literature

GREAT MUSEUMS
The Art of Islam at the Met and the Louvre

 

Today, at a pivotal moment in world history, two great museums beckon us to explore the splendor of Islamic art – lifting the veil on our shared cultural heritage. GREAT MUSEUMS: THE ART OF ISLAM AT THE MET AND THE LOUVRE showcases the objects on display in the Islamic galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and The Louvre in Paris to reveal a roadmap of connections that explains why the foreign seems familiar. Narrated by Philippe de Montebello, the former director of The Met, GREAT MUSEUMS: THE ART OF ISLAM AT THE MET AND THE LOUVRE examines the extraordinary artistic masterpieces in the museums’ Islamic Art collections, and reveals a surprising number of connections that unite Western and Islamic traditions, in art, science, and literature. The film explores the surprising cultural relationships between the Islamic and the Western worlds. The art of Islam reflects 14 centuries of changing political and cultural landscapes across three continents. The term “Islamic art” – coined by 19th century art historians – includes all art produced in Muslim lands from the 7th century forward, from Spain to Morocco, Egypt, the Middle East, Central Asia and India, to the borders of China. Universal museums like The Louvre and The Met help dispel the idea that cultures are exclusive, when, in fact, they are intertwined and connected.

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Stephanie Han

 

Award-winning writer Stephanie Han draws from her life experiences to inform her poetry, fiction and non-fiction, which frequently grapple with identity in multicultural settings. Her childhood was anchored by books, which helped her make sense of others and the world around her. Though her life has taken her around the globe, she now calls Honolulu home where she continues her work as a writer and educator.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Oct. 20, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Stephanie Han Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Reading is one of the few creative art forms where we enter the mind of somebody on a deeply intimate and personal level, across time, across cultures. You’re concocting in your mind what the person looks like and they become something you invent.

 

As a child, she found refuge in books, which she called her friends because her family moved so frequently. She says reading and writing are linked and somehow writing chose her and she became a writer. Stephanie Han, next, on Long Story Short. 

 

One on one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people. Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Stephanie Han was born Stephanie Mi Suk Yoo but goes by her maternal family’s name. A resident of Kaimukī, O‘ahu, she’s a teacher with a doctorate at Punahou School at Honolulu, and she’s a writer of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction, much of it about one’s identity in multicultural settings. Dr. Han is the author of “Swimming in Hong Kong”, a collection of short stories. Her father was one of Korea’s top scholars before he came to the United States to attend university, becoming a medical doctor and research scientist. Her mother was raised in Kunia Camp in central O‘ahu, a descendant of the first wave of Korean immigrants to Hawai‘i.  Stephanie Han’s parents met in the San Francisco Bay area, and after they were married, lived all over the United States, fueled in part by their wanderlust.

 

Where do you call home?

 

Now, Hawai‘i is home and in a sense I think it always was a spiritual and familial home to me, we just simply moved around the Continental U.S. I’ve lived in every place except the Pacific Northwest because my family was peripatetic, we were itinerant, and I have been as an adult. But this is the one place we always came for weddings, funerals, family birthdays, and gatherings, so, I would say, in a sense, if I could call one place an idea of home, this would be it. Hawaii was where I could have a sense of belonging, where I could have an Asian face but I could speak English and it wasn’t a big deal, um, where I saw different kinds of cultures and people interacting in a relatively peaceful way and this was a contrast to growing up in the mainland in certain areas where my family were kind of these pioneers, in the Midwest or in the South or even in certain areas of New England.

 

Did you experience racism or was it people who simply didn’t know what to say to you and said the wrong thing?

 

I think it was both, you know, my mother grew up in Kunia on the plantation and so when kids were kind of chicken fighting and kind of bullying me and beating me up when I was in third grade, she wasn’t gonna have that. She was, she…um, immediately asked um, somebody in the Korean community whose father knew judo, to take me on as a student.

 

So she was not a hovering parent in the sense that she approached the bully, she prepared you to approach the…

 

Yes.

 

Ok, so what happened?

 

And so, because she grew up, you know, watching boxing matches and wrestling in the Kunia gym, and so, yes, I was supposed to be a good Korean-American daughter, but I needed to know how to fight back. And so, um, we, me and the bully, we had it out in front of the drinking fountain. He was a head taller than me and the kids gathered, and I don’t even know how it…after a month, I was very confident, after judo lessons for one month, I obviously felt I could take him on, and um, you know, he hit me, and I punched him back, and then we were hauled off to the, um, by the school librarian, who, now, I know they must’ve thought it was really hysterical because I was a head and a half shorter…

 

And boy-girl, I mean usually boys don’t take shots at girls, right?

 

And boy-girl, exactly, and then…

 

So this is a bad bully…

 

Yes, and then, he was crying and I was not, I was just in shock and just paranoid that my mother would get mad at me and he never bothered me, nor did anyone ever bother me at the school again, and I was never physically bothered like that again because it was…it’s all psychological, right? It’s how you carry yourself.

