Having Our Say: Two Gen X Writers on Their Essential Hawai‘i Books
Acclaimed poet Christy Passion and Kristiana Kahakauwila, author of short stories and a forthcoming novel, celebrate their literary communities and personal favorites.
In the May issue of HONOLULU, which starts landing in subscriber mailboxes in the next few days and goes on the newsstand May 1, we unveil our first-ever list of 50 Essential Hawai‘i Books. Readers naturally will be curious to see the selections. What we can say here is, as might be expected, the list that emerged is weighted toward books that have been around for a while, or by authors who are well-known.
Of course, no list of 50 books about Hawai‘i can be called complete, but what was most obviously missing were titles by more recent generations—a natural outcome of the time it takes for even good books to rise. Here, we attempt to remedy that gap by inviting two Gen X writers, Christy Passion and Kristiana Kahakauwila, whose acclaimed books barely missed the 50, to give a shout-out to books that are particularly resonant from their perspectives.
We do hope you’ll buy some of the books and support local authors and literature. We hope this sparks debate. In fact, if you have something to say about it or don’t see your own favorite on the list, we encourage you to write us at firstname.lastname@example.org or post a comment after the story on honolulumagazine.com. Because any list of great books shouldn’t be a conversation stopper; it should be a great conversation starter.
Christy Passion (left) and Kristiana Kahakauwila.
Christy Passion, poet, author of Still Out of Place and What We Must Remember, has received the Elliot Cades Award for Literature, the Academy of American Poetry Award, the James A. Vaughn Award for Poetry and the Atlanta Review International Merit Award. Of Native Hawaiian descent and from the Islands, she is a critical care nurse. Here are her picks:
Juliet Lee’s Anshu. The original plantation story, gutted, turned inside-out and walks a spiritual journey. Read this and evolve.
Eric Chock’s Last Days Here. Authentic offering of our culture, in our words and through our eyes. On par with Naomi Shihab Nye, or Stephen Dunn. An absolute must for anyone who reads poetry.
Mark Panek’s Hawai‘i. A little too close for comfort. You will recognize everyone in this gritty portrayal of our home, and because of that, won’t put it down. Not for the thin-skinned.
Tyler Miranda’s ‘Ewa Which Way. The ultimate coming-of-age book, both raw and fresh. Should be a mandatory read for all high school students.
Translators Ho‘oulumahiehie and Puakea Noglemeier’s The Epic Tale of Hi‘iakaikapoliopele. Hawaiian mythology showcasing monsters and badass women (and goddesses). Challenging read like Don Quixote, and just as rewarding.
Kekauleleanae‘ole Kawai‘ae‘a’s Kohala Kuamo‘o: Nae‘ole’s Race to Save a King. A children’s book written in ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i alongside an English translation. The story of a warrior and his harrowing quest to save the infant King Kamehameha I. Feel the pride.
Lisa Linn Kanae’s Islands Linked by Ocean. Short story gems when you need something local to put in your brain but don’t have the time for a full-fledged novel. It’s all about the dialogue.
For a good laugh, Lee Cataluna (Folks You Meet in Longs); when I want to get dirty, Chris McKinney (currently it’s Yakudoshi: Age of Calamity); for reflective poetry with a light touch, Eric Paul Shaffer; for spoken word rhythm with serious girl power, Brenda Kwon; for great pidgin, anything Lee Tonouchi—including his Instagram feed.
Finally, if I may be so bold, David Stannard’s Honor Killing plus our own What We Must Remember. Stannard’s brilliance in illuminating the darker side of Hawai‘i comes wrapped in a national murder story; it’s academic without being academic. Then What We Must Remember, for the added heart of poetic voices of the people during that time. Together it’s the Massie Case’s body and soul.”
Kristiana Kahakauwila is the author of the short story collection This is Paradise, which was published in 2013 to praise from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Oprah’s O Magazine, Elle and others. Of Native Hawaiian descent, she was raised in Southern California by her Caucasian mother before rejoining, and being welcomed by, her Island family, a watershed moment reflected in her writing. She is an assistant professor of creative writing at Western Washington University in Bellingham.
1. The Wind Gourd of La‘amaomao by Moses Kuaea Kakuina
Foundational and important as an epic on par with The Odyssey or The Aeneid.
2. On Being Hawaiian by John Dominis Holt
This essay, like Holt’s novel Waimea Summer, is essential. But this one. This one. This one. It breaks and remakes me each time I read it. For every hapa or mixed-race kid (and adult).
3. Proposed Additions by Donovan Kūhiō Colleps
Colleps makes my heart ache with love—for his writing, for his grandfather (and, by extension, mine), and for the ancestral spaces he welcomes me into. Plus the press that did his book, Susan Schultz’s Tinfish Press, publishes my favorite poetry chapbooks by a host of local writers.
4. The Value of Hawai‘i: Knowing the Past, Shaping the Future, edited by Craig Howes and Jon Osorio
Expansive, insightful, drawing on a variety of folks who are at the top of their fields. The Value of Hawai‘i 2 is just as good.
5. Finding Meaning: Kaona and Contemporary Hawaiian Literature by Brandy Nālani McDougall
This book is a game-changer. I’m already seeing the methods McDougall lays out being adopted in Native American and Indigenous (studies) programs across the U.S.
6. Waves of Resistance: Surfing and History in Twentieth-Century Hawai‘i by Isaiah Helekunihi Walker
Killer! Walker has a critical lens. He talks history. He makes you feel the waves and explains why the fight for waves has deep meaning. I recommend you read a chapter, then surf, then read another chapter …
7. The True Story of Kaluaikoolau: As Told by His Wife, Piilani, trans. Francis N. Frazier
Many excellent writers have written about the survivors of Hansen’s Disease and The Colony, but no one tells the story as intimately, as immediately, as Piilani. Hers—and her husband’s—is a story of survival, resistance and love.
8. Ke Ka‘upu Hehi ‘Ale
How does this blog do it? Invite so many voices, so many experiences of Hawai‘i. Transindigenous and transnational, every article makes me see these Islands—and their place in the world—anew.
READ MORE STORIES BY DON WALLACE