Interview with Native Hawaiian Author Kealani Netane

If you rec­og­nize Native Hawaiian/Sāmoan writer Kealani Netane’s name, you’re prob­a­bly a fan of her pop­u­lar book­sta­gram, Lit­tle Pasi­fi­ka Read­ers. Or you might you rec­og­nize her from her thought­ful blog posts at Pacif­ic Islanders in Pub­lish­ing. Now add chil­dren’s book author to her list of pro­fes­sion­al accomplishments.

Her won­der­ful debut pic­ture book, TALA LEARNS TO SIVA (Scholas­tic, 2024) is the sweet­est sto­ry of a child’s desire to dance the tra­di­tion­al Sāmoan taualu­ga just as like grace­ful aunt. Through engag­ing text and beau­ti­ful illus­tra­tions by award-win­ning illus­tra­tor Dung Ho, young read­ers learn, like Tala, that they can do any­thing with prac­tice and patience.

We are thrilled to talk sto­ry with Kealani today.

Alo­ha mai, Kealani! For those read­ers who haven’t met you yet, could you please tell us a lit­tle about yourself? 

Alo­ha! I’m Kealani Netane. I am the author of TALA LEARNS TO SIVA, pub­lished by Scholas­tic. I am Hawai­ian and Samoan. My dad is from ʻUpolu, Sāmoa, and my mom is from Waialua, Oʻahu and Hon­okaʻa, Hawaiʻi. I cur­rent­ly stay home with my three kids though I pre­vi­ous­ly worked in education.

My biggest sup­port­er is my hus­band, Xavier. He is my first cri­tique part­ner and my last before I send a man­u­script to my agent. He’s not a read­er or a writer, but he is Samoan/Tongan so his cul­tur­al per­spec­tive is real­ly helpful.We live in Kapolei, Hawaiʻi.

Where did you grow up? What high school did you grad from?

I was raised in Kailua, Oʻahu until my tween years when we moved to Kapolei. I grad­u­at­ed from Kame­hame­ha-Kapāla­ma in 2008.

Cover-Tala-Learns-to-Siva
Illus­tra­tion @ Dung Ho from Tala Learns to Siva by Kealani Natane (Scholas­tic, 2024)

Con­grat­u­la­tions on your debut pic­ture book! There are not a lot of books for kids by Native Hawai­ian and Pacif­ic Islander writ­ers. Why do you think that is? What do you think we can do the change that?

Thank you! My grand­ma was a great sto­ry­teller. We would holo­ho­lo around the island and she’d tell fan­tas­tic sto­ries about every area, but she was rarely inter­est­ed in writ­ing those sto­ries down. For most of our culture’s exis­tence, there wasn’t a need for books because we passed things down oral­ly. As our world changed, books became more impor­tant. Now there is a need for children’s books by Pacif­ic Islander writ­ers. There are many efforts by local orga­ni­za­tions to cre­ate books for our chil­dren, and there is a small but grow­ing com­mu­ni­ty of Pacif­ic Islanders in U.S. tra­di­tion­al pub­lish­ing. Even with all the cur­rent work being done, there is room for much more.

The CCBC found that only .002% of the books pub­lished in 2021 that they received were by Pacif­ic Islanders (Link). That num­ber doesn’t include the books pub­lished local­ly, only nation­al­ly. My biggest goal for my writ­ing and my social media is for our chil­dren to have acces­si­ble books that mir­ror their life. Dr. Rudine Sims Bish­op stat­ed, “When chil­dren can­not find them­selves in the books they read…they learn a pow­er­ful les­son about how they are deval­ued in the soci­ety of which they are a part” (Link). In order for there to be more books by, about, and for Pacif­ic Islander chil­dren, there needs to be more Pacif­ic Islanders in every sec­tor of the pub­lish­ing world. We should all be help­ing to lift and build oth­ers up to ensure that our chil­dren have access to our stories.

I’m real­ly excit­ed about the grow­ing num­ber of Māori and Pasi­fi­ka authors in Aotearoa. The work they are doing there is tru­ly inspir­ing. I’m hop­ing there will be more upcom­ing Pacif­ic Islander authors in the U.S., espe­cial­ly those of Microne­sian and Melane­sian descent. Many peo­ple have reached out to me ask­ing specif­i­cal­ly for books from those com­mu­ni­ties. We def­i­nite­ly need more books for all of Oceania.

We agree! So what inspired you to choose Sāmoan dance for your debut novel?

I am a dancer. I grew up danc­ing hula, but I always loved watch­ing old­er girls dance the taualu­ga. I thought they were the most beau­ti­ful and grace­ful dancers. As I grew old­er, I learned how to dance the Samoan siva and slow­ly came to under­stand the mean­ing behind the dance. In some ways, this pic­ture book is a reflec­tion of my own life. And in oth­er ways, it’s reflec­tive of how I want to pass on this tra­di­tion­al knowl­edge to my own children.

Illus­tra­tion @ Dung Ho from Tala Learns to Siva by Kealani Natane (Scholas­tic, 2024)

What beliefs are your work challenging?

TALA LEARNS TO SIVA is chal­leng­ing the belief some peo­ple that Poly­ne­sian dances are pure­ly for their enter­tain­ment. I do want to push back on the tourist-cen­tric ideas peo­ple have about our islands and cul­tures. I want our chil­dren to see that their cul­ture is for them first.

You also run a pop­u­lar book­sta­gram. When did you start Lit­tle Pasi­fi­ka Read­ers and why? What are your goals? What inspires you to write your posts and articles?

I start­ed my book­sta­gram, Lit­tle Pasi­fi­ka Read­ers, in ear­ly 2021. When I start­ed writ­ing in 2020, I col­lect­ed resources on Pacif­ic Islander children’s lit­er­a­ture. It was dif­fi­cult to find books, and I imag­ined oth­ers also had a hard time, so I cre­at­ed an avenue to share those resources. I was already fol­low­ing a few oth­er Pasi­fi­ka book­sta­grams and found a com­mu­ni­ty with them when I cre­at­ed my own.

My pre­vail­ing require­ment for post­ing a book is that the book has to be writ­ten or illus­trat­ed by a Pacif­ic Islander. There are many books about us, but not as many books by us. My next require­ment is that the book has to be acces­si­ble, mean­ing the book either needs to be avail­able at pub­lic libraries or there needs to be a web­site where peo­ple can eas­i­ly pur­chase the book.

What are your hopes and dreams for the year and beyond in terms of your social media/writing career and what you would like to see pub­lished in the future?

I have so many book and career ideas that I don’t have the time to do all of them, so I have to pick and choose which projects I want to take on. My book­sta­gram account is some­thing fun that I do on the side, and my focus with that is to con­tin­ue to share resources for peo­ple to find Pacif­ic Islander authored children’s books. I don’t keep up with it as much as I’d like because my focus is more on Pacif­ic Islanders in Pub­lish­ing and the work I do with Keala Kendall and Manuia Hen­rich. We are work­ing on cre­at­ing devel­op­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties for Pacif­ic Islander writ­ers and con­tin­u­ing to share new book releases.

For my writ­ing, I hope to fin­ish the edits of a pic­ture book I’m work­ing on, and then I hope to keep work­ing on my mid­dle grade and young adult projects. I don’t know if I’ll fin­ish those projects this year, but hope­ful­ly they will be ready for sub­mis­sion in the next cou­ple of years. I also have oth­er pic­ture book ideas lin­ger­ing on my com­put­er that I’m unsure about, but I hope to find ways for them to work.

As for projects out­side of my own, I’d love to see more Pacif­ic Islander authored books in all gen­res, espe­cial­ly adult romance and con­tem­po­rary mid­dle grade and young adult.

Illus­tra­tion @ Dung Ho from Tala Learns to Siva by Kealani Natane (Scholas­tic, 2024)

Can you share a bit about what youʻre work­ing on next?

I have anoth­er pic­ture book project that I’m look­ing for­ward to announc­ing soon. I am also work­ing on a mid­dle grade nov­el and a young adult nov­el. Both of those projects are still in the ear­ly phas­es, so it’ll be many years before they will be ready for publication.

What do you enjoy most about writ­ing, espe­cial­ly for kids? What are some of your great­est challenges?

What I love most about writ­ing for kids is that kids are very glued into the specifics. When writ­ing, I have to look at things from the mind of a child and chil­dren notice every­thing so I have to notice every­thing. Chil­dren are fas­ci­nat­ed by the things adults often take for grant­ed, so writ­ing children’s books helps me slow down and appre­ci­ate life a bit more.

The great­est chal­lenge when writ­ing pic­ture books is being able to tell an entire sto­ry arc in very lit­tle words. We also have to leave space for the illus­tra­tor to tell their sto­ry. So it’s a bal­anc­ing act.

What kinds of books do you enjoy read­ing? Any favorites?

I love all kinds of books. I read across age groups and gen­res. There are a bunch of books I’ve recent­ly read and enjoyed. In the pic­ture book cat­e­go­ry, I loved Find­ing Papa by Angela Pham Krans and We Who Pro­duce Pearls: An Anthem for Asian Amer­i­ca by Joan­na Ho. I real­ly enjoyed the mid­dle grade nov­el, Mani Semi­l­la Finds Her Quet­zal Voice by Anna Lapera. I felt like a proud aun­ty read­ing Mani’s fem­i­nism jour­ney. My favorite young adult book so far this year is Drag­on­fruit by Maki­ia Luci­er. The sto­ry is so heart­warm­ing and adventurous.

In the adult cat­e­go­ry, I love read­ing romance and genre fic­tion. My favorite romance authors right now are Kennedy Ryan and Tia Williams. My favorite genre fic­tion book is Evil Eye by Etaf Rum.

I also love non-fic­tion books, espe­cial­ly books focused on Indige­nous knowl­edge like Braid­ing Sweet­grass by Robin Wall Kim­mer­er and social jus­tice like Angela Davis’ Free­dom is a Con­stant Strug­gle. I’ve been get­ting into more his­tor­i­cal books, and I learned so much from Alo­ha, Betrayed by Noe­noe Sil­va and The Hun­dred Year Walk: An Armen­ian Odyssey by Dawn Anahid Mac­K­een. I’ve also been slow­ly read­ing more poet­ry books, and my favorite right now is ‘Āina Hānau/Birth Land by Brandy Nālani McDougall. I tru­ly feel seen by her poems.

As you can prob­a­bly tell, I love read­ing, and I try to read as much as I can although I don’t near­ly have enough time to do so. I do keep a run­ning list on my phone of books I want to read.

What advice would you give an aspir­ing author/blogger?

My advice for aspir­ing writ­ers is to observe, learn, write, edit, seek feed­back, and edit more. Observe your­self. Observe those around you. Learn from our chants, songs, leg­ends. Learn from your own fam­i­ly his­to­ry. Learn from what has already been writ­ten. Learn from oth­er writ­ers. Then, write. There’s only so much we can do in our heads. As the ʻōle­lo noʻeau tells us, ma ka hana ka ʻike. We learn best when we actu­al­ly write. Next, find a writ­ing com­mu­ni­ty. They will help with feed­back. And edit, edit, edit. Once every­thing is ready, either self-pub­lish or query agents/publishers. Also, you don’t have to write some­thing cul­tur­al. Write what­ev­er you want.

Are you active on social media? How can read­ers find out more about you and your work?

My web­site is kealaninetane.com. I also write the blog posts for Pacif­ic Islanders in Pub­lish­ing. Our blog posts are focused on show­cas­ing the lat­est pub­lished books by Pacif­ic Islanders and help­ing Pacif­ic Islanders nav­i­gate the pub­lish­ing industry. 

Maha­lo nui, Kealani, for shar­ing your man­aʻo with us and for the good work you’re going to encour­age more Pacif­ic Islander cre­ators. We look for­ward to see­ing more from you! To learn more about Kealani Netane, please vis­it her web­site, Kealani Netane.com, her blog posts at Pacif­ic Islanders in Pub­lish­ing, and her book­sta­gram, Lit­tle Pasi­fi­ka Read­ers.

Images cour­tesy of Kealani Netane.

Interview with Author/Illustrator Yuko Green

Yuko-green

Yuko-greenPick up any pop­u­lar chil­dren’s book in Hawai’i, and chances are that it is illus­trat­ed by Yuko Green. The award-win­ning author/illustrator of dozens of chil­dren’s pic­ture and activ­i­ty books, Yuko’s mixed-media art­work is unmis­tak­able with its vibrant col­ors and delight­ful sub­jects that chil­dren love. Her work cel­e­brates the peo­ple, nature, and tra­di­tions of our islands.

We are so pleased to talk sto­ry with Yuko today.

Alo­ha, Yuko, and wel­come! For those who havenʻt met you yet, could you please tell us a lit­tle about yourself?

Alo­ha mai kāk­ou! I am an illus­tra­tor and author of children’s books, liv­ing on the Big Island of Hawaiʻi. I am grate­ful to have had oppor­tu­ni­ties to illus­trate and/or writ­ten more than forty children’s books and many chil­drenʻs activ­i­ty books, with Hawai­ian themes since 1989. I am also an art teacher for children.

I moved to Hawaiʻi from Japan in 1987. I have lived in Hawaiʻi more than 35 years, so I call Hawaiʻi my home now and like to call myself kamaʻāina 🙂

Your art is so expres­sive and col­or­ful. If you had to choose a favorite project, which would it be and why?

Maha­lo for your kind words!