 

Why did you move so much?

 

That was my parents, I think their adventure. So, for my mother, being, growing up pre-statehood, her adventure of travel…I mean, my family traveled a lot overseas, too, but her adventure was in the mainland and for my father, as an immigrant to the United States, this was also his adventure of seeing America.

 

That meant you switched schools a lot.

 

I switched schools every year until I was nine.

 

That’s a lot.

 

What you get used to is, you know, making friends, and you also get used to leaving, it prepares you for different kinds of relationships and different kinds of ways of navigating, and it also obliges you to be more open, and what it did was, it made me closer, I think, to my family and to my parents, and to hold on to things that were permanent, let’s say like coming here, seeing Grandma in the summer or seeing my cousins here, this became a kind of…a permanent idea.

 

Did you have any tricks about how to make friends as a kid when you were starting a new school?

 

No, and I think it did become difficult and it’s what propelled me to become a reader and a writer…because, um, at a certain point, I think, you know, we were often in these places like Iowa, where there were not a lot of Asian-American children, and I remember telling my mom that I had troubles making friends and she said, well, if you read a book, you’ll always have a friend. And this had to do with how she was, I think, and she was a bookworm, and she was a mom who, um, you know, sought out intellectual and creative things, and we didn’t talk as much about feelings, we could find those through books and things like that, so, um, you know, books became my world, books became a way I could make friends, she was right. Books became a path to understanding and to figuring out how people behaved, and from reading comes writing, an idea of expressing personal narrative.

 

I think I’ve heard you say that uh, your mom taught you the importance of creative expression, your father taught you never to quit, which came in very handy when you’re a writer seeking publication.

 

Yeah, so that was definitely my father. So there’s a saying he used to tell me, fall down seven times, get up eight times. A really perfect example of it was me with math studies. So when I was in ninth grade, I went off to boarding school at Phillips Academy Andover, I was a straight-A student prior, I get to Andover, everybody was a straight-A student, so, I really struggled, and I was getting a…I think I was failing math, and so, my father and mother said, we’re tired of you, you know, calling us up at, you know, every night, crying about your math homework so you come back for Thanksgiving. So I came back for Thanksgiving, I did math six to seven hours a day with my father, and um, flew back, I passed the exam, and then I stepped off the plane in December and my dad said, we’re not…we’re conquering this math thing. And so, I did math with my father…I went to work with him six to eight hours a day, every single day of my three week holiday. I would sit there in the gas station, in the front seat of the car, while he’s pumping the gas, doing math problems, um, I did the entire math book, over Christmas.

 

Did you want to do that? Did you resent that?

 

Uh, at first I resented it, but then after awhile I liked it. Like I still know the quadratic formula to this day, because he made me write it down 27 times, because he said if you write anything down 27 times, you’ll never forget it. What it showed me was that you don’t have to be good at something, you can persist and you don’t have to quit, and then I went back and I went from being a D-student in math to two A’s.

 

What does your dad think of your career? He seems like a very success-oriented guy and goes by the numbers, and being a writer is not going by the numbers, especially as a female…

 

Yeah…yeah, my dad, um, human being status is, um, granted upon a Masters degree, so now I have a PhD, so you know, it’s ok.

 

Don’t you have two Masters?

 

Yeah, I have two Masters degrees.

 

And a PhD, the first PhD in English Literature…

 

Literature, from City University of Hong Kong.

 

And you do a lot of professional teaching as well?

 

Yes, so, I consider myself a writer and educator, and I think, you know, my father was a, you know, he was a research scientist and a university professor, too, so he’s proud of that, you know, so in a sense, although it wasn’t in science and most of his family were medical doctors, even my aunts who were 85 years old in Korea, were medical doctors in Korea at the time, which was quite radical for women, but so now, you know, he knows I teach and I write and it’s something that is parallel…parallels his interests.

 

Stephanie Han’s award-winning writings are influenced by the books she read growing up, as much as by her life experiences. Her narratives often center on female protagonists who deal with issues of race, gender, and colonialism, and above all, identity.

 

You said your friends were books?

 

Yeah.

 

And you do live other people’s experiences through books?

 

Oh yeah, like my early experiences were just, you know, like in Iowa reading Laura Ingalls Wilder. I used to ask my mom why she didn’t wear a bonnet and churn butter…like why…

 

Because that’s the real mother…

 

Yeah…I sent away to the Laura Ingalls Wilder home for photos of Laura Ingalls Wilder. So there are family photos of the Ingalls and Wilder family with my family photos because they, it became such a part of how I was trying to understand where I was living.

 

Did you watch the TV show, too?

 

Yeah, but I didn’t like the TV show as much. That was kind of just a short cut, and I was one of those, you know, that didn’t match, that was in, you know, on the shores of Silver Lake, that wasn’t in the second book, you know, I could really…

 

Who’s [INDISTINCT] anyway?

