetry Foundation in concert with JSTOR.

The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine, is an independent literary organization committed to a vigorous presence for poetry in American culture. It exists to discover and celebrate the best poetry and to place it before the largest possible audience. The Poetry Foundation seeks to be a leader in shaping a receptive climate for poetry by developing new audiences, creating new avenues for delivery, and encouraging new kinds of poetry through innovative literary prizes and programs.

Follow the Poetry Foundation and Poetry on Facebook at facebook.com/poetryfoundation,  Twitter @PoetryFound and @Poetrymagazine, and Instagram @PoetryFoundation.

About the Newberry Library
At the Newberry Library, visitors and researchers explore centuries of human history, from the Middle Ages to the present. The library’s collection—some 1.6 million books, 600,000 maps, and 5 million manuscript pages—is accessible to all in Newberry reading rooms, program spaces, exhibition galleries, and online digital resources. Since its founding in 1887, the Newberry has remained dedicated to deepening our collective understanding of ourselves, others, and the world around us. As individuals engage with Newberry collections and staff, they discover stories that bridge the past and present and illuminate the human condition.


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