Friendly Isle `Opio Celebrate Reading

Writers talk story with students.

By Jennifer Smith

Molokai students learned first hand what it takes to write during the Celebrate Reading literature festival. The event held last Friday at Molokai High School featured five authors from completely different genres.

“You are going to really interact with the authors and talk story with them,” emcee and slam poetry artist Kealoha Wong said to an enthusiastic crowd of Molokai High and Aka`ula school students.

In between taking turns reading to the young audience, Ilima Loomis, Patricia Wood, Graham Salisbury, and Takashi Matsuoka joined Kealoha in running small group workshops with students. The authors’ books discuss subjects ranging from paniolo, to society’s view of the mentally challenged, to Japanese American relations.

Kealoha opened the festival with two lively and thought-provoking performances of “I am a Hawaiian in the 21st Century” and “Recess.”

Speaking candidly to the students about his outlook on life, including the struggle to not sell out and the recent loss of his father, Kealoha encouraged the students to write about the things they were experiencing. As a writer, it is “your job to get it down and share it with people,” he said, advising young writers to “be honest with yourself.”

“Every author has a message,” Kealoha said. “If you get inspired to write something, stop what you are doing and write.”

Patricia Wood decided to write her book “Lottery” because she was looking for a certain book to read, and she couldn’t find it. Writing from the perspective of a mentally challenged individual, her book explores how much money it would take for someone with an IQ of 76 to be noticed. Through several edits with her agent and publisher, Wood discovered it would take $12 million.

This summer Wood will travel to the United Kingdom as the first person from Hawaii to be short listed for the Orange Prize, an international award given to the best full-length novel written by a woman.

Ilima Loomis’s book “Rough Riders” proves that a woman can eloquently capture the spirit of the male-dominated paniolo world. The author traveled throughout the islands to interview cowboys about the long and proud history of the ranching culture on the islands.

Many students were able to put a face with a name, when Loomis read a story told by Molokai’s own Jimmy Duvauchelle.

To attend the event and speak with the authors, students were required to read one of the books from the five authors. Nearly 100 students were able to attend and enjoy the quirky humor of the down to earth writers, who spent the last few minutes sharing the craziest thing they had ever done.

The soft-spoken Takashi Matsuoka filled in for Cynthia Kadohata, and shared several stories about adventures as a Japanese man riding a motorcycle through the western United States. However, the only detail he could give the young audience about the craziest thing he had ever done, was that when he told his daughter it caused her to say, “oh my god!”

Molokai High School librarian Diane Mokuau organized the event and said bringing the literature festival to Molokai took several years of planning. “We are very thankful that [the authors] could come,” she said.

“It is such an amazing thing for students to hear from authors about the struggles” of writing, Makuau said. “Telling stories is important in our culture” and it is a great opportunity for the students to meet the people who write these stories.

The librarian beamed as she told of a student’s transformation after reading a Graham Salisbury book. “He didn’t think he was a reader” until he read Salisbury for the festival, Mokuau said.

Before the event closed students asked Kealoha to give them one last performance. He chose a piece about the importance of taking control of our own destiny, a performance that helped him to be recognized as the eighth best slam poet in the country. The students were instantly drawn in by the definitive tone of his voice and movements, so much so that they stayed past the bell to hear it to the end.

Mokuau said the event was a success thanks to the support of Director of the “Celebrate Reading” program for Hawaii, Lorna Hershinow, and the help of Kata Lee, Siri Anderson, and several teachers.


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