 

Yeah, yeah, I was like, you know, Pa didn’t play the violin like that. You know, I was really…I could be very exact about it. And there were some, also some things that were not quite, you might say kosher, about those books, of when it was written. You know, their treatment…her treatment of how she saw Native Americans, or how Pa was doing the darky kind of dance where he was wearing blackface, and I didn’t understand this as I was reading it, so I find it sort of interesting, you know, how you read one book to open your mind, and I did need those books when I was little, to understand the farm children that I was going to school with and their background and then how later you read them differently. So, um, but yeah, you know, that’s when I would, you know, I’d say, can we have apple pie like Farmer Boy? You know…

 

But reading does…depending on what you read, does teach you empathy, or at least the ability to identify

 

Yes.

 

with somebody else whose, maybe, outer behavior is off-putting…

 

Yes.

 

Because you don’t understand it or you don’t think there’s a reason for it, but when you read a book and you see what’s going on inside…

 

Yes, because reading is one of the few creative art forms where we enter the mind of somebody on a deeply intimate and personal level, across time, across cultures, even when we’re seeing a movie, we’re looking at somebody from the outside in, right? We’re looking at their face. We’re not looking inside their brain. So, when you’re reading, we’re entering somebody’s very intimate thoughts, it’s that magic…

 

And heart.

 

Yes, you know, how they’re dreaming, how they’re feeling, and sometimes you know, when you’re looking at a picture, um, or illustration, you might initially, you could have these reactions, you could be put off by their clothing or something and you might not be able to enter them in the same way, but when you read something, you’re concocting in your mind what the person looks like and they become something you invent. So, reading also propels us to imagine and it works a different kind of imagination gear, in a way, and we, we relate that to ourselves. Like, yeah, I remember I was riding a bicycle, yeah, that’s what it felt like, this person must be riding a bicycle in the same way, yeah, you know, and it becomes something else, verses, you know, I love photography, and I love film, and I love video, and, you know, all these other kinds of visual images, but, it’s something else, you’re outside in.

 

That’s a great point. What are some of the books that have made the most difference to you in reading?

 

Well, I would say…

 

Besides Laura.

 

It changed, yeah, it changed over the course of time, right? So, um, you know, I read, you know Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison. When I was a teenage girl, then I read Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior, and that blew me away, I would say really the opening sequence, because it was the first time I could see the picture. There is a woman of color and she kind of looks like me, she’s Asian descent, and look, she wrote this book, and look, this character is not, you know, is fierce, and is a warrior, and is running through the woods and doing these things, and that was really eye-awakening, and I love Jane Austen. Years later, I read the Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki in translation which is very similar to the Austen book, and that was the book that my mother told me to read and I could see how she transposed ideas of, you know, protocol and manners and this, and how they came through to my upbringing. My narrative has always been something that’s been changing, um, narratives that were…I was told and then tried to imitate, so, I think about this idea of the stories that were maybe told to, let’s say me, through a religious or philosophical structure, which were Confucian virtues, right? Which were…Confucianism is built on the pillars of five relationships, right? King, subject, teacher, husband, wife, and almost all of them are hierarchical, except friend to friend, but there’s a very strict hierarchy that organizes a lot of Asian culture and that was the narrative, in a sense, that I think played out for me or continued to play out in a lot of my life. There was also narratives, uh, folk tales that I was told, so…a traditional, it’s a Japanese folktale, it was also told to Korean kids, was Peach Boy, which is…I’m not sure, do you know it…

 

Momotaro?

 

Yes, and I’m sure you’re familiar with this story…

 

I grew up with that story.

 

Yes, and he comes with a peach to this older parents, and he fights…you know, he makes friends with the dog, the pheasant, and the monkey, goes off and he kills all the monsters, and he comes back with wealth to his village and he’s the hero of the story, right? And this is a typical, Joseph Campbell journey…mythic…myth of the hero, which crosses cultures, right? But there really is not…we don’t find the myth of the heroine, and Campbell had said that’s because the wisdom that is had, women always have inherently, and Campbell was writing and speaking at a different time period, because women do need a narrative.

 

What you said before reminded me of something…I was fortunate enough to interview W.S. Merwin, and he said, um, when life is going along pretty well, you tend to read prose, but when you have something awful happening, some emotional thing, what do you do? You read poetry.

 

Poetry…

 

Is that true?

 

Yes, that’s totally true, and I write poetry um, when I have no words, that’s what I say, and then I write prose to try to make a linear sense of an issue.

 

As an adult, Stephanie Han has lived in many different places around the world. She kept moving in part because of the adventure of experiencing different cultures, but that was not her only motivation.

 

You told us how your, your family moved around quite a bit because of your father’s career when you were a child, but you continued to move around as an adult.