I love to cre­ate illus­tra­tion with an array of col­ors I see every­day in Hawaiʻi, and these vibrant and mul­ti­col­ored illus­tra­tion has become my sig­na­ture style. For my art, I use water­col­or, col­lage, and dig­i­tal mixed media to cre­ate illus­tra­tions. Work­ing with tex­tu­al mixed media (tra­di­tion­al­ly or dig­i­tal­ly) adds visu­al inter­est to my illus­tra­tions, so mixed media col­lage is my favorite tech­nique I use at this moment, and I have been using this tech­nique for most of my recent books, includ­ing my lat­est children’s book Tūtū’s Secret writ­ten by Glo­ria Itman Blum.

I was illus­trat­ing this book when our first grand­daugh­ter was born, and since this sto­ry was about the rela­tion­ship between tūtū and grand­daugh­ter, the sto­ry res­onat­ed with me. This book also allowed me to grow as an illus­tra­tor, learn­ing to add the details dig­i­tal­ly to my large forms of col­lage and find­ing the bal­ance of those two ele­ments. So this book turned out to be my favorite project.

Tutus-secret
Illus­tra­tion @ Yuko Green from Tūtūʻs Secret by Glo­ria Itman Blum (Island Her­itage, 2023)

What was the jour­ney like to becom­ing an artist? Did you always knew you could cre­ate art?

As long as I remem­ber, my dream was to illus­trate chil­dren’s books, from my young age. That dream came true when God brought me to Hawaiʻi. In my ear­ly career, I was giv­en the oppor­tu­ni­ty to illus­trate a text­book by Bess Press in 1989 and illus­trat­ed and designed many island prod­ucts by Island Her­itage Pub­lish­ers. I also illus­trat­ed many cul­tur­al paper dolls for mag­a­zines and a pub­lish­er on the con­ti­nent, Dover Pub­li­ca­tions, for about ten years.

Then from around 1996 through 2000, I illus­trat­ed a series of Hawai­ian theme edu­ca­tion­al col­or­ing books, includ­ing Hawai­ian Plants and Ani­mals and Exot­ic Flow­ers for artists (76 pages), for Dover. To accom­plish the task, I did inten­sive research and study, and that knowl­edge became my foun­da­tion for illus­trat­ing Hawai­ian chil­drenʻs books. I give thanks to God how He has guid­ed my illus­trat­ing career, which I have nev­er dreamed I’d have when I first land­ed on the Big Island.

I also can­not thank enough for the rela­tion­ship I have with Island Her­itage since my first encounter in 1993 design­ing island prod­ucts and my first book in 1997. I illus­trat­ed many chil­drenʻs books, board books, paper doll books, and col­or­ing and activ­i­ty books, and we con­tin­ue to work to cre­ate for island kei­ki to this day. One of the longest sell­ing books I illus­trat­ed with them, Humu: The Lit­tle Fish Who Wished Away His Col­ors, is 23 years old now! The author Kim­ber­ly A. Jack­son and I are still good friend, and we are learn­ing ʻōle­lo Hawaiʻi, Hawai­ian lan­guage, togeth­er now.

What do you enjoy most about cre­at­ing art? 

When I see kei­ki read­ing my books in the library or oth­er pub­lic places, or when moms of my art class stu­dents tells me they used to read my books when they were young, I feel so hum­bled and grate­ful, and feel reward­ed for my hard work.

Song-for-the-colors
Illus­tra­tion @ Yuko Green from A Song for the Col­ors and Flow­ers of Hawaiʻi by Kawaika­puokalani Hewett (Island Her­itage, 2019)

Who would you say are your biggest supporters?

My fam­i­ly. My two daugh­ters have seen their mom illus­trat­ing chil­dren’s books from their young age, and have been my best crit­ics, giv­ing me hon­est and valu­able feedback.

My hus­band, Stephen, has always been there for me in every way to encour­age me and sup­port me, whether to assist me to decide on the career path or to decide between this col­or or that col­or for the keik­i’s dress on a page. He was born and raised in Hawaiʻi, with knowl­edge and love for Hawaiʻi’s nature and cul­ture, that has giv­en me tremen­dous insight to all aspects of island themes. He always believe in me, even when I lose con­fi­dence, and so I know his faith in me made me to be the artist I am today.

Can you share a bit of your cur­rent work?

Being a Japan­ese native, I have always want­ed to work for Japan­ese pub­lish­ers one day. Since 2017, I have illus­trat­ed two col­or­ing books for a Japan­ese Chris­t­ian pub­lish­er, Olives Press, and cur­rent­ly am work­ing on the third one.

I am also work­ing on the 5th col­or­ing book with a local orga­ni­za­tion, Kei­ki Heroes, on local kei­ki char­ac­ters I devel­oped with com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers when COVID start­ed. This project led me to work with sev­er­al non-prof­it orga­ni­za­tions in Hawaiʻi to help and edu­cate kei­ki on var­i­ous issues. I am very grate­ful that I can help these caus­es through my art. 

What are your hopes and dreams for the year and beyond in terms of your artis­tic career and what you would like to see pub­lished in the future?

As much as I love cre­at­ing and illus­trat­ing books, I enjoy hav­ing real rela­tion­ships with my young read­ers. So my hopes and dreams for the year to come is to devel­op rela­tion­ships in my com­mu­ni­ty and on the Big Island, and in Hawaiʻi at large, to reach out and doing art with chil­dren. My on-going goal is to do more kei­ki art work­shops and teach art in the classroom.

I also have this dream of cre­at­ing a book illus­trat­ed with chil­dren’s art, and it looks like it will hap­pen soon thanks to a work­shop I offered on “Col­or­ing Book Cre­ation” for ages 13–18 at East Hawaiʻi Cul­tur­al Cen­ter in Hilo. The work­shop theme is “Māla­ma ʻāi­na”, about endan­gered ani­mals and plants of Hawaiʻi and how kids can help to pro­tect them. 

Honu-honu-where-are-you
Illus­tra­tion @ Yuoko Green from Honu, Honu, Where are You? by Tam­my Paikai (Island Her­itage, 2016)

Where do you get your inspirations?

Hawaiʻi’s rich and diverse cul­ture, his­to­ry and nature have become my pri­ma­ry sub­ject and inspi­ra­tion for cre­at­ing my chil­dren’s books. Over the years, my alo­ha for the ʻāi­na has grown deeply in me and is reflect­ed in my books for kei­ki, whether in vivid sto­ries of tra­di­tions of Hawaiʻi or illus­tra­tions fea­tur­ing many native plants and animals.

In addi­tion to books, what oth­er kinds of art do you do?

Besides illus­trat­ing and writ­ing children’s books, I am also an art edu­ca­tor. Cur­rent­ly, I enjoy teach­ing in the K‑5 art pro­gram at Waimea Ele­men­tary School. Teach­ing young chil­dren is my oth­er pas­sion, and I feel so grate­ful that I can share our beau­ti­ful world through art with them.

What advice would you give an aspir­ing illustrator?

Besides improv­ing your artis­tic skills, know­ing who you are can help you nav­i­gate your illus­trat­ing career. For exam­ple, when I just start­ed, I con­cen­trat­ed on cre­at­ing my paper doll books. It’s such a niche mar­ket, but it was a good deci­sion for me to focus on that niche because I real­ly enjoyed doing it and not many peo­ple was doing it at the time. Over time, my illus­tra­tion skills improved because I was cre­at­ing lots of art.

Anoth­er advice is to start local­ly instead of tar­get­ing big mar­kets and com­pet­ing with a large group of artists. When you start local­ly, such as on local mag­a­zines, newslet­ters, and busi­ness­es, you start to devel­op your style. You also learn about the illus­trat­ing busi­ness as you hone your skills. You become more expe­ri­enced, and your port­fo­lio grows.

Are you active on social media? Do your read­ers con­tact you? What do they say?

My web­site is www.yukogreen.com, and my Instra­gram account is @yukogreen.art. I also always appre­ci­ate hear­ing from my read­ers. I have received such nice mes­sages from teach­ers, par­ents, and grand­par­ents. I read and respond to all of them, even just to say hello. 🙂

Maha­lo, Yuko, for talk­ing sto­ry with us! We wish you all the suc­cess in the world! To learn more about Yuko Green and her books, please vis­it her web­site or at Insta­gram

Images cour­tesy of Yuko Green.

Interview with Native Hawaiian/Guamanian Author Catherine Payne

Catherine-Payne

Native Hawaiian/Guamanian author Cather­ine Payne lives by the ancient Chamor­roCatherine-Payne val­ue of inafaʻ maolek, or mak­ing things right. An impor­tant aspect of inafaʻ maolek is that the whole com­mu­ni­ty, not just the nuclear fam­i­ly, is respon­si­ble for rais­ing healthy, hap­py chil­dren. Pic­ture books, says the author of five books for kids, can be key to open­ing con­ver­sa­tions between chil­dren and grown-ups.

We cer­tain­ly agree. Wel­come, Cathy, to our talk story! 

Alo­ha and håfa adai! Before we begin, please allow me to explain a lit­tle about our language.

The CHamoru Lan­guage Com­mis­sion on Guam decid­ed to use the CHamoru spelling for its orthog­ra­phy, but some peo­ple still use the Chamor­ro spelling. The Chamor­ro peo­ple in the Com­mon­wealth of the North­ern Mar­i­ana Islands still use the Chamor­ro spelling. To avoid the debate, I used CHamoru/Chamorro in my answers.

Since I’m mixed race but born and raised on Guam, I pre­fer to be called Guamanian.

Maha­lo for that, Cathy. For those who haven’t met you yet, please tell us a lit­tle about yourself. 

My moth­er is from Oahu, and my father is from Guam. I was born and raised on Guam where I ate CHamoru/Chamorro food as much as I could! I grad­u­at­ed from the Acad­e­my of Our Lady of Guam. My biggest sup­port­er was my mater­nal grand­fa­ther, who was from Oahu. He passed away when I was in high school, but his sup­port still means a lot to me.

Why did you become author? Have you always want­ed to be an author?

I’ve loved writ­ing since I could grip a pen­cil, but I did­n’t try children’s lit­er­a­ture until about a decade ago. There are so many kinds of writ­ing that it took me a while to fig­ure out that I should con­sid­er children’s literature.

Chepchop-Unai
Chep­chop Unai by Cather­ine Payne (Uni­ver­si­ty of Guam Press, 2018))

What do you enjoy most about writ­ing, espe­cial­ly for kids? What are some of your great­est challenges?

I love read­ing my books to chil­dren and see­ing their reac­tions! My great­est chal­lenge is find­ing time to grow as a writer. I’m busy as an Eng­lish instruc­tor and tutor, but I read craft books and watch craft webi­na­rs when I can.

What is your writ­ing process like?

I spend a lot of time think­ing and talk­ing about sto­ry ideas before draft­ing. I usu­al­ly revise drafts count­less times.

Three of your books are co-authored by your broth­er, John Payne. What is it like to work with a fam­i­ly mem­ber? What strengths do each of you bring to a project?

I like work­ing with my broth­er to devel­op sto­ries. He brings his imag­i­na­tion; I bring my analy­sis. While he comes up with new ideas, I fol­low indus­try stan­dards for plotting.

Please tell us about Chep­chop Unai. What inspired you to write that sto­ry? Who inspired your main char­ac­ters? What do you like best about them?

I’ve always want­ed to write about Guam because it’s my home. Chep­chop Unai is writ­ten most­ly in Eng­lish, but it has a sprin­kling of CHamoru/Chamorro words. It reflects the way I speak. My first lan­guage is Eng­lish, but I use CHamoru/Chamorro words to express cer­tain ideas. My fam­i­ly inspired my main char­ac­ters because the sto­ry depicts a close rela­tion­ship between a child and his grand­par­ents. I like show­ing how grand­par­ents are impor­tant in children’s lives.

Mole-and-Tell
Mole and Tell by Cather­ine and John Payne (Sci­ence Nat­u­ral­ly, 2023)

Mole and Tell is your STEM pic­ture book. Itʻs quite dif­fer­ent from your oth­er titles. What was the jour­ney like to write that book? What was your favorite part of writ­ing your books? What was most challenging?

Yes, I ven­tured out­side my com­fort zone to write a sci­ence book like Mole and Tell. One of my favorite parts of the process was hav­ing inci­den­tal diver­si­ty. It fea­tures a Native Hawai­ian girl named Leilani! The most chal­leng­ing part was mak­ing sci­en­tif­ic con­cepts under­stand­able and engag­ing at the same time.

Youʻve also writ­ten two board books for younger kids, Ten Lit­tle Surfers in Hawaiʻi and These Lit­tle Kit­tens in Hawaiʻi. What inspired you to write those books? How did those books come about? What did you enjoy about writ­ing them? 

I’ve always want­ed to write about Hawaiʻi because I love vis­it­ing there. After writ­ing and revis­ing sto­ries set in Hawaiʻi, I sent them to a pub­lish­er. Luck­i­ly, they’ve done well.

With­out giv­ing too much away, what is I Lalai i Bilem­bao­tuyuan about? Can you talk about your main char­ac­ter? What char­ac­ter­is­tics do you love about her? 

I Lalai i Bilem­bao­tuyan is a pic­ture book about a girl learn­ing how to play the bilem­bao­tuyan, a CHamoru musi­cal instru­ment, from her grand­fa­ther. At the same time, she learns how to cope with antic­i­pa­to­ry grief. 

