It was a great day at the Hawai‘i Book & Music Festival last weekend. I had so much fun talking myth and writing with Don’t Look Back contributors Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl, Marion Lyman-Mersereau and Robert Barclay. I also finally got to meet contributor Maxine Hong Kingston in person, as well as meet with fellow book people in one sunny, airy place, and experience the treat of hearing stories read aloud–what a treat.
There were a lot of children at the festival, enjoying games but also animated story times, which got me thinking about telling you about this great literacy campaign by Denver, Co-based non-profit ” href=”http://burningthroughpages.org/”>Burning Through Pages, which I learned about on Mediabistro’s GalleyCat.
Focused on advocacy for youth reading and writing, Burning Through Pages has set out one momentous and worthy goal: “To inspire a love of reading in today’s youth by recommending, donating and discussing books.”
Their new and infectious campaign of black and white posters is aimed at parents to inspire them to read to their kids, and designed by Mike Anderick. It has also gone viral, making BTP suddenly popular on the web and facebook.
What’s your favorite time machine? LL
If you’re a writer and reader on the Big Island, or need a good excuse to fly over for a getaway, I’ll be giving a series of readings and talks for DON’T LOOK BACK: Hawaiian Myths Made New from Saturday 2/25 – Tuesday 2/28 in Hilo, Kona & Volcano.
We’d love to see you there! Tell your friends, bring your friends, and anyone who loves stories, Hawaiian culture, myths and more.
Tuesday 2/28 at 7pm we will be the featured presenters at Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park “After Dark in the Park” event in the visitors’ center. We’re hoping for a spirited evening as we honor Pele with Darien Gee’s story Pele in Therapy (think about those times when one has the need to “vent”), and my riff on The Legend of Halemano. There are actually five stories in the collection where Pele’s influence reverberates and her powerful presence in our modern lives is honored.
I hope to see you there. And O‘ahu people–we’re planning a talk story event soon in Honolulu for those that want to discuss myth and retelling in more detail.
Beginning June 26, Mission Houses Museum will host Ho‘omaka Hou (New Beginning) Days on the last Saturday of every month. This new program is designed to explore literacy in Hawai‘i in a fun, hands-on way, exploring a different topic each time.
On June 26, the focus will be First Peoples, examining traditions of Hawai’i’s well, first peoples, through petroglyphs and other storytelling avenues. Story hour is at 12:30 and will be scheduled regularly at that time, and visitors can engage in rotating hands-on activities throughout the day. Above all, the museum wants to engage people and reflect on the idea of new beginnings.
“Everyone who has ever been a newcomer to Hawai‘i has experienced a new beginning here, so this program will hold surprises and relevance to everyone in Hawai‘i. We or our ancestors have all come here from elsewhere,” said Tom Woods, Mission Houses Museum Executive Director.
July’s topic will be Yankees and Europeans Make Hawai’i Home, exploring how traders, sailors and missionaries integrated their traditions into Hawai’i’s culture through the items they brought and developed, such as ships, china, quilts, and handwritten Hawaiian language. (see the 2010 schedule below)
It’s great to see the Museum doing so many events and community activities, especially around literacy–reading and storytelling, after all, provide many new beginnings for adults and children alike.
Saturday, June 26, 10 am to 4 pm, children under 6 admitted free; $4 for kama‘aina, and $10 for non-residents; admission includes the house tour at 11am, 1pm or 2:45 pm, and all activities.
August 28: Plantation Days
September 25: Working Together
October 30: Chicken Skin Stories
November 27: A Time to Give Thanks and Mālama (care for) Our Land and Friends
December 18: A Circle of Ethnic Holidays
**Photo linked to the Mission Houses Library page–check it out!
Mark your calenders for May 16: Two must-attend readings by Hawaii Authors
Established Writer Paul Theroux spends part of each year in Hawaii and is perhaps best known for his travel literature, most recently the absorbing GHOST TRAIN TO THE EASTERN STAR.
Emerging Writer Joe Tsujimoto moved to Hawai’i in 1971 and teaches eighth grade English at Punahou School, and recently published his first short story collection with Bamboo Ridge called Morningside Heights: New York Stories.
The Cades Awards, given annually for the past twenty years, are administered by the Hawai‘i Literary Arts Council, founded in 1974 and encouraging and promoting literature and literary activity in Hawai‘i ever since.