 

Yes, it set the pattern. So I thought…so that’s how I became an expatriate, ectera ectera, it set a pattern where you think moving is normal, um, it’s strange because there’s a different skill-set involved with staying, right? And so that’s, to me, this is now my question too, of staying, you know, this is my home now, so this is…this is the question of staying, and um, yeah, you set the pattern because, you know, and what you realize is, there are many people who actually do this…were just…were…maybe we don’t talk about it quite as much, or we’re referring to one place as the home, but a lot of people are rather itinerant.

 

It seems to me that you’ve been in a number of first-of situations, you might’ve been the first Asian girl in a class or…I mean, you’ve done so many um, so many activities in different countries, uh, what have you learned from that? Because it’s not surprising to me that you became a writer, somebody who’s already good in English and…generally, writers keep their distance, they’re detached.

 

Yeah, I think um, what I learned is that you have to be open and you have to be curious to different experiences and you also have to be tolerant, and I think being overseas um, for different periods of my life, also opened that up, and what I also found is language, speaking different languages matters, but you really need an open heart and you need to be able to laugh with somebody, you need to be able to eat food, you need to listen to their music and maybe dance a little, and that becomes more important than, often than, um, let’s say, exchanging literary ideas.

 

And when do you know it’s time for you to move on, or in the past, how did you figure out…was it outwardly directed or did it always come from within?

 

Um, no, sometimes people moved because they think moving will solve things, but moving doesn’t often solve what you…it could solve temporarily, a job, but maybe that’s the job wasn’t really what needed to be solved, or a question about this, right? So…

 

It’s a way of distracting yourself, in part?

 

Yes, right, and you know, there’s more…you know, there’s the adventure of being out verses sometimes, if you stay in one place, the adventure becomes of going in and going still, or going deeper, so I, you know, I…I’ve had people tell me, you know, I don’t think you can come to necessarily, any more wisdom, traveling and moving, then you can come from being in one place and going deeper. You might find that you can still come to very similar ideas of people and behavior and spirit, and some of the people I consider the most wise, who I seek counsel or friendship, or guidance from, are people who are in one place. Because they came to similar ideas and then moved and came to a different way of seeing things that were incredibly wise.

 

Interesting. One thing about staying is that you…if there are issues, you have to either work them out or, or hole up in yourself, and generally people do either…I mean, I would hope people who stay, find a way to work things out.

 

Yeah, and this just becomes the retreat of a writer, too, right? Reading and writing, for me, um, was always a bit of a social, personal retreat, so, I didn’t neces–, you know, if, the outside became too strange or difficult or, I just would read more or I wrote more, which I…I don’t necessarily advise to everybody.

 

Well, why have you moved as an adult?

 

Um…

 

Repeatedly?

 

Yeah, mostly, it was, I think it was work and opportunity, and a desire to seek, and a desire for adventure, and so I think that was the phase that I was also in, and um, there’s like a whole community, you know, if you’re an expatriate, that’s what you do…you just…you move, from place to place often.

 

And you always find people like yourself…

 

Mm hm, and it becomes a community.

 

It is a community.

 

So that is a community.

 

So how do you find people in that community?

 

Um, you know, they can initially be a much more often welcoming and opening…open to people, because everyone wants a place to live, everyone knows you need employment, so people come rushing forth with opportunities or jobs or places to live, they know you need help with this, because it’s kind of this strange pioneering community, right? Whereas, if you often move into community where people have been entrenched for along time, they’re more closed because you’re an outsider and the peculiar thing is, you know, expatriates, they often never really occupy the place that they’re in. They live in the peripheral of wherever they are and that is the community, it’s being on the periphery.

 

That’s interesting, so, perhaps, at this point in your life, that is still your home?

 

Um, no, I’d say…it’s funny, that’s why I think I ended up here because I don’t have to always be on the periphery here. I do have maternal family and maternal roots here, so it allows me to step in here. I didn’t attend school here which makes, you know, Hawaii is very rooted in people’s young, younger years of schooling…

 

Where did you graduate from…

 

Yes, but um, you know, my son is now local to here and my family is here in that sense, or I should say some of my older relatives. So, I can be both an outsider and an insider here and maybe that’s just right.

 

At the time of this taping in 2019, Stephanie Han is teaching at Punahou School and lives in Kaimukī, O‘ahu, where she also continues to write. Mahalo to Stephanie Han for sharing your stories with us and mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.

 

I don’t think people choose to be writers, I think writing chooses you and then writing becomes a compulsion. Reading and writing are very linked and um, when it is a certain level of a compulsion then it flows through you and you feel at that moment, this is what you were meant to do and you draft it very quickly and it’s almost as if your body is a kind of vessel for what the words are supposed to be, and there’s other times you sit there and you’re just miserable and you try to run away from the desk and you decide at that moment you need to clean your room, but um, you know, so it varies and you just have to, you know, kind of sit your butt in the chair.

 

 

 

[END]

 

 

AMERICAN MASTERS
Ursula K. Le Guin

 

Explore the remarkable life and legacy of late author Ursula K. Le Guin, whose groundbreaking work, including The Left Hand of Darkness, transformed American literature by bringing science fiction into the literary mainstream.

