Hawai‘i Writers Almanac: Christy Passion
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.
WHO: Christy Passion, poet, critical care nurse.
WHAT: One book of poetry, one poetry collaboration with three other female poets.
WHY: As a nursing student planning to specialize in the intensive care unit, Christy Passion says she went for “the most critical piece: I wanted to know that if a person was dying, could I handle that?” Years later, working a 12-hour shift schedule, she decided to write. “I fell into poetry. Writing poetry is like being in the ICU: that same do or die moment.”
Today, the 49-year-old—who’s “typical poi, part Native Hawaiian, Portuguese, Chinese, Filipino, Spanish, Irish”—is the author of two books and the 2017 winner of the state’s highest honor for literature, the Elliot Cades Award, for Still Out of Place, her first book of poetry.
She is not your typical suburban-raised MFA poet. “We grew up quite poor,” says Passion, who was born in the McCully neighborhood. “But my father told me that nothing separates me from anybody else, you just have to work harder.”
At the University of Hawai‘i she started out pre-med but switched to nursing school, she says, “because I didn’t like math.” She found herself drawn to the critical care world: “very fast-paced, very intense, very detail-oriented.”
Always a reader as a child, “always with a book in my hands,” and a writer of little vignettes that her parents saved and showed off to people, she returned to her love in her late 20s. “Once I had the rent down,” she says, she began to take creative writing classes.
A well-known teacher and published writer, Marie Hara, invited her to join the Bamboo Ridge study group. “She saw how purely I wanted to learn. I was taking classes at UH, at HPU and whatever was there in the community.”
Hara encouraged her to submit to Bamboo Ridge, where her first work was published. Then co-founder Darrell Lum asked her to work on the 35th anniversary issue. “And because I didn’t look like a serial killer they let me into their little community.”
Published in 2016 by Bamboo Ridge Press, Still Out of Place was immediately recognized as a powerful and accomplished work. “I wanted to honor the life of my dad,” she says, “that duality of being in the most beautiful place in the world but being poor. He had a lot of ability but it went unfulfilled.” She then joined three other poets to write a linked series of poems telling the story of the Massey Case.
Passion says she’s only getting started. With the #MeToo movement, she appreciates seeing more opportunity for women. “I’m being shown in a profound way that things can change in my own personal little world.”