Through her curios­i­ty, Lalai finds her pas­sion for play­ing the bilem­bao­tuyan. I love Lalai’s curios­i­ty and her desire to learn. It’s impor­tant for chil­dren to explore and try things to find their inter­ests and passions. 

I-Lalai-i-Bilembaotuyan
I Lalai i Bilem­bao­tuyan by Cather­ine Payne and John Payne (Uni­ver­si­ty of Guam Press, 2022)

Do you have any expe­ri­ences as a Gua­man­ian writer that you might share with our read­ers? What would you like to see change in the indus­try regard­ing the accep­tance of BIPOC creators? 

The U.S. book indus­try focus­es on West­ern sto­ry struc­tures like Freytag’s Pyra­mid, but fol­low­ing that mod­el doesn’t come nat­u­ral­ly to me. I hope that the indus­try becomes more open to alter­na­tive nar­ra­tive structures.

What beliefs do you think your work challenging?

I’ve met peo­ple who didn’t think it was pos­si­ble to have a lit­er­ary career while liv­ing on Guam. Thanks to the inter­net, I’ve joined online writ­ing com­mu­ni­ties, tak­en class­es, and col­lab­o­rat­ed with pub­lish­ers beyond Guam’s shores. Liv­ing on Guam hasn’t hin­dered me.

What are your hopes and dreams for the year and beyond in terms of your pub­lish­ing career and what you would like to see pub­lished in the future?

I’m hav­ing fun writ­ing more sci­ence pic­ture books, and I’m also learn­ing how to write chap­ter books and mid­dle-grade novels.

What advice would you give an aspir­ing writer?

Please don’t let your loca­tion lim­it you. You can thrive even if you live on an island in Typhoon Alley like Guam. Sure, storms make life hard­er, but they run out of rain.

As you know, we always end our inter­views with niele ques­tions … Is there a fun fact youʻd like to share about your­self with young readers?

When I was a lit­tle girl, I want­ed a name like Leilani, so I gave a char­ac­ter in Mole and Tell that name.

What kinds of books do you enjoy read­ing? Any favorites?

I enjoy read­ing short sto­ries with plot twists like Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder.”

Who is your hero?

I admire Queen Liliʻuokalani’s lead­er­ship and artistry. She is a good role mod­el for females.

She’s my hero, too. What advice would you give your younger self?

It’s ok to not know what you want to be when you grow up. I even­tu­al­ly found my pur­pose in life after tak­ing paths with dead ends.

Good advice, for sure. Maha­lo, Cathy, for talk­ing sto­ry with us! To learn more about Cathy, vis­it her on Insta­gram and lis­ten to her watch her inter­view with Read with Rosa on YouTube. 

Images cour­tesy of Cather­ine Payne.

Interview with Native Hawaiian Author Megan Kamalei Kakimoto

Megan-Kamalei-Kakimoto

Native Hawai­ian author Megan Kamalei Kaki­mo­to is a rare lit­er­ary gem: aMegan-Kamalei-Kakimoto sto­ry­teller of YA (young adult) and adult sub­ject mat­ter that is authen­ti­cal­ly root­ed in Native Hawai­ian life experiences.

Her USA Today Nation­al Best­seller, Every Drop is a Man’s Night­mare, is a short sto­ry col­lec­tion that review­ers describe as “power­ful com­ing-of-age sto­ries that prove it is pos­si­ble to be many things, all the time, all at once” (Author Amy Hempel), “rich and wise, hum­ming with con­fi­dence” (New York Times Book Review), and “a blaz­ing, bod­i­ly, rau­cous jour­ney through con­tem­po­rary Hawai­ian iden­ti­ty and wom­an­hood” (Blooms­bury Publishing) 

We are so pleased to talk sto­ry with Megan today.

Alo­ha kaua e Megan. Con­grat­u­la­tions on your new book! For those who haven’t met you, please tell us a lit­tle about yourself?

Maha­lo nui! My name is Megan Kamalei Kaki­mo­to, and I’m a Japan­ese and Native Hawai­ian writer liv­ing in Hon­olu­lu. I recent­ly received my MFA at the Mich­en­er Cen­ter for Writ­ers, where I stud­ied both fic­tion and screen­writ­ing. Aside from my life­long pas­sion for writ­ing and read­ing, I’m also a run­ner, a sta­tion­ary cycling enthu­si­ast, and a proud pet mom to a kolo­he dog and queen-of-the-house cat.

Where did you grow up? What high school did you grad from? 

I grew up in Maki­ki and grad­u­at­ed from Kame­hame­ha Schools Kapālama

Me, too! Go War­riors! Can you share a bit of your upcom­ing short sto­ry col­lec­tion, Every Drop is a Manʻs Night­mare? With­out giv­ing too much away, what is it about? 

Every Drop is a Manʻs Night­mare is a col­lec­tion of 11 sto­ries cen­ter­ing native Hawai­ian and hapa iden­ti­ty, female sex­u­al­i­ty, local super­sti­tions, and the last­ing wounds of col­o­niza­tion. Many of the sto­ries lean into the spec­u­la­tive, and at their heart are unique­ly Hawai­ian expe­ri­ences that play out in a con­tem­po­rary landscape.

Every-drop-is-a-mans-nightmare
Cov­er, Every Drop is a Man’s Night­mare by Megan Kamalei Kaki­mo­to (Blooms­bury, 2023)

What inspired you to write these sto­ries? Is there any par­tic­u­lar sto­ry that speaks to you? 

I’ve always loved writ­ing short sto­ries and liv­ing in their world of brevi­ty and sub­tle­ty. These sto­ries in par­tic­u­lar came to me over a long peri­od of time (the first sto­ry I began around 2015, I believe) and emerged out of a love and admi­ra­tion of our Hawai­ian com­mu­ni­ty and par­tic­u­lar­ly the mana and feroc­i­ty of our women.

In terms of sto­ries that speak to me, I’d say “The Love and Decline of the Corpse Flower” has a spe­cial place in my heart, in that it came to me almost ful­ly formed. I felt an instant affin­i­ty for the women in this piece, and knew right away I want­ed to do right by them.

I love that sto­ry, too. What was your favorite part of writ­ing your col­lec­tion? What was most challenging? 

My favorite part of writ­ing this col­lec­tion is also my favorite part of writ­ing sto­ries in general—I love liv­ing in the lan­guage and tak­ing the time to play with my sen­tences. Usu­al­ly on the line lev­el is where char­ac­ters first emerge for me, so see­ing how these women slow­ly start­ed to reveal them­selves in the collection’s many sto­ries was such a pleasure.

The biggest chal­lenge I faced was more of an inter­nal strug­gle in that for many months I feared how these sto­ries would be received by kāna­ka read­ers. I so bad­ly want to make native Hawai­ian read­ers proud, which cre­ates a twofold emo­tion­al response for me, in that I also have lots of anx­i­ety around dis­ap­point­ing them. While I know there’s no uni­ver­sal or mono­lith­ic Hawai­ian expe­ri­ence, I couldn’t help but feel par­a­lyzed by the fear that the expe­ri­ences I was writ­ing into through these sto­ries sim­ply weren’t valid, and this brought a lot of pres­sures to sto­ries that were still in their infan­cy. I real­ly had to work through this fear for a while, and some­times it still creeps up.

Oh, yes, I under­stand the pres­sure. What char­ac­ter­is­tics do you love best about the pro­tag­o­nists in Every Drop? Are they mod­eled after spe­cif­ic people?

I just love messy women and see­ing them be messy on the page! I also real­ly admire when char­ac­ters in fic­tion are afford­ed the full range of their human­i­ty, which I tried to do for the women in Every Drop. While none of the women are mod­eled after spe­cif­ic peo­ple, there are so many strong, resilient, messy women among my friends, fam­i­ly, and com­mu­ni­ty who I’m sure have seeped into these char­ac­ters with or with­out my knowledge.

What was the jour­ney to get­ting Every Drop pub­lished like? How long did it take to write your book? 

It’s strange — the jour­ney feels both incred­i­bly long and very com­pressed simul­ta­ne­ous­ly! There’s a pret­ty wide range in terms of when these sto­ries came to be; I began a few of them as ear­ly as 2015, while one I wrote as recent­ly as 2021. I had been nurs­ing the major­i­ty of the book’s sto­ries for many years before I was able to con­ceive of them as a col­lec­tion. Then COVID hit, I began my MFA at the Mich­en­er Cen­ter for Writ­ers remote­ly and real­ly got to work on curat­ing a col­lec­tion and tak­ing it very seri­ous­ly. I signed with my agent Iwalani Kim in April 2021, after which we spent over six months revis­ing and pol­ish­ing the sto­ries before she went out on sub­mis­sion. The book sold at auc­tion fair­ly quick­ly after that.

Why did you become author? Have you always want­ed to be an author?

Yes, it’s the only thing I’ve ever want­ed to be and hon­est­ly like­ly one of the only things I’m good at! In all seri­ous­ness, I’ve tak­en art­mak­ing seri­ous­ly since I was a child and always knew I want­ed to do some­thing in the lit­er­ary space. For a while, I dreamed of becom­ing a jour­nal­ist, then a nov­el­ist. Read­ing wide­ly and being exposed to so many incred­i­bly gift­ed authors was what pro­pelled for­ward my pas­sion to become an author myself.

What do you enjoy most about writ­ing? What are some of your great­est challenges? 

I love the play­ful and gen­er­a­tive space of start­ing a sto­ry. Before any pres­sure is put on it to become the thing it wants to be, there exists a sense of end­less pos­si­bil­i­ty that just thrills me. I think one of my great­est chal­lenges is learn­ing when to end some­thing. I have a ten­den­cy to over­write (which is why I also take so much time with the revi­sion stage), and it can be hard for me to see an end­ing clear­ly because I often just want to keep going with a char­ac­ter, a world, an atmos­phere, etc.

What are your hopes and dreams for the year and beyond in terms of your pub­lish­ing career and what you would like to see pub­lished in the future? Can you share a bit about what youre work­ing on next?

I would love to see the sto­ry col­lec­tion wel­comed into the larg­er lit­er­ary land­scape, par­tic­u­lar­ly because there are so few works being pub­lished on a large scale by native Hawai­ian authors. There are plen­ty of books writ­ten about Hawaiʻi and Hawai­ians, but few have been penned by Hawai­ian authors, and it’s real­ly impor­tant for me to cham­pi­on Indige­nous writ­ers and their work.

In terms of future projects, I’m on con­tract with Blooms­bury (my pub­lish­er) for my first nov­el. It’s ten­ta­tive­ly titled Blood­sick, and while I won’t give too much away, I can share the book is invest­ed in the top­ics of moth­er­hood, men­stru­a­tion, and anxiety.

What beliefs are your work challenging? 

One of the beliefs I hope my work chal­lenges is the afore­men­tioned idea of a mono­lith­ic Hawai­ian expe­ri­ence that stems from a lack of rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Hawai­ian expe­ri­ences in con­tem­po­rary lit­er­a­ture. I also hope to push against the idea that Indige­nous char­ac­ters in fic­tion should be rep­re­sent­ed well and admirably—this expec­ta­tion ends up strip­ping them of so much of their human­i­ty. Instead, I want­ed these sto­ries to cham­pi­on char­ac­ters who made bad deci­sions and said the wrong things—and were ulti­mate­ly still capa­ble of receiv­ing and return­ing love.

What advice would you give an aspir­ing writer?

Take plea­sure in the work. It’s easy for writ­ers to aspire to pub­lic­i­ty and rave reviews and awards, but no exter­nal recog­ni­tion can com­pare to the plea­sures of a ful­ly real­ized sto­ry. A writ­ing career also takes a lot of grit, per­sis­tence, and patience, so it’s impor­tant for you to locate your love and inspi­ra­tion first and fore­most in the work itself.

What’s your online pres­ence like? Do your read­ers con­tact you? What do they say? 

I have a hum­ble online pres­ence, most­ly in the form of my web­site and Insta­gram. A few read­ers have con­tact­ed me with over­whelm­ing­ly kind things to say about the col­lec­tion, which tru­ly means the world to me. When the read­ers in ques­tion are kāna­ka, my heart absolute­ly soars. 

And now a few niele ques­tions, if you’d like to answer. Who is your biggest supporter?

My par­ents are my biggest, longest run­ning sup­port­ers, with­out ques­tion. My part­ner Van has also been in my cor­ner since day one.

Is there a fun fact youʻd like to share about your­self with readers?

Since book pro­mo­tion began, I’ve become obsessed with tak­ing sta­tion­ary rhyth­mic cycling class­es as a stress relief and now can­not imag­ine my life with­out it!

What kinds of sto­ries do you enjoy read­ing? Any favorites?

I love sto­ries that yield deep insights into what it means to be human and in a body. I also grav­i­tate toward sto­ries that sub­vert my expec­ta­tions, are play­ful on the line lev­el, and demand an atten­tion to the lan­guage, some­times so much so that I must return to them again and again. Just a few sto­ry col­lec­tions that stand out to me: The Vis­it­ing Priv­i­lege (and espe­cial­ly “Hon­ored Guest”) by Joy Williams, Sab­ri­na & Cori­na by Kali Fajar­do-Ans­tine, Milk Blood Heat by Dantiel W. Moniz, Sing to It by Amy Hempel, and most recent­ly The Sor­rows of Oth­ers by Ada Zhang.