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Wordsmiths

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Wordsmiths

 

On this special episode of Long Story Short, we look back at conversations with three of Hawai‘i’s contemporary authors. We revisit our 2011 interview with Chris McKinney, whose gritty, semi-autobiographical novels, like local best seller The Tattoo, depict the dark underbelly of paradise. Acclaimed novelist Susanna Moore, whom we interviewed in 2012, draws inspiration from her Hawai‘i upbringing, calling forth both beauty and danger in her writing. Our 2008 guest, storyteller and historian Gavan Daws, has made a lasting impact on Hawai‘i’s literary scene with his book Shoal of Time: A History of the Hawaiian Islands, which remains the bestselling history of Hawai‘i. These “wordsmiths” have built careers weaving stories of Hawai‘i in distinctive, personal ways and have proven exceptional at bringing these stories to the page. Hear how they approach their craft and get a glimpse into their literary lives.

 

Program

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, July 7, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Wordsmiths Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I did a calculation a couple years back. Someone, somewhere in the world has bought a book of mine every forty minutes since 1968.  And you used the word academic about me.  I am a recovering academic.  Put it that way.  I never wanted to write like an academic.

 

In part, I wroteIn the Cutbecause was so exasperated by hearing, after three Hawaiian books, that I was a woman’s writer, which meant that I wrote poetically about children, and flowers, and mothers.  I remember thinking: Oh, is that all I can do?  Oh, is that how I’m seen?  So, I very, very purposefully wrote In the Cut to dispel that notion.

 

Some of the best stuff, some of the best ideas, some of the best things that you can plug into your story will be thing that may be scary, and things that there’s actual risk in sort of hurting somebody’s feelings or making somebody mad.  I mean, if you’re gonna refuse to do that kinda stuff, find another vocation.

 

Those are three of Hawaiʻi’s successful contemporary authors sharing thoughts about how they approach their craft.  These writers have built careers weaving stories of Hawaiʻi in distinctive, honest, and personal ways.  On this episode of Long Story Short, we’ll hear some of the fascinating backstories behind their books.  Island Wordsmiths, coming up next, on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawaiʻi’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Despite the technology that dominates our lives these days, a good book continues to inspire our imagination and transport us to new places, far away and even within ourselves.  Here in Hawaiʻi, we have fascinating stories to share, and writers who’ve proven exceptional in bringing these experiences to the printed page or screen.  On this edition of Long Story Short, we feature some of the wordsmiths with whom we’ve talked story over the past decade: Chris McKinney, Susanna Moore, and Gavan Daws.  Perhaps not surprisingly, all three have been teachers, as well as writers.

 

We start with our youngest author.  Chris McKinney of Honolulu was thirty-eight, with four books under his belt, when I interviewed him in 2011.  A writing career seemed unlikely when Chris McKinney was growing up in rural Kahaluu in the 1970s and 80s.  School-assigned books sparked his interest starting in middle school, and little could Chris McKinney guess then that his very first novel, The Tattoo, would one day become assigned reading in many Hawaiʻi schools.

 

You know, especially in Tattoo, part of the story is about a father seeking to toughen his son.  I just make this wild, random guess and figure it’s autobiographical.  So, which father?

 

Oh, stepfather.  And I can’t remember it, but I can just imagine what must have been the look on his face the first time he saw me, when I was about two or three years old.

 

Because of the leisure suit?

 

Because of the way my mom had dressed me.

 

And he said: I’m gonna do something with this kid.

 

Yeah; he just must have taken one look at me and thought: What in the world is this woman doing to this poor kid?  It almost felt like, you know, even though it was the 1970, early 1980s, that we were living in some sort of time warp plantation, sort of the way you were brought up thing.  And even the stories that he seems to enjoy telling the most are stories that involve people doing spectacularly crazy things.  And so, I think for him at least at the time, is part of what being a man is about.  To not show the next guy that you’re not just tougher than him, but you’re crazier than him, that you’re willing to go further than he is willing to go, and he better recognize that before he messes with you, basically.  So, if it wasn’t for my stepfather, The Tattooprobably would not have been The Tattoo.

 

So, you obviously had material to be a writer, but were you thinking about being a writer?

