Brandy Nālani McDougall Debuts as the New Hawai‘i State Poet Laureate at Hawai’i State Art Museum

Get inspired by this award-winning poet through readings and workshops at HiSAM.


Brandy Nālani McDougall at The Vibe Event at the Hawaii State Museum of Art, January 2023

Brandy Nālani McDougall at HiSAM’s “The Vibe” event in January. Photo: Brandyn Liu. Photo Courtesy of HiSAM.


Brandy Nālani McDougall wears many hats including associate professor of Indigenous Studies at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, Kānaka Maoli author, mother of two young children, gifted poet and much more. On Jan. 13, she took the center stage and captivated the audience at HiSAM as she read her poetry as part of The Vibe event. Her inaugural performance as Hawai‘i State Poet Laureate was full of exuberance and a strong commitment to her new role.


“I loved performing my poetry at HiSAM last week—the courtyard was simply magical as we moved from twilight into dusk, and there was such a great and enthusiastic crowd of literary folks, artists of all kinds, teachers and more,” says McDougall. Her eloquent words of hope and wisdom linked everyone with the past, present and future under the clear evening sky. “I was especially happy to dedicate the reading to my mom, who was there, and to see so many of my students. It also felt amazing to be out of the isolation we’ve all been in and to connect and reconnect with people through poetry.”



McDougall will be working closely with HiSAM for the next three years through the Poet Laureate program, which “recognizes and honors a Hawai‘i poet of exceptional talent and accomplishment.” She is looking forward to taking part in upcoming events like First Friday, The Vibe and Pāʻina Pōʻalima, as well as hosting special readings with other local poets in gallery spaces and the front lawn.


Plans are also in the works for Super Saturdays to include workshops for kids and adults led by McDougall with ekphrastic poetry, where participants can create poems inspired by artworks on display at the museum. “HiSAM does the very important work of celebrating and honoring art,” she explains, “while also making art accessible to our communities through free admission and fun events for families and people of all ages.”


Brandy Nālani McDougall Debuts as the New Hawai’i State Poet Laureate at center stage at Hawai’i State Art Museum

Brandy Nālani McDougall debuts as the new Hawai’i State Poet Laureate at Hawai‘i State Art Museum. Photo: Brandyn Liu. Courtesy of HiSAM.


The museum left a deep impression on McDougall when she had a chance to visit last year. “I got to see the HT22 exhibition that Drew Kahuʻāina Broderick curated recently, which was amazing in the way that it highlighted Hawaiian poetry and activism by poets-artists-activists such as Haunani-Kay Trask, Dana Naone Hall, Imaikalani Kalahele, Wayne Westlake, Kapulani Landgraf and Heoli Osorio.”


Among them are important mentors who helped guide her to where she is today as a poet and activist. “Broderick took such care to weave their literary work with their ʻāina protection work,” says McDougall. “It was beautiful!” She welcomes any opportunity to collaborate with artists whose works are on exhibit at HiSAM to combine visual art with poetry.


As Hawai‘i State Poet Laureate, McDougall takes on the roles of both healer and leader. “I aim for my work to contribute to a poetry of healing—a poetry that confronts and speaks the truth of personal, colonial and collective trauma, while also reflecting on how to work through that trauma, how to have hope, and how to grow stronger through connections to ʻāina and community,” she explains. “Above all, I hope people may be inspired to write their own poems and stories of ʻāina and community, to articulate their own truth, and in doing so, to feel the strength, aloha and sense of connection that has been with them all along.”


Follow @hawaiistateartmuseum and @hihumanities for upcoming events with Brandy Nālani McDougall.