What: Theroux and Tsujimoto read from recent works
Where: Hawai’i Book and Music Festival, Mission Memorial Auditorium on the Honolulu Municipal Center grounds
When: May 16, 4-5.30 PM
Next, from 6-8.30, celebrate the launch of WESTLAKE: Poems by Wayne Kaumualii Westlake (1947-1984), coedited by Mei-Li Siy and Richard Hamasaki, published by the University of Hawai’i Press. [You can read my enthusiastic review here]
The event will be held at THIRTYNINEHOTEL and features interpretative readings and performances from WESTLAKE by Albert Wendt, Reina Whaitiri, Imaikalani Kalahele, Haunani-Kay Trask, Robert Sullivan, Kathryn Waddell Takara, Kuualoha Hoomanawanui (with Kuleana çØiwi Press), Senator Russell Kokubun, Lee Tonouchi, Sage Uçilani Takehiro, TravisT (of Youth Speaks and Kids Talk Story), Brenda Kwon, Brandy Nålani McDougall and Ryan Oishi
(with Kahuaomånoa Press), Steven Rosenthal with Richard Hamasaki, also featuring Michael Puleloa, MC, H. Doug Matsuoka, DJ, and a special guest appearance by Brother Noland.
What: Interpretive readings from WESTLAKE: Poems
When: May 16, 6-8.30pm
Where: 39 Hotel, Chinatown, Honolulu
If you haven’t heard of Douglas Cowie, that might be because you don’t live in Germany. Or France. Or England. All are places where Doug’s debut novel “Owen Noone and the Marauder” blossomed with success, even spawning a rock band. But that’s really no excuse (and I don’t say that just because Doug and I were colleagues of sorts while I was studying creative writing at UEA in Norwich) for not checking out this American expatriate’s fiction, or at least after reading my interview below, the books he reads—if only to be inspired to care about something beyond oneself.
What are you reading, Douglas Cowie?
Author of “Owen Noone and the Marauder”; Creative Writing Lecturer, Royal Holloway, University of London
Q&A with Christine Thomas
A. Because I teach, and because it’s term-time, mostly what I’ve been reading these days is fiction written by my students. But I have managed to sneak in some shorter novels and stories in the past couple weeks: Fabian by Erich Kästner, Life And Times Of Michael K. by J.M. Coetzee, and today I read Billy Budd, Sailor by Herman Melville. I’ve also been making my way through an essay collection by Luc Sante called Kill All Your Darlings. The title is kind of off-putting (it’s from a quotation attributed to William Faulkner), but the essays are terrific.
A: Kind of, I suppose. The Coetzee I had intended to read during Christmas holidays, but I got sidetracked by a couple other novels. The Kästner novel I read during a recent trip to Berlin (I usually read German books when I visit Berlin, which I do frequently, because I used to live there). The Melville collection is one I pick up now and again when I have a stretch of a few hours free to read carefully, and Luc Sante lives in my bag, and I’ve read most of it on trains or in my local pizzeria. I do have a somewhat large pile of “books to be read for no particular purpose” (as opposed to those I’m reading for research, teaching or whatever) on my bookshelf. It seems to grow constantly.
Q. What about Sante’s essays makes you keep them handy?
A. For one thing (for one superficial thing) it’s nice to read essays on the train because I can read one or two in the short-ish journey (during the autumn term I was rereading David Foster Wallace’s essays, mostly on the train). But what I actually like about Luc Sante is that he writes very intelligently and very clearly, without using jargon or cliché, and he writes with great knowledge about a variety of subjects: literature, visual arts, music, cities, and so on. He’s one of a very small number of writers who in writing essays, whether they’re reviews or personal narratives or whatever, writes works of literature, or in other words, works of art. Essay writing is a really difficult skill to develop, and its also a talent that few people have, and I’m always a little in awe and a little envious when I read something like “The Injection Mold,” a short essay about working in a factory that does everything that literature should do, which is to say, make me care about things beyond myself and my experiences. It’s the last day of term today, so I’m getting a bit high-faltuin’ about literature, I guess.
Q. How do you teach your writing students to make readers care about things beyond themselves? Did Sante give you any pearls to impart?
A. Actually, I don’t. I tend to steer students away from worrying about what readers will and won’t care about, since it’s impossible to control readers’ various responses, thoughts, prejudices, etc., anyway. Of course, this isn’t to say that one doesn’t think about readers or audience when writing, but I think that worrying or focusing on “a reader” or “readers” is more or less pointless–because readers will do whatever they want to with your fiction anyway, once they (if they) get their hands on it. Actually, far more important, in writing, and therefore in teaching writing, is for the writer to care about things beyond herself.
So I think the real challenge is to teach writing students to think of their own interests and stories from positions outside of their own. There are a number of ways, probably, in which a teacher can direct students towards caring about things beyond themselves (making them read a variety of different types of fiction; recommending novels or stories or poems or plays that approach similar themes, problems or styles in interesting and/or different ways to what the student is doing; pointing out in workshops places where writing is self-indulgently distracting; having them read and comment their peers’ work…I’m sure the list goes on). But ultimately the student/writer has to want to care about things beyond herself, and the only thing a teacher can do in that respect is to point it out. If the writer cares about things beyond herself, and writes her fiction—which might be really personal, might be really autobiographical, might be something that she cares about deeply and inwardly—with an eye on those myriad things beyond herself, then a reader is more likely to care about things beyond himself, too.