 

Absolutely not.  Again, remember, in some ways, I am my mother’s son.  And it is that cliché immigrant Asian story, or that philosophy, in that they want their children to succeed financially.  I mean, that is the most important thing you can do in life, is you get a good job and you make a lot of money.  And I think that hearing my mother and my grandparents and stuff talk like that all of my life, that I bought into that more than anything else. Art; you know, art, that’s not what I’m gonna do.  I’m going to make money.  So, for a long time, the plan, at least from about high school and for most of my undergrad, I was going to become a lawyer, an attorney.  And then, what had happened was that I spent probably too much time playing ukulele and drinking beer, and playing Nintendo during my undergrad that I needed to go to grad school in order to get into a good law school.  So, yeah, you know.  And at the same time, I had my bachelor’s degree in English. During my bachelor’s degree in English, I was parking cars for a living.  After I completed my bachelor’s in English, I was still parking cars for a living.  So, either way, I thought that grad school, whether it would be an avenue to law school or anything, was probably a good idea, ‘cause I didn’t want to park cars for the rest of my life.  Which was what it felt like.  So, it wasn’t until I went to grad school as an unclassified graduate student.  And again, I was very lucky because the professors who would take me, one being Joy Marcella, and the other one being Phil Damon, and another one—all three of them in the same semester, Ian MacMillan, when I wrote for them, they were all very encouraging.  And I thought: Maybe I can do this.

 

Did you have a sense that your writing was fresh, and that you knew a world that most people hadn’t written about?  If they knew it, they didn’t write about it.

 

Yeah.  Quite honestly, it’s because if you were to look into the sort of educational background of, let’s say, all of the kids my age within that square two miles of where I grew up, I would put money down on the fact that I may be one of three that actually graduated from college.  If that. So, in the sense that I was sitting there and I was writing stories among whatever, you know, seventeen, eighteen other people, yeah, there was definitely nobody else writing the kinda stuff that I was writing.

 

Would you talk about more of the influences on your writing?  What, and who have influenced your writing?

 

There’s a list of teachers that I’m thankful that I had. The first great teacher I had was a guy named Mr. Guerrero.  And this was when I was living in California.  He was fantastic.  He assigned the class a book, Animal Farm, that was the first novel that I had read that just totally resonated with me. And at the time, I wasn’t thinking that I wanted to be a writer, but it was the first time that I saw, and I was in awe of what you could do with a book.  At first, we read it, and then of course, it was thig thing, this power corrupt scheme and all of that.  And you know, I’d seen that before.  But when you find out that it’s based on the Bolshevik Revolution, that just blew my mind. Wait a minute; so this guy took history, he put it on some generic farm, and in that last moment, of course, when the animals are looking through the window and they can’t tell the difference between the pigs and the farmers, the human farmers, I mean, talk about an ending that I will never forget.  So, that was the first book that blew me away.  And then, in high school, I had a couple of good English teachers.  I think one of them still teaches at Mid Pac. Mrs. Takeshita, Mrs. Takabayashi; they were really good, and they were always encouraging.  So, I had teachers, and then there were books that influenced me. Shakespeare, Mac Beth particularly resonated with me when I read it in eleventh grade in high school.  So, that was the second story that just sort of blew me away.

 

How do you feel about high school students getting The Tattoo as required or recommended reading in many schools?

 

Thankful.  I mean, at first, it was weird.  So, when the book first came out, and people would come up to me and say: I don’t read, but my teacher assigned this book and I had to read it, and it was The Tattoo.  At first, I didn’t really know what to say to that, ‘cause I just thought it was strange. But at this point, ten years later, eleven years later, I’m grateful.  Something like that would never have occurred when I was in high school. I mean, high school, you were taught The Canon, you know, Dead White Males.  So, I think that it’s interesting to see that there’s more of a progressive thing going on in high schools, where teachers are allowed, and some of the language in that book is kind of foul.  So, it’s gratifying to see that they have the courage not only to buck the idea that everything has to come from the Western canon, but also that they can take a little bit of risk with what they include in the curriculum.

 

Since this interview first aired in 2011, Chris McKinney has published more books, bringing his total to eight.  He continues to teach writing courses at Honolulu Community College.

 

I spoke with our next critically acclaimed author in 2012.  At the time, she was living in New York City.  Susanna Moore’s tenth book is expected out this year, 2019.  Her repertoire includes two memoirs, one history book, and seven novels, including one called In the Cut, which was made into a 2003 movie starting Meg Ryan.  Susanna Moore grew up on Oahu, attended Punahou School, and lived what appeared to be a privileged life in Tantalus, Kahala, and Portlock in the 1950s. However, her mother’s untimely death led to an unhappy upbringing.  That experience would later compel Susanna Moore to explore family dynamics in her writing.

 

When did the writing bug come?  Or had you always had it?

 

I’d always had it, and wrote as a child, and wrote plays, and really bad poetry.  You know, I was a reporter for Ka Punahou, the newspaper.

 

Did you write more after your mom passed away?

 

No, I don’t think so.  I think about the same.  And also, really a bookworm.  You know, reading early, and reading insatiably and incessantly.  And then I stopped, because I had to work, I had to support myself.  And writing certainly was not going to be a way to do it.  And still isn’t, you know.  Like a lot of writers, I had to teach in order to write.

 

How did you find your voice in the first place?

 

With the first book, I’d had a baby, a girl child.  So, I’m sure there was some identification there with myself and my mother, and my mother with her mother.  And I was approaching the age, the same age as my mother when she died.  And I felt a bit shaky, and I wanted very much to just get down in writing what had happened to me, and to my daughter’s grandmother.  And that’s really how it began, just to record it.