This has been so fun! Maha­lo nui, Megan, for talk­ing sto­ry and shar­ing your man­a’o with us. Our best wish­es always for your con­tin­ued suc­cess! To learn more about Megan and to read more of her work, vis­it her web­site and fol­low her on Insta­gram.

Images cour­tesy of Megan Kamalei Kakimoto

Interview with Native Hawaiian Filmmaker Keoni Kealoha Alvarez

Keoni-Alvarez

Keoni-AlvarezNative Hawai­ian film­mak­er Keoni Kealo­ha Alvarez is a man of many tal­ents and inter­ests. He is a direc­tor, pro­duc­er, teacher, and author, and most of all, a storyteller.

We are pleased to wel­come Keoni to our blog today as the first post of 2024.

What inspired you to go into the arts and film­mak­ing, espe­cial­ly producing?

I was always into cre­at­ing art — acrylics, char­coal and sculpt­ing art pieces — fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of my father and broth­ers. I won a few awards for my accom­plish­ments ear­ly on and made a few art pieces for art shows local­ly. My art has always had a Hawai­ian theme — Hawai­ian  land­scapes, peo­ple or native plants. 

My first pro­duc­tion expe­ri­ence was back in my senior year in high school [Pahoa] I  pro­duced and direct­ed  “Romeo and Juli­et.” Thanks to sup­port­ive teach­ers and class­mates who believed in me, I focused on drugs and sui­cide aware­ness and pre­ven­tion. I rewrote the script to the Eng­lish we speak today because it was impor­tant for every­one to under­stand its strong mes­sage. I got all my class­mates to be char­ac­ters in the play or help back­stage. I asked all the stores and restau­rants in Pahoa town to donate food or mon­e­tary dona­tions to make this play pos­si­ble. It was the biggest per­form­ing art pro­duc­tion ever at Pahoa High School. 

What do you like best about being a producer? 

I love being a pro­duc­er because no one changes your sto­ry. When you have that plat­form as the pro­duc­er, you are in charge from begin­ning to end of what the film will look like. I hap­pened to be the pro­duc­er, direc­tor, edi­tor and main char­ac­ter of my film, Kapu: Sacred Hawai­ian Buri­als. These were all hard and dif­fi­cult roles to fill.  I felt it was impor­tant for me to be in con­trol of these roles because the sub­ject was so kapu (for­bid­den) in Hawai­ian cul­ture.  I real­ized how much was at stake if I had some­one else in con­trol of this sto­ry and mis­led peo­ple or changed our his­to­ry and the impacts it could have on our peo­ple. So this was a huge respon­si­bil­i­ty to tell this sto­ry well.

I want­ed to share my sto­ry through Hawai­ian eyes — my eyes and my words. Look­ing back it was the best choice I made in my life. Even though it took 23 years to cre­ate and com­plete, it was well worth every step to com­ple­tion. I can hon­est­ly say I have no regrets. The feed­back I received from our Hawai­ian peo­ple make me proud of the film. 

What are some of your great­est chal­lenges you face as a filmmaker? 

My great chal­lenge, espe­cial­ly here in Hawaiʻi, has been to believe in myself, that it is ok to express myself and that there are peo­ple who will stand by me. One of my first jobs was a film edi­tor for a direc­tor, Jay Curlee, for­mer direc­tor of sports for our local news sta­toin KHON2 News. His small pro­duc­tion busi­ness was involved in many dif­fer­ent pro­duc­tions: live per­for­mances,  com­mer­cials and doc­u­men­taries. Jay was the best boss and taught me every­thing about film­ing and edit­ing. I worked for him for over ten years. Jay allowed me to gain skills and expe­ri­ence by work­ing on oth­er major film pro­duc­tions and my per­son­al film projects.

Can you share what it was like to work on your film, Kapu: Sacred Hawai­ian Buri­als? What made you decide on that sub­ject?

I loved work­ing on this 23 year project. It was not easy. Lots of tears, mon­ey, time and hard work went into this project. This was my sto­ry and my life, and I want­ed to do the best that I could. For over 30 years my fam­i­ly has been pro­tect­ing an ancient Hawai­ian bur­ial cave which has been in our fam­i­ly and kept secret for many years. I found out a land devel­op­er had pur­chased the land which con­tained the bur­ial cave. He want­ed to bull­doze the bur­ial cave to build over it. I was heart­bro­ken and sad that out­siders would ever try to do such a thing. So I picked up my cam­era and start­ed to film my sto­ry. I filmed many inter­views across the neigh­bor islands of Hawai­ian elders shar­ing their sto­ries of tra­di­tion­al  Hawai­ian bur­ial practices. 

My film was final­ly com­plet­ed in 2022, and our bur­ial cave was saved. Today I own the bur­ial cave and act as the stew­ard for this his­tor­i­cal site. Kapu: Sacred Hawai­ian Buri­als is shin­ing light on this impor­tant top­ic pro­tect­ing and pre­serv­ing ances­tral buri­als of indige­nous culture.

Click the images to view the film on PBS Hawaiʻi.

Cave
Still from Kapu: Sacred Hawai­ian Buri­als @ Keoni Kealo­ha Alvarez (PBS Hawaiʻi, 2022)

You were with ʻŌle­lo Com­mu­ni­ty Media for four years. What did you like best about your work there?

The num­ber one thing I loved about work­ing at ʻŌle­lo was allow­ing peo­ple to share their 1st amend­ment right to free­dom of speech uncen­sored. I loved work­ing with the staff and all the inde­pen­dent pro­duc­ers I’d met over the years. Teach­ing my stu­dents the basics of film­mak­ing and see­ing them grow have been the most reward­ing. Some of my stu­dents have sur­passed me and cre­at­ed award win­ning films. I am so proud of every­one I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to meet and teach.  There is no place like ʻŌle­lo Com­mu­ni­ty Media. 

What do you think are the most impor­tant ele­ments of filmmaking? 

I believe in allow­ing peo­ple the time to speak their true and hon­est feel­ings and view­points. This is the core of any great sto­ry or inter­view. I always look for peo­ple who have a sense of style, how they car­ry them­selves and speak. Their voic­es are just as pow­er­ful as any celebri­ty or big box office movie when they are giv­en the chance to share their sto­ry. When you find [a great sto­ry], you know you’ve struck gold.

Have you had to han­dle a dif­fi­cult con­flict or unex­pect­ed chal­lenges in your career as a producer? 

A the pro­duc­er wears many hats. There is nev­er a time that every­thing is easy. Every inter­view and every scene has some sort of dif­fi­cul­ty. Audio, light­ing and cam­era are a few things that will go wrong on film shoots. I always plan for the worst. This way I nev­er get sur­prised or expe­ri­ence major setbacks. 

If you had to choose a favorite project, which would it be and why? 

I’ve trav­eled the world sev­er­al times work­ing on Nor­we­gian Cruise Line. I was hired on the broad­cast team onboard. It was amaz­ing. I met so many peo­ple and vis­it­ed so many places in the world. I would love to trav­el again incor­po­rat­ing Hawaii as the main sub­ject to teach peo­ple about our Hawai­ian her­itage, his­to­ry and our cul­tur­al places. 

Kapu
Still from Kapu: Sacred Hawai­ian Buri­als @ Keoni Kealo­ha Alvarez (PBS Hawaiʻi, 2022)

Can you share a bit of your cur­rent work? 

My cur­rent work is to cre­ate a non­prof­it orga­ni­za­tion which pro­tects and pre­serves  Hawai­ian bur­ial from des­e­cra­tion. This non-prof­it will have a team ded­i­cat­ed to help Hawai­ian fam­i­lies iden­ti­fy ances­tral buri­als and pro­vide lawyers, legal assis­tance, land envi­ron­men­tal impact stud­ies, and land acqui­si­tion to pro­tect his­tor­i­cal buri­als from des­e­cra­tion. We will use expert teams in arche­ol­o­gy field to mon­i­tor all known his­toric buri­als in Hawaii. 

Where do you get your inspirations? 

My inspi­ra­tion comes deep with­in me of the expe­ri­ences of things I learned and expe­ri­ences which have failed. That always helps me on my next move to stay­ing rel­e­vant as a Hawai­ian film­mak­er. I take that per­son­al data then decide if the idea will cause more good than harm. I learned a lot from film­mak­ing; my deci­sion mak­ing process means it is eas­i­er to see a clear path to reach my next goal. 

What are your hopes and dreams for the year and beyond in terms of your artis­tic career and what you would like to see for your career in the future? 

I would love to own my own mul­ti-media cen­ter for the com­mu­ni­ty, a per­form­ing art the­ater in my home­town, and my own per­son­al art gallery. 

What beliefs is your work challenging? 

The most chal­leng­ing thing, which is iron­ic to me, is that out­siders do not under­stand the mean­ing of sacred. That word is so sim­ple, but they make it seem dif­fi­cult to under­stand because they can­not have it or be a part of it. That’s the sad part liv­ing in Hawai’i. To us Hawai­ian peo­ple, our ances­tral ʻiwi (bones) are sacred.  Some non-Native Hawai­ians who move to Hawaiʻi want to take part of those bones, and to me thatʻs sick and disturbing. 

Still from Kapu: Sacred Hawai­ian Buri­als @ Keoni Kealo­ha Alvarez (PBS Hawaiʻi, 2022)

What tips would you give aspir­ing film­mak­ers just start­ing their careers? 

I would say always plan that the road will be rough with lots of obsta­cles and no short­cuts. Stay focused, fin­ish what you start, and NEVER give up. At the end of the day, you will look back and say it was worth every step. You are strong, you are brave and you can still be humble. 

What is your proud­est accomplishment? 

Iʻm proud of cre­at­ing a web­site hawaiianburials.com ded­i­cat­ed to bring­ing aware­ness about the tra­di­tion­al prac­tices and beliefs of Hawai­ian buri­als. It’s been receiv­ing very well its 2nd place on the top­ic on google. 

I also wrote four books about Hawai­ian buri­als. Keoniʻs inde­pen­dent­ly pub­lished books include: Kapu: Sacred Hawai­ian Buri­als, Kapu: The Hole Truth, Kapu: Hawai­ian Bur­ial Meth­ods, and a chil­drenʻs pic­ture book, The Boy and his Hawai­ian Cave. All are avail­able on Amazon.

About your books, tell us what you enjoy most about writ­ing, espe­cial­ly for kids? Can you share a bit about your book, THE BOY AND HIS HAWAIIAN CAVE? With­out giv­ing too much away, what is it about? 

The Boy and his Hawai­ian Cave is one of my proud­est achieve­ments because it made it pos­si­ble to share the Hawai­ian val­ue of alo­ha and respect about ances­tral buri­als to young chil­dren. This book is about a Hawai­ian boy named Keoni who is on a jour­ney gath­er­ing spe­cial gifts of alo­ha for his fam­i­ly bur­ial cave. The col­or­ful illus­tra­tions and excit­ing sto­ry help chil­dren to appre­ci­ate Hawai­ian cul­ture. My read­ers describe the book as a per­son­al mem­oir. This book took two years to com­plete, and I am very hap­py with the outcome. 

You choose to inde­pen­dent­ly pub­lish your books. What was that jour­ney like? Would you do it again? 

Self-pub­lish­ing was the best thing I did. It gave me the oppor­tu­ni­ty to be cre­ative while hav­ing no bound­aries to share this impor­tant sto­ry. I was able to work with my per­son­al team of writ­ers who gave me valu­able feed­back. Addi­tion­al­ly, I am not oblig­at­ed to any pub­lish­ing con­tract. I own 100% of my copy­right. My print-on-demand book print is high qual­i­ty but at the low­est author print cost. This means read­ers can afford to pur­chase prints of my books. 

Can you share a bit about the projects you’re work­ing on next? 

Com­mu­ni­ty Mul­ti Media Cen­ter, Hawaii Island The­ater — Per­form­ing art the­ater and Keoni Alvarez Art Gallery

How can read­ers con­tact you? What’s your online presence? 

My web­sites are keo­nial­varezpro­duc­tions and hawaiianburials.com. (Keoni also has a YouTube chan­nel, Hawai­ian in the City. His social media includes Face­book, and Insta­gram.)

A few of niele ques­tions ke ʻoluʻolu. What is your favorite film of all time, and what makes it a favorite? 

I love Mar­tin Scors­ese’s film Good­fel­las. I love every­thing about its sto­ry line, plot, dra­ma and nar­ra­tion. Scors­ese uses so many dif­fer­ent styles of sto­ry­telling, and it all works. He choos­es the right time and place to add his sig­na­ture to his films. That’s what makes him great. He is an artist of film. 

Who is your biggest supporter? 

My mom is my biggest sup­port­er and my biggest pro­duc­er lol. She was there for me from the begin­ning. Maha­lo, mama. I love you!

Yay! What do you enjoy doing in your down time? 

Play­ing with my dog, clean­ing my yard, going to the beach, surf­ing, paint­ing some­thing, and going to the gym — any­thing qui­et is always a good thing for me. 

This was fun talk­ing sto­ry with you, Keoni! We look for­ward to hear­ing more from you in the future! To learn more about Keoni, vis­it his web­site.

Images cour­tesy of Keoni Kealo­ha Alvarez, stills from PBS Hawaiʻi.

