Dr. S.I. Hayakawa was a colorful and polarizing figure in California politics in the 1960s and '70s. But an award-winning biography of the noted semanticist traces an unexpectedly complex history before that notoriety enveloped him.
Hayakawa’s academic credentials were established early on, says his biographer, Gerland Haslam. But in the 1940s and ‘50s, Hayakawa’s Japanese-American status stood in the way of his career advancement.
Hayakawa instead found a way to build his reputation through non-academic, popular media writings. It was those writings, explains Haslam, that sparked his interest in writing In Thought and Action: The Enigmatic Life of S.I. Hayakawa.
Even after Dr. Hayakawa attained a measure of academic accomplishment, eventually becoming president of San Francisco State University, he retained some deeply held enmity, which Haslam came to see as pivotal in Hayakawa's eventual political about face.
Gerald Haslams’s Hayakawa biography, co-written with his wife, Janice, has just won the 2013 Award of Merit from the prestigious American Association for State and Local History.