 

And who were you imagining would see it?

 

She; I was imagining my daughter, when she grew up, would find this helpful in understanding who I was, and who her grandmother had been. And then, of course, it took her years, and years, and years to read it, interestingly.  She could not read it for the longest time, not until she was maybe seventeen or eighteen, because it was too pain for her.  She would start it, and then she’d have to stop.

 

What did she say after she read it?

 

Thank you.  She understood.  I think certain things were made clearer to her.  Some, perhaps more mysterious.

 

And what’s the name of that book?

 

My Old Sweetheart.

 

Which is really the story of you and your mom.

 

Yes.

 

As you say.  The Whiteness of Bones; I mean, I didn’t have this background as far as you talked about a little girls growing up on Kauai with a land-rich family, but very much a creature of the ocean and the forest, and you know, hanging out with the cook. How did you get that?  That was such beautiful imagery.

 

Well, of that came from spending summers on Kauai, particularly in Waimea.  And there were bits of that from my own childhood, although those weren’t my parents. The relationship with the gardener was our gardener at Tantalus; that was real.  The mongoose; my sister did have a pet mongoose.  There were things that I took, and then things that, of course, I made up.  I always thought that in a way, nature took the place of my mother.  So, I was very, very grateful and conscious of it, even I think, as an adolescent that it was playing a part in my life that was significant. But Hawaiʻi was meaningful to me in a way that was profound.  Still is.

 

I find it just really wonderful and refreshing that you have taught at Yale, at New York University, at Princeton, and you haven’t attended college. But you’ve been hired by Ivy League universities to teach.

 

It’s because of the books.  You know, if I hadn’t written these books, I would not be hired.  No; and I don’t think I could teach in the English department.

 

Creative writing is what you teach.

 

Creative writing is such a made-up thing, and ill-defined.  I mean, yes, I can get away with that, teaching creative writing without a degree, but even if I knew everything there was to know about Emily Dickinson, I would not be hired for that.

 

Do you regret not going to college?

 

It would not be unlike the way my life would have gone if my mother had lived.  I think if I had gone to college, it might have been harder for me to get started on the path that became my life.  My path to becoming a writer, or to becoming independent and free, the way I did become, would have been much, much harder, if not impossible, had she lived.

 

Why?

 

Well, she would have wished for me a more conventional life, I’m sure.  To marry, to have children, to be near her, station wagon, house in Kahala; all of those things to which she aspired.  And a bohemian life would have seemed to her probably frightening and impractical.

 

Are you saying the wandering, the bohemian lifestyle is really you, and if your mom had been alive longer, you wo7uld have taken longer to find that?

 

If ever.  Yes, I think it is really me.

 

It is really you.

 

Yes.

 

So, that raises an interesting question.  Would you rather have had your mom with you longer, or …

 

Yes; always.  Always.  I would much rather have had my mother.  And I am one of those people who, I don’t believe that suffering makes you an artist. In a way, I’m saying the reverse of what I just said, that I don’t think the things that happened to me as a child, or as an adolescent, or a young woman, made me a writer.  I think that was there.  I don’t think suffering is ever an advantage.

 

Really?

 

No; I don’t think so.  I might have written different kinds of books, my interests might have been different, I might have been less interested in mothers. Clearly, I would have been less interested in mothers.

 

Since this interview took place in 2012, Susanna Moore has moved back to Hawaiʻi from New York and married a former Punahou Schoolmate.  She also has published a history of Hawaiʻi called Paradise of the Pacific.  Susanna Moore lives in Kapaau in North Kohala on Hawaiʻi Island, but returns every fall to Princeton University on the East Coast, where she’s been teaching for the past ten years.

 

While Moore is an author who became a university instructor, our next guest was an academic who became an author.  Gavan Daws of Manoa, Oahu says he never planned to move to Hawaiʻi, let alone become an authority on Hawaiʻi history.  He left his native Australia, and just happened to get off the ship here.  He was teaching history at the University of Hawaiʻi in the 1960s when he wrote and published his first book, Shoal of Time, which has remained the best-selling history of Hawaiʻi, ever since. This acclaimed author and historian has written shelf full of meticulously researched and sometimes controversial books, including Land and Power in Hawaii.

 

So, you accidentally came here, in a sense.  And then, you accidentally got a PhD in Pacific history?

 

It was like breaking the balls on a pool table. You know, things just went everywhere, and one of ‘em went into a pocket.  And that was the academic life.  It could have been anything else.  It just kinda grew from there.  I got offered a job, I kept the job, I got tenure, I wrote a book, and so on, and so on. But I’ve also done other things outside Hawaiʻi, and other things other than academic work, you know.

 

Within just, what, a decade or so of coming here, you’re writing a history of the Hawaiian Islands, Shoal of Time.  Is it still a local bestseller after all these years?