Book Review: Aloha Everything

Aloha-everything-cover

You know me. I LOVE books, art, and films that focus on the Native Hawai­ian com­mu­ni­ty and our Pacif­ic Island cousins. I love them so much that my blog focus­es on inter­view­ing these amaz­ing cre­ators. As native peo­ples, our voic­es have tra­di­tion­al­ly been under­rep­re­sent­ed. Thank­ful­ly, this is chang­ing, with books by Native Hawaiian/Polynesian authors includ­ing Gab­by Ahuli’i, Tam­my Paikai, Malia Mau­nakea, Shar Tuiʻa­soa, Brook Park­er, and now, Kaylin Melia George, enter­ing the market.

Alo­ha Every­thing is a beau­ti­ful, sweep­ing intro­duc­tion to Hawai­ian cul­ture and his­to­ry, espe­cial­ly help­ful for those unfa­mil­iar with the Native Hawai­ian people.

Aloha-everything-cover
Illus­tra­tion @ Mae Waite from Alo­ha Every­thing by Kaylin Melia George (Mythi­fy, 2023)

The debut pic­ture book by Native Hawai­ian author Kaylin Melia George and illus­trat­ed by Hawaii-based artist Mae Waite, Alo­ha Every­thing is writ­ten in rhyme, an effec­tive sto­ry-telling tech­nique for reach­ing young read­ers and their grown-ups.

The spreads read like dream sequences full of authen­tic Hawai­ian imagery. The book moves quick­ly, touch­ing on the many tra­di­tions that are impor­tant to the Hawai­ian people.

The phrase “What did hula teach her?” is repeat­ed three times in the book, and although the book is not actu­al­ly about hula, the refrain is an effec­tive device that helps orga­nize the glob­al top­ics to make them eas­i­er for young read­ers to grasp.

The back mat­ter pro­vides a pro­nun­ci­a­tion guide and glos­sary in addi­tion to biogra­phies of both author and illus­tra­tor. I love lots of back mat­ter in pic­ture books, and includ­ed enrich­ment mate­ri­als will be wel­comed by schools, hālau, and oth­er readers.

Aloha-Everything-Spread
Illus­tra­tion @ Mae Waite from Alo­ha Every­thing by Kaylin Melia George (Mythi­fy, 2023)

Alo­ha Every­thing is one of the most beau­ti­ful pic­ture books I’ve ever seen. At the risk of sound­ing over the top, the illus­tra­tions are stag­ger­ing­ly beau­ti­ful. More than sup­port­ing the text, the art does its own sto­ry­telling. Like all great illus­tra­tions in chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture, they are key to under­stand­ing and appre­ci­at­ing the cul­ture and his­to­ry explained in the book. 

Artist Mae Waite is a won­der. Her vibrant, mag­i­cal art­work leaps off the page. I love all of the illus­tra­tions, but my favorite accom­pa­nies the first “What did hula teach her?” refrain. In it, the girl is in a hula pose, as to say maha­lo to the gods and the ʻāi­na: arms stretched before her, eyes closed, her long dark hair swirling all around in hues of pur­ple and laven­der. Gorgeous.

Each spread is rich­ly lay­ered, a riot not just of col­or but of images. You know how some pic­ture books con­tain pret­ty but for­get­table illus­tra­tions that you don’t real­ly stop to look at? Not so with Alo­ha Every­thing. With Ms. Wait­e’s art, I found myself slow­ing down to exam­ine the tiny details that make up the com­po­si­tion as a whole.

More than just pret­ty, the illus­tra­tions are the per­fect jump­ing off point for dis­cus­sions. I can imag­ine a class using an illus­tra­tion as a start­ing point to explore Hawai­ian cul­ture, such as the con­cept of alo­ha in the title, the myth of the demigod Maui las­so­ing the sun, the process of tra­di­tion­al kapa mak­ing, and the var­i­ous flo­ra and fau­na of Hawai­ian forests.

Aloha-Everything-Spread-2
Illus­tra­tion @ Mae Waite from Alo­ha Every­thing by Kaylin Melia George (Mythi­fy, 2023)

As much as I love the imagery, I felt inter­ac­tions the girl might’ve had with ʻohana, espe­cial­ly with her makua, were missing. 

Over­all, Alo­ha Every­thing is a beau­ti­ful intro­duc­tion to Native Hawai­ian cul­ture and a wor­thy addi­tion to any bookshelf.

Alo­ha Every­thing
Writ­ten by Kaylin Melia George, illus­trat­ed by Mae Waite
Mythi­fy, 2023
ISBN 978–1636551128
Sug­gest­ed for ages 5 — 8 

Meet author Kaylin Melia George and illus­tra­tor Mae Waite in our talk sto­ry interviews. 

Please read our dis­claimer to learn our book review pol­i­cy. Mahalo!

Gal­ley review copy and images cour­tesy of Kaylin Melia George.

Interview with Artist/Illustrator Mae Waite

Mae-Waite

Mae-WaiteArtist Mae Waite is a mas­ter of col­or and tex­ture. She loves to exper­i­ment with a vari­ety of tech­niques and sur­faces. Work­ing in ink, oils, acrylics, and water­col­ors, Maeʻs work is a bold expres­sion of the world around her. “I cre­ate for myself and for you,” she writes. We are so pleased to fea­ture our talk sto­ry with artist Mae Waite.

For those who haven’t met you yet, please tell us a lit­tle about yourself. 

My name is Mae Waite, and I’m an illustrator/painter. I’ve been paint­ing since I was three years old. I received my BA in art with a con­cen­tra­tion in stu­dio art from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Hawaii at Mānoa. I’ve been a free­lance painter since grad­u­at­ing in 2018. I’m also a part-time arti­san at Louis Vuit­ton, so it’s safe to say I’m always painting.

Where did you grow up? What high school did you grad from?

This ques­tion always makes me pause because I’ve moved around so much. My father was in the Navy so I had the won­der­ful expe­ri­ence of liv­ing in mul­ti­ple states such as Cal­i­for­nia, Wash­ing­ton, DC, and Hawaii. I attend­ed Rad­ford for my fresh­man and sopho­more year before mov­ing to Kent, Wash­ing­ton, and fin­ish­ing my high school edu­ca­tion at Kent­wood High School.

Go Roy­al Lions! Why did you become an artist/illustrator? Did you always know you could cre­ate art?

I’ve always had a fas­ci­na­tion with art and cre­at­ing. I love the thought of trans­form­ing a vision or an idea into some­thing tan­gi­ble. It real­ly feels mag­i­cal. Becom­ing an illus­tra­tor was more serendip­i­tous. I nev­er thought that illus­trat­ing books would ful­fill me as much as it did until Kaylin [author of Alo­ha Every­thing] found me.

What do you enjoy most about illus­trat­ing? What are some of your great­est challenges?

There are so many things about illus­trat­ing that I love. I love look­ing at a project and gaug­ing its poten­tial. It’s like being pre­sent­ed with a bunch of small puz­zles and it’s up to me to find the best solu­tions that fit the concepts/theme. I guess that’s one of the biggest chal­lenges as well. I’m also a bit of a per­fec­tion­ist and want to put my best effort in my paintings.

Aloha-everything-cover
Illus­tra­tion @ Mae Waite from Alo­ha Every­thing by Kaylin Melia George (Mythi­fy, 2023)

Can you share a bit of your upcom­ing debut pic­ture book, Alo­ha Every­thing, illus­trat­ed by you and writ­ten by Kaylin Melia George? Is this your first pic­ture book?

I don’t want to spoil any­thing but in a nut­shell, it fol­lows a girl named Ano who learns about her Native Hawai­ian her­itage through hula and her adven­tures. And yes, tech­ni­cal­ly Alo­ha Every­thing is my first children’s pic­ture book although I was work­ing on it along side anoth­er book called Alo­ha Christ­mas by Bur­ton Richardson.

What was the process like to mak­ing those beau­ti­ful illus­tra­tions in Alo­ha Every­thing?

The cre­ative process was awe­some. My col­lab­o­ra­tion with Kaylin was a very spe­cial expe­ri­ence that made the project so much fun. We first start­ed the cre­ative process by dis­cussing the mood boards that Kaylin cre­at­ed. She did a real­ly great job set­ting the visu­al pace of the book. Once we were on the same page, I began the con­cep­tu­al­iz­ing phase which main­ly con­sist­ed of cre­at­ing sim­ple com­po­si­tions that high­light­ed the text best. We gen­er­al­ly refer to these as thumb­nail sketch­es. The book is split into three dif­fer­ent sequences: Main, Rest, and I Spy. Ear­ly in this stage we didn’t have a style estab­lished yet but what we knew that it was impor­tant for us to have con­sis­ten­cy for all three sequences. We want­ed to make sure that the I Spy and rest pages were dis­tin­guish­able from the main pages. The next step was cre­at­ing char­ac­ter designs for Ano who was the pro­tag­o­nist. We cre­at­ed a hand­ful of ver­sions. We also cre­at­ed char­ac­ter designs for a cou­ple of rec­og­niz­able names such as Laka, who we end­ed tak­ing out in the final, and Pele.

To achieve the over­all looks of our char­ac­ters, I ref­er­enced sources such as The Mer­rie Monarch Fes­ti­val and archives from UHM’s data­base that held images of dif­fer­ent instru­ments, tra­di­tion­al attires, and tools. I also looked at dif­fer­ent mod­ern­ized Native Hawai­ian looks that inspired the fun and whim­sy ele­ment that chil­dren would enjoy.

After the long and tedious job of gath­er­ing ref­er­ences, I start­ed cre­at­ing drafts of the pages based off the thumb­nail sketch­es. Then, I cre­at­ed col­or swatch­es fol­lowed by dig­i­tal ren­der­ings to fur­ther explain my visions. After that, we took it to the big paper. I cut 300 lb Arch­es water­col­or paper to the prop­er dimen­sions and dove into paint­ing. We didn’t paint the pages in chrono­log­i­cal order which was nice.

Do you have a favorite illus­tra­tion? Which one and why?

Hon­est­ly, I hold every illus­tra­tion close to my heart. It’s as if all the pages of art­work have a mind of their own and they’re try­ing to come out of the paper. If I had to choose one, page eight clicked to me from the begin­ning. Ano has her arms stretched wide as if she is over­see­ing and embrac­ing the land.

I love that one, too! What was your favorite part of work­ing on the book?

The book reveal was the most reward­ing. I teared up a bit. When you work day in and day out on some­thing you don’t get to take it all in until it’s in your hands.

What was the most challenging?

The biggest chal­lenge for me was ensur­ing con­sis­ten­cy with all the illus­tra­tions. There would be times where my mind would go wild and I would want to imple­ment new things (I secret­ly did any­way) but I had to dial it back.

How long did it take to com­plete the illustrations?

It real­ly depend­ed on the com­plex­i­ty of the design. Some, such as page three which has a ton of sea crea­tures fol­low­ing the mighty honu, took me what seemed to be a bil­lion years—it actu­al­ly took maybe two weeks while the last page took me about a week.

What tech­niques and resources did you use to illus­trate the book?

After doing a few mate­r­i­al swatch­es and mini paint­ing sam­ples we set­tled on acrylic and gouache on paper. I real­ly loved how ver­sa­tile and opaque the paints could be while being able to bleed like water­col­or. It was impor­tant for me to be able to have access to a wide range of textures.

Waterbed-by-Mae-Waite
Waterbed @ Mae Waite

Do you have any expe­ri­ences as a woman of col­or artist that you might share with our readers?

After grad­u­at­ing col­lege, my pro­fes­sion­al art career took off in Hawaiʻi, which is known for its big melt­ing pot cul­ture. Because of that, I can’t say that I’ve ever been judged dif­fer­ent­ly for my eth­nic­i­ty or gen­der. Most peo­ple regard my art and are impressed because I’m young.

What would you like to see change in the indus­try regard­ing the accep­tance of BIPOC creators?

What’s real­ly great about the art indus­try is that skills, work acu­men and visions are high­ly val­ued. I would like to see indi­vid­u­als flour­ish­ing from their own merit.

What beliefs is your work challenging?

I don’t think my cur­rent work chal­lenges so much as evokes. I love illus­trat­ing because it brings out the child­hood nos­tal­gia that I miss in my adult­hood. It’s impor­tant to cre­ate images that tell all kinds of sto­ries: sto­ries meant for a wide audi­ence and sto­ries that are hard to tell with words.

What are your hopes and dreams for the year and beyond in terms of your artis­tic career and what you’d like to see out in the world?

I would love to work towards becom­ing a con­cept artist/creator for ani­ma­tions. I am cur­rent­ly work­ing on a large body of works that belong to a sin­gle narrative. 

What advice can you give an aspir­ing artist/illustrator?

Be your­self and remem­ber to be curious.

City-by-Mae-Waite
City @ Mae Waite

Can you share a bit about what you’re work­ing on next?

I’m cur­rent­ly work­ing on a series that fol­lows a char­ac­ter through many fig­men­tal scenes. I would like each illus­tra­tion to be one piece of a grander narrative.

That sounds real­ly inter­est­ing. What’s your online pres­ence like? Are you on social media? What do your fol­low­ers say about your work?

I use Insta­gram @maewaitestudio as my plat­form of choice. My audi­ence accu­mu­lat­ed over the past five years or so con­sists of peo­ple from many dif­fer­ent back­grounds because my art also cov­ers many dif­fer­ent styles and visions. The feed­back I receive on social media is large­ly sup­port­ive and moti­vates me to work on my next piece to showcase.

And a few fun ques­tions, if you’d like to answer. Is there a fun fact youʻd like to share about your­self with young readers?

Iʻm pret­ty open about this, but I’m adopt­ed from Kun­ming, China.

