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Throwback Thursday: Shyness to Eloquence

Poet Naoshi Koriyama with his wife Ruriko shortly after his return to Japan from Albany in 1954; Koriyama in 2002; and his English professor and mentor Vivian Hopkins, in 1956. (Photos courtesy of University Archives)

ALBANY, N.Y. (December 7, 2017) — Naoshi Koriyama was feeling “quite lost” in in 1951. A 27-year-old sophomore from the Kagoshima Prefecture in southern Japan, he had come to America the year before and attended the University of Mexico, along with 28 students from the island areas between Japan and Taiwan.

Now, at the State College for Teachers, he was culturally alone, one of the first international students at the institution since the 19th Century.

“I had the same class with him, and he always seemed to me to be a shy, lonely person, being so far away from home,” recalled Joan Floyd B.A. ’54, M.A. ’55, M.LS. ’70, in the UAlbany Magazine of Spring 2002. “He was very polite and very nice. He used to sit in Hawley Library on the Downtown Campus, doing his French homework with a French-English dictionary and a Japanese-English dictionary.”

An English major and social studies minor, Koriyama began writing poetry, in English, as a kind of therapy suggested to him by English professor Vivian C. Hopkins. “Miss Hopkins must have thought writing poetry might alleviate my loneliness and feeling of inadequacy,” he said. Another UAlbany faculty member, sociologist Theodore Standing, opened his family’s country home in East Nassau on weekends for the young student so he could write in solitude.

Hopkins, an author herself, was known for having a keen eye for student writing talent and no doubt sensed Koriyama’s gift. At her suggestion, he submitted “Cave Man’s Moonrise,” the first poem he ever wrote in English, to The Christian Science Monitor. It was accepted and printed.

Naoshi Koriyama University at Albany

With his friend Margaret Masai on his State College graduation day in May '54, in front of Husted Hall. 

After graduation in 1954, Koriyama returned to Japan to both teach and continue his writing. As an academic, he rose to the rank of professor at Toyo University, teaching English there for 30 years before retiring in 1997. Among his scholarly works was his editorship of A College Anthology of American Literature, for Hokuseido Press.

But, above all, Koriyama made poetry his life’s work. Now 91, he has published nine collections in English, one — at age 83 — in Japanese, and three books of translations of poetry from Japanese to English. His works, which have won several international prizes, have been published in the U.S., Canada, South Africa and Australia, and been translated into Italian.

Koriyama dedicated one of his collections, Another Bridge over the Pacific, to Hopkins, who taught at the College for Teachers and then UAlbany from 1941 to 1973, and died in 1989. Through her gift to the University in the 1970s, an award in her name goes to English students of scholastic ability and character.

A lasting gift from Koriyama to Hopkins was a single poem he penned in her honor: “All the Poems I Have Written I Owe You.”

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