Rebecca Copeland’s research and teaching are informed by questions of both gender and genre. She focuses almost exclusively on modern Japanese women writers, examining the way their gender has defined and often confined their literary production. Women writers in the 19th century were expected to conform to socially accepted notions of femininity. Women in the early 20th century often wrote with a self-conscious awareness of their gender, performing to almost hyperbolic extremes ideas of femininity. Their works are draped in kimono and covered in make-up. Women in the later 20th century often parodied these notions—creating monstrous aberrations of womanhood. In many regards, gender informed genre. And there were certain genres that were deemed unsuitable for a woman. One was the hardboiled mystery, which is another interest of mine. The image that English-language readers have of women writers—and Japanese literature in general—comes from the texts that we choose to translate. In the 1980s, when Professor Copeland was finishing her dissertation, hardly any texts by modern women writers had been translated. Although there is still much work to do, we now have a fuller picture of the writing landscape in Japan. Her teaching reflects her research interests. She offers courses on mystery fiction, demonic women in fiction, overviews of women’s writing, readings in dramatic texts, explorations of translation, and more. One of the more exciting pedagogical opportunities she has had recently is offering classes on Japanese Civilization at the Missouri Eastern Correctional Center—as part of the Prison Education Program.
Her most recent research project returns her to the writer Uno Chiyo, who was the subject of her dissertation and first book. She is contributing to a collection of essays on Japanese women writers and divorce. Uno Chiyo was well versed in the topic. Married three times and in an out of countless other relationships, she was to have quipped: “No one is a lucky as a woman writer. No sooner does she break up with a man than she can write about it all without the slightest sense of shame.” What fascinates Professor Copeland about Uno, is that she ran a newspaper advice column for a time, counseling women whose marriages were on the rocks. She also wrote a number of cookbooks and had a second career as a kimono designer. Rather like Martha Stewart, Uno could be described as “a bad girl of good housekeeping.” And that aspect of her career will be the focus of Professor Copeland’s next project.
Rebecca Copeland received her PhD in Japanese Literature from Columbia University in 1986. Her dissertation concerned the writer Uno Chiyo (1897-1996). This study was subsequently published as The Sound of the Wind: The Life and Works of Uno Chiyo (University of Hawai'i Press, 1992.) Dr. Copeland's study of Meiji women writers, Lost Leaves: Women Writers of Meiji Japan was published by the University of Hawai'i Press in 2000 and was named a Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2001. The University of Hawai'i Press also published her edited volume Woman Critiqued: Translated Essays on Japanese Women's Writing in 2006. Copeland co-edited a collection of essays concerning the relationship between women writers and their fathers – both biological and cultural – with Dr. Esperanza Ramirez-Christensen of University of Michigan, The Father-Daughter Plot: Japanese Literary Women and the Law of the Father (University of Hawai'i Press, 2001) and a collection of translations, Modern Murasaki: Writing by Women of Meiji Japan with Dr. Melek Ortabasi of Simon Fraser University (Columbia University Press, 2006). More recently, Copeland collaborated with Dr. Laura Miller, the Ei’ichi Shibusawa-Seigo Arai Endowed Professor of Japanese Studies at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, on Diva Nation: Female Icons from Japanese Cultural History (University of California Press, 2018). Grotesque, Copeland's translation of a Kirino Natsuo title, was published by Knopf in 2007. Her translation of Kirino’s Joshinki (The Goddess Chronicles) was published by Cannongate in 2012 and won the 2014-15 Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission Prize for the Translation of Japanese Literature.