Onoto Watanna

The Story of Winnifred Eaton
Author: Diana Birchall
The stranger-than-fiction biography of the Asian American novelist, journalist, and scriptwriter
Paper – $23
Publication Date
Paperback: 01/01/2006
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About the Book

In 1901, Winnifred Eaton arrived in New York City with literary ambitions, journalism experience, and the manuscript for A Japanese Nightingale, the novel that would make her famous. Her writing and gift for reinvention would set her apart from other women authors of her time and make her a fascinating early figure in Asian American literature.

Diana Birchall, Eaton's granddaughter, tells the Horatio Alger story of the woman who became Onoto Watanna. Born to a British father and a Chinese mother, Winnifred capitalized on her exotic appearance—and protected herself from Americans' scorn of the Chinese—by "becoming" Japanese. Her popular Japanese-themed romance novels thrust her into the glittering world of New York's literati. From there she leapt to Hollywood to become a scriptwriting protégée of Carl Laemmle at Universal Studios. Yet her boldness and talent masked a sometimes-desperate personal life that included a troubled first marriage and the sudden end of her Hollywood career.

A compelling saga of the shifting boundary between life and art, Otono Watanna reveals the conflicting stories, personal tempests, and remarkable accomplishments of a woman whose career was sensational in every sense.

About the Author

Diana Birchall is a story analyst at Warner Bros. Studios and the author of Mrs. Darcy's Dilemma and Mrs. Elton in America.


"Birchall, a novelist and Warner Brothers story analyst, reports the life of her 'bad grandmother' in straightforward and heartfelt prose, offering both a fascinating life story and a social history of fin de siecle literary life in New York."--Globe and Mail

"A scholarly work as well as a delight to read."--Ginny Lee, Multicultural Review

"Birchall's engaging biography of her grandmother will appeal to a broad range of readers. . . . Birchall was a novice biographer when she began work on this study; but in the process of writing it she transformed herself into a scholar."--Choice

"Birchall portrays a curiously fascinating and remarkably bold woman, best-selling novelist, and Hollywood scriptwriter who lived a life as intermingled with fact and fantasy, reality and fiction, as her novels and short stories."--Library Journal


"Immensely enjoyable reading. . . . Eaton is a fascinating woman, both in her personal and professional choices and in the many lives she led and the many worlds she inhabited. This is a story that must be told, and Birchall is the ideal person for the job. She tells Eaton's story with affection, energy, and sensitivity to her subject's unique voice and personality."--Eve Oishi, California State University at Long Beach

"This finely crafted, meticulously researched, and very witty biography of Onoto Watanna/Winnifred Eaton makes the fascinating novelist come alive in all her human contradictions. Birchall's prose reflects her grandmother's gift for spellbinding narrative, mirroring the disarming charm, grace, energy, and vigor of Watanna—as woman and writer—herself. Poignant and moving, but always alive to humor, Birchall's riveting biography is a timely gift to students of Asian American literature, filling a century-long void in Eaton scholarship."--Samina Najmi, Wheaton College