My students–particularly in their first year–often object to this idea, in the various ways in which it is presented to them, as something that is difficult. They’re right that it’s difficult, but wrong to object. Because to engage with that difficulty is the reason for writing, or attempting to write, literature, and it is also the reason for reading literature—or not the reason, but probably the first and foremost reason, from which all other reasons descend. My students also often object (again, in the first year in particular) to what they call “grand sweeping statements” about literature, and what I’ve just said probably qualifies. But grand sweeping statements are also part of that stretching for something outside, of risking imbecility for the sake of understanding. Which probably qualifies, too, so I think I’ll stop there on this question.
Except wait; insofar as I do think about “a reader” when I’m writing (which is not very much, to be honest), I guess I usually think of the audience for whatever I’m writing as some person who is probably smarter than me, who shares my curiosity in a general way, who is willing to think while s/he is reading, but who doesn’t know exactly the things that I know, and who doesn’t know them in the exact way that I’m going to try to write them. I think that pretty much sets the bar as high as possible, and forces me to work hard to be good. Or at least to try to be.
Q. What did reading Sante’s essays leave you caring about?
A: All kinds of things. It would be hard to pin down even a couple. It made me care about the beginnings of blues music, and the idea that someone composed the first blues song, which even though I have a huge interest in music, wasn’t something I’d quite thought about in exactly that way before. It made me care about Bob Dylan’s autobiography, although I don’t really have any intention of reading it; Sante used a review of the autobiography as an excuse to write a thoughtful essay on Bob Dylan, and even though plenty has been said, written, filmed and sung about Dylan, it still seemed fresh to me. It made me care about Robert Mapplethorpe, or better: it made me think of Mapplethorpe’s photography in a different way. It made me care about injection-mold machines, and the factories in which they operate. It made me care about storytelling, and it made me care about essay writing, and it reinforced my viewpoint that placing words absolutely correctly is of utmost importance when writing, whether one is writing an essay or a story or a poem or anything else.
Q. That reminds me that in a past short story, you focused (at least visually) on a factory, and in your precisely worded debut novel Owen Noone and the Marauder, music was central. In the next story you tell—and what will that be?—will we see anything about photography or injection-mold machines?
A. Well, you never know, but I somehow doubt it. I suspect that the first and last literary word on injection molding was written by Luc Sante. I don’t usually read in order to look for subject matter to write about (I realize that’s not what you were implying in your question), but rather, to expose myself to things I haven’t thought about, or to re-engage with things that interest me. In terms of my own writing, the biggest thing I get from reading other writers is aesthetic; I find that reading writers who write well, and who write differently from the way I do, makes me think about how I go about my own practice as a writer, and makes me (hopefully) a better writer.
Q. True, I wasn’t implying that, but I was trying to get you to talk about your next book, though I know you’re usually reticent about what you’re writing. Any hints?
A. My second novel, which I’m still trying to sell, is set in Berlin about ten years from now, and concerns a group of terrorists who are blowing up public buildings and historical monuments; its primary thematic concerns deal with the way people evaluate history and contemporary politics, among other things. I’ve also just finished the first draft of another novel, which again deals with music, although in somewhat different ways to my first novel. It’s more or less a picaresque that follows its protagonist as he journeys first to New York City (from the Midwest), then, following a mental breakdown, his gradual recovery (with the help of a lot of different encounters with music and musicians) as he journeys from the top of the Mississippi River southwards. Although he travels by road, and only a little by water, and I won’t say how far he gets. Maybe a long way. Maybe not.
Sorry, most of you are probably not invited to the 16th annual Ka Palapala Po’okela Books Awards on May 9, but the good news is you are invited to the BOOK SALE & AUTHOR SIGNING CELEBRATION just following the ceremony. (Which means you can ask them in person of they won, and still be among the first to know)
More than 30 authors will attend and plan to sign books, including Chef Chai Chaowasaree, Jon Van Dyke (Who Owns the Crown Lands), John Wythe White (A High and Beautiful Wave), Lurline Wailana McGregor (Between the Deep Blue Sea and Me), and Matthew Kaopio (Hawaiian Family Album).
When: Saturday, May 9, 2009 from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Where: Bishop Museum’s Hawaiian Hall Atrium and Courtyard
What: Book sale, entertainment by local musicians Kaimana and Keao
Why: Proceeds from book sales benefit Read to Me International, Hawaii Literacy, & Bishop Museum
More information about HBPA and the awards can be found on the organization’s website: http://www.hawaiibooks.org , or for the event, call Bishop Museum Press at (808) 848-4135.