In 1981, Kogawa wrote the first novel on Japanese-Canadian internment, Obasan, which is told through the eyes of a child as she watches bewildered at the persecution she and her family face in their own land. After being interned with her family during the Second World War, Kogawa became a poet before turning to fiction. Obasan won the First Novel Award and is widely considered to be one of the most important works of fiction to ever be published in Canada. The sequel to Obasan is Itsuka.
Her poetry collections include The Splintered Moon, A Choice of Dreams and Woman in the Woods. She is also the author of the memoir Gently to Nagasaki.