tsunami vs. the fukushima 50

“One of our brightest talents.” —ISHMAEL REED
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Named a Best Book of the Year by the New York Public Library
Finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in Lesbian Poetry
Society of Midland Authors Honoree in Poetry

In March 2011, a tsunami caused by an earthquake collided with nearby power plant Fukushima Daiichi, causing the only nuclear disaster in history to rival Chernobyl in scope. Those who stayed at the plant to stabilize the reactors, willing to sacrifice their lives, became known internationally as the Fukushima 50.

In tsunami vs. the fukushima 50, Lee Ann Roripaugh takes a piercing, witty, and ferocious look into the heart of the disaster. Here we meet its survivors and victims, from a pearl-catcher to a mild-mannered father to a drove of mindless pink robots. And here, too, we meet Roripaugh’s unforgettable Tsunami: a force of nature, femme fatale, and “annihilatrix.” Tsunami is part hero and part supervillain—angry, loud, forcefully defending her rights as a living being in contemporary industrialized society. As humanity rebuilds in disaster’s wake, Tsunami continues to wreak her own havoc, battling humans’ self-appointed role as colonizer of Earth and its life-forms.

“She’s an unsubtle thief / a giver of gifts,” Roripaugh writes of Tsunami, who spits garbage from the Pacific back into now-pulverized Fukushima. As Tsunami makes visible her suffering, the wrath of nature scorned, humanity has the opportunity to reconsider the trauma they cause Earth and each other. But will they look?

Publish Date
5.5 × 8.5 × 0.25 in
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Lee Ann Roripaugh

Lee Ann Roripaigh is the author of numerous collections of poems, including Dandarians and tsunami vs. the fukushima 50. She serves as Editor-in-Chief of South Dakota Review and directs the creative writing program at the University of South Dakota. She is currently the South Dakota Poet Laureate.

Praise and Prizes

  • “[A] visionary narrative … tsunami vs. the fukushima 50 excites with its rich pop culture references in service to the poignant lessons about fear and the various human responses to vulnerability.”

    Rigoberto Gonzalez
    On the Seawall
  • “A playful and inventive portrait of nature’s fierce and humorous indifference toward humanity and its accessories.”

    Best Books of 2019
  • “In Tsunami vs. the Fukushima 50, a book that crackles with imaginative language and mythological retellings that represent real-life disaster, Roripaugh offers the audience a new way to think about nuclear and natural disasters and the remnants and ghosts that remain in their wake.”

    The Rumpus
  • “[tsunami vs. the fukushima 50] succeeds—and opens itself up … as a series of monster, superhero, and supervillain portraits, each a kind of allegory about how human beings respond to disaster, some based on how human beings really did respond in Japan, as well as on movies and mainstream American comics.”

    Stephanie Burt
    Yale Review
  • “[Roripaugh’s] taken as her subject the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster—and the people who risked their lives to prevent conditions from worsening. It’s a thematically rich and moving moment in history, powerfully channeled into words on a page.”

    Vol. 1 Brooklyn
  • “[Roripaugh’s] poems do not assert control over or claim to understand the natural world. Instead, they offer us a way to reckon with larger-than-life forces of nature … [they] resist not the supposed knowability of women, or of nature, but the attempt to render either woman or nature ‘knowable.’”

    Los Angeles Review of Books
  • tsunami vs. the fukushima 50 interrogates the 2011 disaster with unswerving gaze … The collection gives voice to the colonized, the irradiated, the monstrous—seeking throughout to understand how language can endeavor representing immense trauma.”

    Frontier Poetry
  • “With tsunami vs. the fukushima 50, Lee Ann Roripaugh has written us poetry to infect us as we consume with a momentous voracity that [which] turns its own page.”

    Arkansas International
  • “[Roripaugh’s] images are at once gentle and violent … tsunami vs. the fukushima 50 is so powerful specifically because it recognizes that ‘the ghosts are everywhere’ and does not shy from this haunting.”

  • “Lee Ann Roripaugh’s tsunami vs. fukushima 50 is a visionary experience of emotion, as she rides the ebb and flow between perseverance and renewal. Through her poetry, which personifies the tsunami and delineates humans as superheroes, Roripaugh cleverly nudges us to contemplate our responsibilities to the planet while illustrating the virtuousness and the resilience of humanity.”

    Black Fox Literary Magazine
  • “The elemental force of Lee Ann Roripaugh’s latest collection will sweep readers into the churning waters of her vibrant poetic imagination. Evoking the joint disasters of a tsunami and the resulting damage to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, ghosts and the long legacy of the atomic age address the readers in vibrant monologues and personas. The poems in turn remind us of the responsibility we each have to keenly preserve our humanity, even in the face of possible annihilation. Roripaugh’s poetry insists on our ancient struggle to find meaning and even joy in the wake of loss.”

    Oliver de la Paz
  • “The title of Lee Ann Roripaugh’s new book, tsunami vs. the fukushima 50, well evokes the gravely zany hijinks of these shapeshifting poems. Mothra, guilt-ridden Marvel beta-heroes, elderly pearl divers, and irradiated power plant workers orbit chaotically in the upheaval of the November 2011 tsunami—an upheaval that has never stopped happening. Female and fatal, the tsunami is mother, goddess, monster; she takes everything into her body until her body is revealed to be the whole sad, captivating world: ‘reclining in a froth of surf, / loose hair swirling around bare / shoulders, my eyes half-closed.’”

    Joyelle McSweeney
  • “The suffering caused by the Fukushima nuclear disaster and tsunami are transformed into an essential book of poetry by Lee Ann Roripaugh. In these moving poems, Roripaugh explores the enduring spirit of those affected by the tsunami and the cruel irony in the ways this disaster echoes the suffering caused by the atomic bombs. This book haunts the reader with its intimate voices and intense unforgettable images.”

    David Mura