What kinds of books do you enjoy read­ing? Any favorites?

I love fan­ta­sy and sci-fi nov­els. I think my favorite at the moment is Dune by Frank Her­bert or the Grace of Kings series by Ken Liu. These books took me longer to read because there’s so much to unpack and learn from.

Who is your biggest supporter?

My par­ents. They pro­mote me bet­ter than any plat­form. I will peri­od­i­cal­ly get texts from my dad say­ing that he needs a new order of my busi­ness cards.

Yay, dad! What advice would you give your younger self?

Stop over­think­ing everything!

Wise advice, for sure. Thank you so much for talk­ing sto­ry with us, Mae! We wish you all the best!

To learn more about Mae Waite and to see more of her work, vis­it her web­site at maewaitestudio.com.  To pre-order her book, vis­it the Kick­starter web­site, Alo­ha Every­thing: A Hawai­ian Fairy Tale.

Images cour­tesy of Mae Waite; book cov­er cour­tesy of Kaylin Melia George.

Interview with Native Hawaiian Author Kaylin Melia George

Kaylin Melia George
Kaylin Melia George
Kaylin Melia George

Native Hawai­ian author Kaylin Melia George has always been a sto­ry­teller. She began her career as a screen­writer and is now a children’s author. Her debut pic­ture book, Alo­ha Every­thing, is the ful­fill­ment of a life­long dream: to share the rich sto­ries she grew up hear­ing at her mother’s side. We are pleased to talk sto­ry with Kaylin today.

For those who haven’t met you yet, please tell us a lit­tle about yourself. 

Alo­ha, I’m Kaylin Melia George; and I’m the author of Alo­ha Every­thing!

Grow­ing up, I called many places home. My fam­i­ly moved around fre­quent­ly, and I attend­ed many dif­fer­ent schools from the Pacif­ic North­west, to the South, to the Mid­west, to the South­west, and the West Coast. I also lived in Tokyo for a peri­od. But as much as I moved around, my con­nec­tion to my fam­i­ly – and my family’s sto­ries – has always been one of the few con­stants in my life.

I’ll always remem­ber falling asleep to my mother’s beau­ti­ful bed­time sto­ries. She would tell me of Hawai­ian leg­ends and his­to­ries passed down to her from gen­er­a­tions before. She would also share her own expe­ri­ences grow­ing up on Molokaʻi – how she adven­tured on the islands, how she per­formed hula, and how her and her cousins would get in and out of mis­chief togeth­er. The plant­i­ng of these ear­ly seeds inspired me to ded­i­cate my life to sto­ry­telling. It’s become an impor­tant part of who I am and the sto­ries I tell.

Why did you become an author? Have you always want­ed to be an author? 

When I was a lit­tle girl, my dream was to become an author. How­ev­er, I real­ized from a pret­ty young age that my family’s sto­ries weren’t present on the book­shelves of my schools or libraries. As I grew up, I learned that is because Pacif­ic Islander is one of the least rep­re­sent­ed groups in children’s lit­er­a­ture. But, I still dreamed of writ­ing! I end­ed up start­ing in screen­writ­ing – work­ing for many years as an award-win­ning direc­tor and screen­writer of com­mer­cials, films, and doc­u­men­taries. I even­tu­al­ly found my way back to my child­hood dream with my debut children’s book, Alo­ha Every­thing! I’m deeply grate­ful for all the peo­ple who made this book pos­si­ble and all the peo­ple who have become a part of the Alo­ha Every­thing ʻohana. I wrote this book with the hope of shar­ing and pre­serv­ing my family’s sto­ries, and I believe it will be the first of many to come.

What do you enjoy most about writ­ing, espe­cial­ly for kids? What are some of your great­est challenges? 

There’s a huge respon­si­bil­i­ty that comes with the cre­ation of a book like Alo­ha Every­thing – a respon­si­bil­i­ty to the accu­ra­cy and the tonal­i­ty of the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Hawaiʻi-based sto­ries. That’s a chal­lenge. I do not pre­tend that the book could, on its own, rep­re­sent even a sliv­er of the full breath of beau­ty, depth, and vibran­cy of what Hawai­ian cul­ture, his­to­ry, and life tru­ly is in full. But, I know that Alo­ha Every­thing has an impact. There’s noth­ing more breath­tak­ing than see­ing kei­ki fall in love with the sto­ry and become inter­est­ed in learn­ing more about Hawaiʻi and Hawai­ian cul­ture. And because Pacif­ic Islander sto­ries are so rarely rep­re­sent­ed in children’s lit­er­a­ture, meet­ing kei­ki who feel per­son­al­ly con­nect­ed with the book – who feel that they are see­ing their home rep­re­sent­ed – those are incred­i­bly spe­cial moments.

Aloha-everything-cover
Illus­tra­tion @ Mae Waite from Alo­ha Every­thing by Kaylin Melia George (Mythi­fy, 2023)

Can you share a bit of your upcom­ing debut pic­ture book, Alo­ha Every­thing? With­out giv­ing too much away, what is it about? 

Alo­ha Every­thing is a jour­ney of adven­ture and learn­ing. With­in its pages, you’ll encounter mighty canoes crash­ing over ocean waves, roy­al hawks soar­ing high above the clouds, and, most impor­tant­ly, you’ll meet a coura­geous young girl who learns, grows, and comes to love her island home with all her heart. In the book, knowl­edge sur­round­ing Hawai­ian his­to­ry, ecol­o­gy, and cul­ture is care­ful­ly woven into a beau­ti­ful rhyming scheme that will lull lit­tle ones into bril­liant dreams of vibrant adventure.

What char­ac­ter­is­tics do you love best about the pro­tag­o­nist? Is she mod­eled after some­one specific? 

From the begin­ning, my mother’s sto­ries about grow­ing up on Molokaʻi were a huge inspi­ra­tion for the sto­ry. So, when we were design­ing our pro­tag­o­nist, it felt only nat­ur­al that the char­ac­ter be par­tial­ly mod­eled on my moth­er her­self. Mae Waite (the incred­i­ble illus­tra­tor of Alo­ha Every­thing) and I ref­er­enced old pho­tographs of my mom grow­ing up on the islands. We were look­ing to cap­ture land­scapes, flo­ra, and ani­mals to ref­er­ence in the book. But, even more impor­tant­ly, we were look­ing to cap­ture the spir­it of a lit­tle girl who deeply loves her island home.

I remem­ber one pho­to­graph in par­tic­u­lar that was heav­i­ly ref­er­enced. It’s my mom as a lit­tle girl, and some­one was clear­ly try­ing to catch her with the cam­era, but she shows up a lit­tle blur­ry because she just wouldn’t stay still for the pho­to! Even with the blur­ri­ness of the pho­to­graph, the one thing that’s absolute­ly clear is the image of a child who is full of ener­gy and adven­ture and excit­ed to be out­side and tak­ing in the joy of the islands. That’s a feel­ing that we try to recre­ate in every illus­tra­tion of Ano, the pro­tag­o­nist of Alo­ha Every­thing.

What was your favorite part of writ­ing your book? 

We always dreamed that the sto­ry would be not only an exhil­a­rat­ing adven­ture but also an oppor­tu­ni­ty for learn­ing. That’s why, while the book was still in ear­ly stages of devel­op­ment, we con­sis­tent­ly con­sult­ed with teach­ers, par­ents, and, of course, with kids them­selves. We brought the book into over a dozen class­rooms and to non­prof­it read­ings to see stu­dents of every age expe­ri­ence the book, and that was def­i­nite­ly one of my most favorite parts of the process. See­ing kei­ki as young as preschool age and as old as fifth grade all deeply engaged and learn­ing and inter­act­ing with the book in dif­fer­ent ways has tru­ly been such a remark­able gift. I met stu­dents who were so joy­ful to see Hawai­ian words they rec­og­nized includ­ed in a book for them. I met oth­er stu­dents that were so excit­ed to learn Hawai­ian words for the first time. Those expe­ri­ences, and see­ing the gen­uine excite­ment in stu­dents’ eyes, are some­thing I’ll cher­ish forever.

I must also say that as much as I hope that Alo­ha Every­thing will be an awe­some learn­ing expe­ri­ence for kids every­where, cer­tain­ly no one has learned more from cre­at­ing this book than I did. And that is most def­i­nite­ly my oth­er favorite part of writ­ing the book.

Grow­ing up away from the islands, I always learned about my Native Hawai­ian her­itage from my mother’s sto­ries. But through the cre­ation of this book, I found an oppor­tu­ni­ty to seek out new learn­ings in a whole new way. I was hav­ing new con­ver­sa­tions with my fam­i­ly about our his­to­ries and our her­itage. I was inter­view­ing inspi­ra­tional and influ­en­tial kumu. I was spend­ing years in read­ing and research. And I was hav­ing the most incred­i­ble inter­ac­tions with mem­bers of the com­mu­ni­ty who have been so kind as to share with me their per­son­al sto­ries and their man­aʻo. It has been tru­ly trans­for­ma­tive for me; I was con­stant­ly learn­ing new things about myself that I had nev­er known. And I am so grate­ful for that jour­ney and every­one who has made it possible.

Aloha-Everything-Spread
Illus­tra­tion @ Mae Waite from Alo­ha Every­thing by Kaylin Melia George (Mythi­fy, 2023)

Can you tell us about the writ­ing style of Alo­ha Every­thing?

Alo­ha Every­thing is a poet­ry book pri­mar­i­ly writ­ten in anapes­tic meter with a sim­ple rhyme scheme. It’s a mul­ti­lin­gual book, some­times called a “lan­guage-mix­ing” book, as it’s writ­ten in Eng­lish but fea­tures twen­ty-five Hawai­ian words to learn. I decid­ed to write the book in this style for a few dif­fer­ent rea­sons but espe­cial­ly because rhyming and poet­ry have been shown to have a pos­i­tive effect on mem­o­ry and learn­ing, and I hope that the rhyth­mic nature of the text makes it eas­i­er for some stu­dents to learn the Hawai­ian words includ­ed in the text.

We’ll post an inter­view with Mae com­ing up in a cou­ple of weeks, but what can you say about the medi­um for the book’s illustrations? 

Mae worked with mixed phys­i­cal medi­ums for the cre­ation of the illus­tra­tions. She used acrylic, gouache, and gold leaf. Each illus­tra­tion start­ed as a sketch, and she went through, usu­al­ly, a dozen or more iter­a­tions until we knew that it was as good as it could be. Then paint­ing would begin. Each extra­or­di­nary paint­ing was cre­at­ed metic­u­lous­ly over the course of weeks, and we put so much love into each and every piece, which is what makes them all so spectacular.

Do you have any expe­ri­ences as a Native Hawai­ian writer that you might share with our readers? 

When I was young, I very rarely ever saw fam­i­lies like my own rep­re­sent­ed in the pages of a book. That impact­ed my idea of what kind of peo­ple could build careers in this indus­try. I had such a love for sto­ry­telling, but I was afraid that no one want­ed to hear my stories.

How­ev­er, I am no longer afraid. When Alo­ha Every­thing launched on Kick­starter, I found a com­mu­ni­ty who gave us so much sup­port, push­ing us into the top 50 most suc­cess­ful children’s books to ever launch on the plat­form – out of 12,000 books! I believe that all the sup­port Alo­ha Every­thing found goes to show that not only are these sto­ries need­ed, but also that they’re desired and beloved by readers.

As long as read­ers con­tin­ue to sup­port sto­ries that are impor­tant to them, I feel very hope­ful about what book­shelves will look like for future generations.

You decid­ed to crowd-fund your book. Why did you choose that route to pub­li­ca­tion? What was the jour­ney to get­ting your book pub­lished like? How long did it take to write your book? 

It took about three years to com­plete Alo­ha Every­thing. Mae and I worked on the book with a new and inno­v­a­tive inde­pen­dent pub­lish­er called Mythi­fy. Because Alo­ha Every­thing was a first book for every­one involved, we had no idea what demand for the book would be like. For all we knew, we could have been mak­ing the book for only a hand­ful of peo­ple, and we were okay with that! But that’s the rea­son why we decid­ed to use Kick­starter as a pre-order plat­form; it allowed us to esti­mate demand. And it’s a good thing that we did, because we received so many more orders than we ever could have imag­ined! We nev­er would have print­ed enough books to cov­er demand if we hadn’t used a plat­form like Kick­starter for pre-orders first. Through Kick­starter, we real­ly found a com­mu­ni­ty of peo­ple who love and sup­port our sto­ry, and we are so grate­ful for that. Addi­tion­al­ly, I’m so excit­ed to say that there are more won­der­ful things com­ing soon for Alo­ha Every­thing! Mythi­fy and the Alo­ha Every­thing team have now part­nered with a pub­lish­er called Red Comet Press to cre­ate a retail edi­tion of the book. Alo­ha Every­thing will be launch­ing for retail on large plat­forms such as Ama­zon, Barnes & Noble, and Tar­get in Spring of 2024. I am so look­ing for­ward to this part of the jour­ney and the oppor­tu­ni­ty to make the book avail­able to more keiki!

Aloha-Everything-Spread-2
Illus­tra­tion @ Mae Waite from Alo­ha Every­thing by Kaylin Melia George (Mythi­fy, 2023)

Can you share a bit about what you’re work­ing on next?

