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Hawai‘i Writers Almanac: Tyler McMahon

A companion to our feature “The Hawai‘i Writer’s Life.”


A companion to our feature The Hawai‘i Writer’s Life, this compendium of writers, platforms, resources and more intends to map out our literary communities and individuals. It’s just getting started, but we hope it will grow to help them, and you, find each other, scheme together and maybe get some writing done. 


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WHO: Tyler McMahon, author, creative writing program director, Hawai‘i Pacific University.


WHAT: Author of three novels.


WHY: “First TV, then the internet, killed us,” says Tyler McMahon, the author of three novels and director of the Hawai‘i Pacific University creative writing program.


McMahon started out strong with a pair of novels published by mainstream press St. Martins, including Kilometer 99, about a pair of surf-loving aid workers in El Salvador who fall into the grips of a drug-and-real-estate scheme after a 1992 earthquake. “I’m proud I got to publish with a quote-unquote big press,” he says. “My books were in airports.”


But like many, since the 2009 economic contraction he’s had to rethink his ambitions and outlets. Now 42, he published his last novel, Dream of Another America, about the border refugee crisis, by submitting to and winning a Mainland small-press contest. In 2018, he won the Elliot Cades Award from the Hawai‘i Literary Arts Council.


The writing program at HPU is stronger than ever, McMahon says, but he keeps searching for a viable publishing model for his students. He is the organizer of HPU’s Ko‘olau Writers Workshop and edits the Hawai‘i Pacific Review.


“I can’t summon any resentment about my treatment,” McMahon says, “but I worry about the next gen.” He sighs. “I think of what I agreed to when I was 20 years old,” he says, speaking of that compact we make with ourselves when embarking on a career. “It’s like that line in the movie, Casablanca: I was misinformed.”


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