One of the most amaz­ing parts of cre­at­ing Alo­ha Every­thing was meet­ing Mae. She tru­ly is an incred­i­ble col­lab­o­ra­tor and an amaz­ing friend. And while I can’t say too much yet about my future projects, I can say that I absolute­ly look for­ward to work­ing with Mae again soon!

What advice would you give aspir­ing writers? 

Have patience with your­self; you’re learn­ing! Each and every project will always be dif­fer­ent and you’ll always be learn­ing new things. It’s okay to take your time as you grow as a cre­ator. This is some­thing I’ve def­i­nite­ly learned over time

A cou­ple of niele per­son­al ques­tions, please. Who is your biggest supporter?

Ulti­mate­ly, I have to say that my all-time biggest sup­port­er must be my moth­er. All my life, she has encour­aged my writ­ing and my pas­sions. I’m so grate­ful that she trust­ed me to tell her sto­ry and that she shared so much of her kōkua and her alo­ha in the cre­ation of the book

Is there a fun fact youʻd like to share about your­self with young readers?

Because Alo­ha Every­thing is so bright and col­or­ful and vibrant, peo­ple are some­times sur­prised to learn that I’m a huge lover of every­thing spooky! I’m a haunt­ed house lover, a hor­ror movie addict, and a Hal­loween fanat­ic. Maybe one day, Mae and I will bring some­thing both spooky and cute to the children’s lit world!

That’s cool! What’s your online pres­ence? And how can read­ers show their support?

I am avail­able on social media, and I absolute­ly love to connect!
@alohaeverythingbook is on Insta­gram, Tik­Tok, and Face­book. But the quick­est way to con­tact us is via email at alohaeverything@mythify.com!

I’m so grate­ful for all the peo­ple who have been kind enough to reach out and share their sto­ries with us. Receiv­ing those encour­ag­ing mes­sages makes all the chal­lenges of book pub­lish­ing worth it!

If you’ve read Alo­ha Every­thing, please con­sid­er leav­ing us a review on GoodReads or else­where, as it real­ly helps us get the word out. Maha­lo nui loa!

It was so fun meet­ing you, Kaylin! Maha­lo for shar­ing your man­a’o with us! To learn more about Kaylin and to pre-order her book, vis­it her Kick­starter web­site, Alo­ha Every­thing: A Hawai­ian Fairy Tale.

Images cour­tesy of Kaylin Melia George.

Interview with Artist and Author Patrick Ching

Patrick-Ching

Patrick-ChingPop­u­lar Hawaiʻi artist, author and design­er Patrick Ching is known as “Hawaiʻiʻs Nature Artist,” and with good rea­son. His beau­ti­ful paint­ings and designs reflect a hap­py child­hood roam­ing the upland forests of Pauoa Val­ley on Oʻahu. Patrick counts his time as a ranger at Kīlauea light­house on Kauaʻi and liv­ing among sea tur­tles and monk seals as some of his most trea­sured memories. 

In addi­tion to being a work­ing artist, Patrick is a suc­cess­ful entre­pre­neur. He runs art schools and gal­leries under his com­pa­ny name, Nat­u­ral­ly Hawai­ian

We are pleased to share our inter­view with Patrick with you.

For those who haven’t met you yet, tell us a lit­tle about yourself?

I was born in 1962 at Queen’s hos­pi­tal. I became a teenaged punk and went to Out­ward Bound (Hawaii Bound) pro­gram for juve­nile delin­quent kids at age 16. It was there I decid­ed to be a wildlife artist, and the direc­tion for my life work was set. I became an artist and author and now host a tv show called Paint­ing in Par­adise on Spec­trum oc16tv.

Where did you grow up? What high school did you grad? 

I grew up in Pauoa Val­ley through 6th grade, then Moanalua Val­ley and grad­u­at­ed Moanalua High School 1980.

Apapane
Kalalau Val­ley @ Patrick Ching

Go Mene­hune! Why did you become an artist? Did you always knew you could cre­ate art?

I always drew and paint­ed but nev­er con­sid­ered it a career until my Hawaii Bound instruc­tor ask me if that could be my call­ing. Then, I said to myself that I will make my liv­ing as an artist, or die trying.

We are so glad this is work­ing out! What do you enjoy most about cre­at­ing art? What are some of your great­est challenges?

I am now liv­ing the artistʻs dream I had when I was a young artist. There were many hard years between then and now. The finan­cial chal­lenges of pay­ing bills bur­dened me heav­i­ly, espe­cial­ly when I owned art galleries.

In addi­tion to being an artist, you have done illus­tra­tions for children’s books.

Do you have any plans to illus­trate more books for kids?

Yes, I love mak­ing books, and that is a big part of plans for the future.

Honu-Honu
Spread from Honu and Hina @ Patrick Ching

Many read­ers might rec­og­nize you from your pop­u­lar series on tv and stream­ing. What do you like best about teaching?

I love if I can help mul­ti-gen­er­a­tion fam­i­lies do art together.

What are your hopes and dreams for the year and beyond in terms of your artis­tic career and what you would like to see in the future?

I’d like to bring art to those who will feel bet­ter when they see my art, or feel bet­ter when they cre­ate their own art.

Besides your web­site and your YouTube chan­nel, are you active on social media? 

I’m most­ly on face­book: Patrick Ching, Patrick Ching Art Instruc­tion and on Insta­gram: Patrick Ching Artist.

Lighthouse
Light­house @ Patrick Ching

Your art is so expres­sive and vibrant. If you had to choose a favorite project, which would it be and why?

I love teach­ing art through TV. Paint­ing in Paradise.

What beliefs is your work challenging?

I chal­lenge the belief that I should focus or spe­cial­ize. I DO focus…on everything.

In addi­tion to books, what oth­er kinds of art do you do?

I make ceram­ic, comics, and murals.

Whales
Whalers Vil­lage Com­mu­ni­ty Mur­al @ Patrick Ching

Can you share a bit about what you’re work­ing on next?

A wide vari­ety of projects keeps it fun for me.

What advice would you give an aspir­ing artist?

Decide: do you want to be a recre­ation­al artist or a pro­fes­sion­al or both?

What do you enjoy doing in your down time?

I go surf­ing ear­ly morn­ings. Then work day and night. I love working.

Maha­lo nui loa for shar­ing your work with us, Patrick!

To learn more about Patrick Ching and to see a gallery of his art and pho­tos of his stu­dents, vis­it his web­site at Patrick Ching.com.

Images cour­tesy of Patrick Ching.

Interview with Native Hawaiian Interactive Media Designer Kēhau Noe

Kehau-Noe

Native Hawai­ian vision­ary Kēhau Noe is an artist and sto­ry­tellerKehau-Noe. Her media is com­put­ers, and her mis­sion is to design pro­grams that help peo­ple to inter­act with and learn from the environment.

The chal­lenge of build­ing soft­ware or games that take advan­tage of what tech­nol­o­gy affords us, but still be acces­si­ble and use­ful to the gen­er­al per­son is fun to me. Soft­ware can be capa­ble of per­form­ing com­plex and seem­ing­ly impos­si­ble tasks, but if the aver­age per­son does not like to look at it, or can’t under­stand how to inter­face it, then not many peo­ple will use it.

Her inno­v­a­tive sto­ry­telling immers­es view­ers in the Native Hawai­ian world view. We are pleased to fea­ture this trail­blaz­er on our blog today.

For those who havenʻt met you yet, could you please tell us a lit­tle about yourself?

I’m Kari Kēhaulani Noe, I usu­al­ly go by Kari or Kēhau. I was born and raised on Kauaʻi and moved to Oʻahu to go to the Uni­ver­si­ty of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa for my under­grad­u­ate degree to major in both Ani­ma­tion and Com­put­er Sci­ence. I am now pur­su­ing a PhD in Com­put­er Sci­ence at UHM. I work as a research assis­tant at the Lab­o­ra­to­ry for Advanced Visu­al­iza­tion and Appli­ca­tions (LAVA) where I also co-lead Create(x), a sis­ter-lab man­aged by both LAVA and the Acad­e­my of Cre­ative Media (ACM) at the Uni­ver­si­ty of West Oʻahu. I also work as an Indige­nous Tech Spe­cial­ist at the Office of Indige­nous Knowl­edge and Inno­va­tion. I also have my own stu­dio, Stu­dio Ahilele, where I work on cre­ative projects and col­lab­o­ra­tions on the side.

In my per­son­al life I love nerdy things. I often will be draw­ing comics, try­ing out some kind of art form (I’m learn­ing carv­ing at the moment), and play­ing video games in my free time. I also love hula and have been study­ing ʻōle­lo Hawai’i. 

Where did you grow up? What high school did you grad from?

I grew up in Kalāheo, where most of my time was spent hang­ing out some­where in the west or south side of the island as that is where most of my fam­i­ly lives. And of course Līhuʻe as that is the main town and where my high school is. I grad­u­at­ed from Kauaʻi High School.

Go Red Raiders! What are your goals for the Create(X) lab you co-lead and for your research? 

My goal for Create(x) is for it to be a space where stu­dents can devel­op emerg­ing tech­nol­o­gy sys­tems and soft­ware that aug­ment spaces in ways that change how we inter­act with com­put­ers both for research and enter­tain­ment pur­pos­es. The core goal is to teach stu­dents skills in immer­sive design, com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and pro­gram­ming so that they may cre­ate inno­va­tions that enhance their prac­tice, whether they are a sto­ry­teller, sci­en­tist, or artist. We wel­come and engage in inter­dis­ci­pli­nary research with part­ners to under­stand how tech devel­oped at the lab can be used to sup­port projects and prac­tices out­side the walls of our lab. 

Ilio
Image: Ilio VR App @ Create(x) Lab, Uni­ver­si­ty of Hawaiʻi-West Oʻahu

What kinds of skills are required for your role? How did you acquire them?

The major skills I have are in design and pro­gram­ming. I devel­oped skills in visu­al design from my time as an under­grad­u­ate at the Acad­e­my of Cre­ative Media at UH Mānoa. Grow­ing up, I always loved to draw, but through my time as an under­grad­u­ate I gained a foun­da­tion in use­ful skills such as dig­i­tal art tech­niques, 3D mod­el­ing, and dif­fer­ent tech­niques in ani­ma­tion that to this day is a large part of the work that I do. I learned pro­gram­ming from my edu­ca­tion in Com­put­er Sci­ence at UH Mānoa, where I have done my Bach­e­lors, Mas­ters, and now PhD in. With­out all of these skills, I could not devel­op the projects that I do. I want­ed to become a video game devel­op­er when I start­ed uni­ver­si­ty, which is why I tried learn­ing skills from all parts of the process because I did not know exact­ly what I want­ed to do. In the end being a jack-of-all trades has helped me immensely. 

The oth­er impor­tant skill is orga­ni­za­tion. I think I got that skill from watch­ing my mom who is a very orga­nized per­son and runs her own busi­ness. With­out hav­ing good orga­ni­za­tion and effi­cient process­es it would be very hard to imple­ment the projects we work on, even if we some­how had the world’s best artists and pro­gram­mers on the project.

What was the jour­ney to becom­ing an inter­ac­tive media design­er? Why did you choose such a unique career? How did you know that this is what you want­ed to do? 

I was actu­al­ly going to go to uni­ver­si­ty enrolled in Trav­el Indus­try Man­age­ment. I was put in the AOHT (Acad­e­my of Hos­pi­tal­i­ty of Tourism) track in high school. It wasn’t my first choice, but I did enjoy my teach­ers and class­mates on the track. My expe­ri­ence with that, and from advice from coun­selors, I was con­vinced that if I want­ed a good job and to stay in Hawaiʻi I should aim to be some­thing like a hotel man­ag­er. How­ev­er, I was also tak­ing Japan­ese when I was a senior, and we had a project where we could design any form of media for our project as long as every­thing was in Japan­ese. This became an excuse to try to learn how to devel­op a video game. I made a lit­tle RPG on Construct2. That is when I want­ed to become a game devel­op­er, and I think in like a month or two before I start­ed uni­ver­si­ty I man­aged to change my major to both ACM and Com­put­er Science.

While I was in uni­ver­si­ty I took Dr. Jason Leigh’s video game design class. It was at this time LAVA was first being devel­oped because Dr. Leigh was new­ly hired. As time went on, I hung around LAVA and even­tu­al­ly got hired there as an under­grad­u­ate research assis­tant. It was through my expe­ri­ence at LAVA that made me see there are more path­ways than just becom­ing a video game devel­op­er. So now I am here where I am today.

We are very glad you did­n’t study TIM! What do you enjoy most about your career? What are some of your great­est challenges?

What I enjoy most is design­ing things. The gen­er­al process of brain­storm­ing, plan­ning, and cre­at­ing is one of my great­est joys in life. It could be as sim­ple as design­ing my desk space to design­ing the com­plex projects we imple­ment at the lab. The joy of my career is that I am able to design things that can enrich and sup­port our lāhui. For instance, work­ing at the Office of Indige­nous Knowl­edge and Inno­va­tion means that the projects I work on include com­mu­ni­ty co-design and impact. We have inten­tions of devel­op­ing and uti­liz­ing emerg­ing tech­nol­o­gy to aid in the devel­op­ment of process­es and actions to improve envi­ron­men­tal stew­ard­ship and heal land in ways that align with ances­tral prac­tice and values.

I believe the great­est chal­lenge is time and capac­i­ty. I wish I had more time in the day to work on projects, and had more capac­i­ty to work on the myr­i­ad of pono projects that are in var­i­ous stages of devel­op­ment in Hawaiʻi. That is why I am focused on hold­ing space for teach­ing and not just research. I believe if there were more peo­ple from Hawaiʻi who had sim­i­lar skills that I have learned and a pas­sion for cul­ti­vat­ing abun­dance for both land and peo­ple, we could devel­op great things. In Hawaiʻi there is no short­age of peo­ple who alo­ha ‘āina. How­ev­er, there is only a small com­mu­ni­ty of us that also have skills in immer­sive and inter­ac­tive design and the capac­i­ty to hold those types of careers since the cost of liv­ing con­tin­ues to rise here. I try to take my own action as well as sup­port ini­tia­tives that will make these skills more acces­si­ble to stu­dents and devel­op an indus­try for this sort of work. 

Cepheus
Image: Kilo Hīkō VR @ Wayfind­ing Interactive

Where do you get your inspirations?

The typ­i­cal places: my fam­i­ly, friends, teach­ers, and Hawaiʻi itself. When times are hard I have always turned to spend­ing time in a good sto­ry whether through a book, video game, or movie; talk­ing sto­ry with beloved peo­ple; or spend­ing time in famil­iar places such as my favorite beach­es or places in the moun­tains. Doing these things is refresh­ing and brings me the inspi­ra­tion to con­tin­ue work­ing and brings new ideas and per­spec­tive to my work.

Of your many suc­cess­es, which project or accom­plish­ment are you most proud of?

It’s hard to say I’m proud of any of my accom­plish­ments. As an artist, I do fall in the com­mon feel­ing of “things could have been done bet­ter.” Often my feel­ings are more like I’m thank­ful that it hap­pened. The work I do is com­plex in that it can’t be built by a sin­gle per­son. I may be the one who can take cred­it for devel­op­ing a piece of soft­ware, but held with­in most of our projects are data, knowl­edge, and sto­ries col­lect­ed by oth­ers such as com­mu­ni­ty experts, sci­en­tists, or cul­tur­al prac­ti­tion­ers. With­out the will­ing­ness to share that knowl­edge, these projects wouldn’t exist. So I’m thank­ful for the oppor­tu­ni­ty to work with oth­ers and I sup­pose I am proud that they trust me. I aim to con­tin­ue to devel­op and per­pet­u­ate prac­tices to earn and hon­or that trust.

Can you share a bit of a cur­rent project?

A cur­rent project that I am work­ing on is called the Makawalu Edi­tor (for now, it’s a work­ing title). I can’t talk too much about the details as it is still in devel­op­ment, but it essen­tial­ly is an inter­face to visu­al­ize envi­ron­men­tal data using a tan­gi­ble inter­face. It grew from a project that was devel­oped at LAVA in col­lab­o­ra­tion with HECO called the Pro­ject­Table 2.0. A pro­to­type of this sys­tem was recent­ly used as a part of an intern­ship run by the Office Indige­nous Knowl­edge and Inno­va­tion and Mala­ma Puʻu­loa. The interns learned the basics of ArcGIS and sto­ry maps to tell their own sto­ries con­nect­ed to the land they helped care for dur­ing the time of their intern­ship. The Edi­tor was used to help visu­al­ize their maps.

Your projects have includ­ed design­ing apps and “seri­ous games.” What are some of these? What does suc­cess of these projects look like to you?

For me, the suc­cess of any project is if it devel­ops some sort of knowl­edge or capac­i­ty in the play­er. For instance, for Kilo Hōkū VR, where we devel­oped a VR appli­ca­tion to teach the basics of mod­ern Hawai­ian wayfind­ing prac­tices, the suc­cess for me was pro­vid­ing an alter­na­tive to study­ing in cas­es where stu­dents may not have access to clear skies or a planetarium.

Wao Kiʻi, a project I devel­oped for my master’s the­sis, aimed to be a tool to learn basic Hawai­ian envi­ron­men­tal vocab­u­lary with­out using Eng­lish. This is done through a character’s fea­tures and attrib­ut­es that change based on where tiles with Hawai­ian words or phras­es are placed. So for exam­ple, if you place an ʻiʻi­wi tile onto the board, the char­ac­ter will turn into an ʻiʻi­wi. If you place a lele tile onto the board, the char­ac­ter will start to fly. This cre­ates the con­nec­tion between the word and its mean­ing. A fur­ther con­nec­tion is made as in Wao Kiʻi, the scene you are in deter­mines the vocab­u­lary that is pre­sent­ed to the user. So for instance, if the scene is meant to resem­ble Waini­ha Val­ley on Kaua’i, the vocab­u­lary will be relat­ed to a spe­cif­ic place rather than gen­er­al Hawai­ian words. In this way, this devel­op­ment of under­stand­ing of the rela­tion­ship between words, mean­ing, and place is what I con­sid­er a success.

The ulti­mate mea­sure of suc­cess is acces­si­bil­i­ty. This is a met­ric I’m still try­ing to work on improv­ing. Lots of what I work on is inac­ces­si­ble due to the tech it’s cre­at­ed on, but slow­ly things are changing.

Interactive-display
Image: Kilo Hōkū @ Wayfind­ing Interactive

How do you avoid let­ting the pres­sures of inno­va­tion and cre­ativ­i­ty over­whelm you?

Try­ing to be inno­v­a­tive and cre­ative to me is a joy, and I think I have had enough fail­ures in my life that I’m not afraid of it. I also don’t feel the pres­sure that any project has to be my mag­num opus, because there is no way of know­ing what that will be until it hap­pens. Some­times what I think would be a stel­lar idea is actu­al­ly my worst one in prac­tice. I enjoy the ride, and if it doesn’t work out, that only means I know how to do bet­ter next time.

What are your hopes and dreams for the year and beyond in terms of your career and what you would like to send out into the world in the future?

For this next year(-ish) my hopes and dreams revolve around fin­ish­ing my dis­ser­ta­tion. There is a lot I put on pause to final­ly get that last fan­cy paper. Once I get that degree my hope is to con­tin­ue to be work­ing in a place where I can be in a posi­tion to con­tin­ue design­ing tech­nolo­gies and sys­tems that sup­port com­mu­ni­ty abun­dance, knowl­edge, and heal­ing. I also want to be able to pass on the skills that I’ve learned so that in the future there will be many local stu­dents who can do what I do and do it bet­ter. Togeth­er they can take advan­tage of what­ev­er emerg­ing tech­nol­o­gy devel­ops in the future and use it to also cre­ate abun­dance and capac­i­ty in a pono way.

Do you have any expe­ri­ences as a woman of col­or in your field that you might share with our read­ers? What would you like to see change in the indus­try regard­ing the accep­tance of BIPOC creators?

In my indus­try there should be more women & BIPOC. That’s still where we are at. In Hawaiʻi I think we have a lot more POC com­pared to oth­er places, but in my per­cep­tion there is still a lack of women and Indige­nous com­put­er sci­en­tists con­sid­er­ing the pop­u­la­tion of Hawaiʻi and the DEI ini­tia­tives that exist. In my expe­ri­ence, I do try to make an extra effort to help women, Indige­nous, & LGBTQ+ stu­dents where I can (rec­om­mend­ing them to posi­tions, advis­ing on fund­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties, get­ting them access to lab space). But often what lim­its these stu­dents are two things:

  1. life cir­cum­stances that com­mon­ly affect a per­son based on their background
  2. the inevitable stress and tur­moil from being a minority.

I’ve had younger stu­dents who, for instance, don’t have as strong finan­cial sup­port from par­ents due to mul­ti­ple rea­sons, which means that the stu­dent has to take on extra work to be able to make a liv­ing wage, which lim­its the time they can ded­i­cate to their stud­ies and abil­i­ty to do extra cur­ric­u­lar work that would help them devel­op as pro­fes­sion­al. So they get left behind or have to drop out totally.

Per­son­al­ly in my expe­ri­ence I have dealt with things such as:

  • giv­ing a pre­sen­ta­tion about a project that involved Hawai­ian cul­tur­al ideas and prac­tice, and the first response from the audi­ence was some­one mak­ing an inap­pro­pri­ate joke about Hawaiians.
  • peo­ple when I bring up projects like Wao Ki’i that teach ‘ōle­lo Hawai’i, their response is “Is Hawai­ian a real lan­guage? Like can you have full con­ver­sa­tions in it?”
  • being asked mul­ti­ple times by the same per­son “You devel­oped this?”
  • class­mates not let­ting you do any of the work on class projects because “it’s ok, they can just do it”  and so on.

I think that these sorts of chal­lenges and headaches are not unique to Com­put­er Sci­ence but many oth­er fields. All I can say is that the most impor­tant thing is to find your com­mu­ni­ty. Hav­ing friends and col­leagues that share your hopes, val­ues, and strug­gles is the best way to be able to weath­er any cir­cum­stance and sit­u­a­tion that may come your way. When the weath­er gets rough, you can keep each oth­er afloat.

Wao-Kiʻi
Image: Wao Kiʻi Vir­tu­al Envi­ron­ment @ Create(x) Lab, Uni­ver­si­ty of Hawaiʻi-West Oʻahu

What beliefs is your work challenging?

I think that by work­ing in the spaces that I do, I’m prov­ing that tech is not out of reach for any group or com­mu­ni­ty. When I give demos to peo­ple, they often ask where I went to high school. They then take a guess like, “Puna­hou? Kame­hame­ha?” I then laugh because I went to pub­lic school on an out­er island for my entire life. They have an assump­tion that I must be a pri­vate school grad to do the lev­el and kind of work I do.

I also think that my work also chal­lenges the notion that Indige­nous knowl­edge and tech­nol­o­gy do not mix. In my opin­ion, Kāna­ka Maoli have always been tech enthu­si­asts. From tak­ing advan­tage of the print­ing press to installing elec­tri­cal infra­struc­ture; I think our kupuna were good at see­ing new tech­nol­o­gy, quick­ly mak­ing it their own, and using it to their advan­tage. This is not to say we need to adopt every new tech­nol­o­gy; we still have to gauge what is pono. But gen­er­al­ly I get the feel­ing that, espe­cial­ly peo­ple not from Hawaiʻi, think Kāna­ka Maoli are anti-tech and anti-sci­ence. They couldn’t be more wrong, and I think (and tru­ly hope) projects we devel­op help them see that. And if not, we will keep build­ing great things regardless.

What advice would you give a stu­dent inter­est­ed in join­ing your field?

Gen­er­al­ly: Find what inter­ests you and stick with it, even when things feel dif­fi­cult. Learn­ing skills in both art and pro­gram­ming is like rid­ing a bike through an area with a lot of hills. At first it’s hard while you try to learn foun­da­tion­al skills. It will feel like cycling up a hill. But then your under­stand­ing will click into place and you will feel like you’re coast­ing down. Then you begin to learn a new more advanced top­ic, and yet again there is anoth­er hill to climb. Learn how to enjoy the ride and chal­lenge. Make sure you find some bud­dies that will ride with you. Learn when to get off your bike and walk to go easy on your­self. Push your bud­dies up the hill when they need it, and let them help you when you need it.

Specif­i­cal­ly: Go down­load a game engine like Unity3D, Unre­al, or Godot. Go down­load Blender. Think of an easy game idea, like pong, pin­ball, space invaders, etc. Look up tuto­ri­als and try to build your idea. You will start to under­stand what it takes to make a game when you attempt to make one. See which parts that you like, what parts that you can’t stand, and what parts you feel excit­ed to improve on. From there you will dis­cov­er if you will like this field, and what part of the process you may want to focus on. This will deter­mine if maybe you are more of an engi­neer, artist, or pro­duc­tion man­ag­er sort of per­son. Go find oth­ers that are doing this. I can’t empha­size this enough, hav­ing com­mu­ni­ty is important. 

What’s your online pres­ence like? Are you on social media? 

I’m a com­put­er sci­en­tist who is awful at social media. But I do lurk there. Because I’m not very active I don’t get many mes­sages. I’m try­ing to change this. For those who know me, they know how often I say, “Oh I prob­a­bly should have tak­en a picture/video of this.”

And niele ques­tions, if youʻd like to answer:

Who is your biggest supporter?

My part­ner and my fam­i­ly. I try to be on top of my game when I am at work and in pub­lic. So when I get home I am often act­ing goofy and tired. I am thank­ful for their patience.

What’s your favorite mem­o­ry of grow­ing up on Kauaʻi?

Rain. It feels like it rarely rains on O’ahu (at least where I live). I miss wak­ing up the sound of the wind blow­ing the rain against my win­dow. I often miss the smell. I also am fond of the mem­o­ries of my broth­er, friends, and I just wan­der­ing around as kids. We would go walk through fields and col­lect bugs and things. We would feed flow­ers to someone’s cows. We’d steal eggs from chick­ens. We would dig a giant hole in the sand for no rea­son oth­er than to mar­vel that we dug a big hole.

What’s your favorite app? Which app do you wish you could’ve had a hand in creating?

I wouldn’t want to cre­ate any of the apps I enjoy, because if I had a hand in cre­at­ing it I’d be much more crit­i­cal of it and may not enjoy it. I real­ly like an app called Notion. It helps both in work and just keep­ing track of things that I like.

This was so cool, Kēhau! Maha­lo nui loa for shar­ing your man­aʻo with us!

To learn more about Kēhau Noe and her work at the Create(X) lab at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Hawaiʻi at West Oʻahu, vis­it her web­site at KehauNoe.com.

Images cour­tesy of Kēhau Noe.