 

Yeah, it is; it’s forty years in print.  Which is amazing.  Eighty percent of books disappear after a year.  They’re like restaurants, you know; they fold.  And I had no idea, doing that, what kind of life it would have, or even if it would get published.  Which you never know.  And just a little bit of the history of that; Honolulu Book Shops, which was the only bookshop in town in those days, they ordered twenty-four copies.  And when they sold them, they didn’t reorder; they thought that was about the demand.  But here it is, forty years later.

 

It’s required reading in many courses.

 

Which I don’t want; I don’t want to be required reading.  I want to be read by, my phrase, consent adults.  I want them to choose to read it.

 

Have you heard that in the intervening decades after the book came out, there has been some perception on the part of Native Hawaiians that there’s a colonial tone here in the book?

 

Oh, sure.  Yeah.  I think every writer writes as someone of his or her own time.  I certainly had no great ability beyond anybody else’s to look backward or forward, or sideways.  I breathed the air that was here to breathe at that time, and wrote that. Now, in the forty years since then, and almost fifty years since the research, there’s two generations. That’s half the people living here now; A, weren’t born then, and B, weren’t born here.  So, the change in everything here is huge, since I started doing that.  Any general history written now will be written by somebody now, looking back at then through the eyes of now.  Totally different.  There wouldn’t be a sentence in this book that would be the same, if I were doing it now.

 

Is that right?

 

Oh, yeah.  Or if anybody were doing it now.  Now, I that forty to fifty years, we’ve now got more than thirty years of the Hawaiian renaissance.  Now, think what a difference that’s made in the air that everybody breathes. Okay.  The next book that’ll be done, and I wish done soon, will breathe that air.  Fine. Thomas Jefferson says: History needs to be rewritten every generation.

 

When you were researching Shoal of Time, how did you put yourself in mind of what, say, Native Hawaiians were doing at that time, and how’d you learn to characterize certain things?

 

With difficulty.  What I try to do with writing, and it’s not just for Shoal of Time, but anything at all, I try to keep people interested in turning the page.  If you’re not readable, then what?  If I put you to sleep by page ten, even if I’ve got something interesting to say on page fifty, and you don’t get there, what have I done?  So, first thing; be readable.  And then, you’ve gotta dance with nonfiction.  With fiction, you can say anything to be readable; you can have sex every three pages or a mighty explosion every five, or whatever.  But with nonfiction, you can’t really take those liberties.  So, what you’ve gotta be able to do is, do that dance between readability and reliability.  And that’s a dance.  And it’s a solo dance; only one person’s name is on the book.  And everybody’s dance with readability and reliability will be different.  And that’s why they’re my books; that is to say, that’s my name on the title page.  But they’re only my books.  There’s always room for another book and for a better book, always.

 

What other ways have you told stories in your life?

 

Well, if it comes down to twenty-four words or less, I suppose that all my life has really been about words and audiences. Words is all I have.  I have no other skills of any kind, either creative or financial.  So, it’s words; words are my currency.  And I kinda grew up on the edge of the Outback in Australia, where when I was a kid there was no radio, and where for a long time there was no TV.  And storytelling was what everybody did.  And when you got old enough, which was around sixteen, you’d go into the pub two or three years below drinking age, and that was storytelling territory as well.  And on top of that, I’m about five-eighths Irish in books and in stage plays, and in song lyrics.  And I’ve done the libretto for an opera, and I’ve made documentary films which are not my talking, but other people’s talking.  And I’m a huge admirer of standup comedy; I just love standup comedy. So, words are the way that things come to me, and on a good day, they’re the way that things come out of me.

 

You’ve been on bestseller lists, and you’re an academic whose books have been reviewed by the New York Times, which doesn’t happen to most academics, because they like to point that out.  Would you talk about that a bit?  You’ve drawn the attention of major reviewers and major audiences and readerships.

 

I did a calculation a couple years back. Someone, somewhere in the world has bought a book of mine every forty minutes since 1968.  And you used the word academic about me.  I am a recovering academic.  Put it that way.  I never wanted to write like an academic.

 

And you didn’t.

 

No; and for cause.  Because bless them; for all their virtues, most academics do not write to be read.  They write to demonstrate that they know something.  That’s a very different thing.  And they write for other academics.

 

Does that mean other academics might consider your work lighter than others, because it is, quote, commercial?

 

They’re welcome to; perfectly welcome to.  But I don’t see any necessary contradiction between writing responsibly and readably.

 

This multi-talented wordsmith has also written for film, television, stage, and has even written songs.  In 2018, his most famous book, Shoal of Time, celebrated its fiftieth anniversary.  The e-book version has now outsold the many hardcover and paperback editions.

 

Mahalo to all of these accomplished wordsmiths—Chris McKinney, Susanna Moore, and Gavan Daws—for giving us a peek into their literary lives.  And thank you for watching.  For Long Story Short and PBS Hawaiʻi, I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org.  To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

I said to my editor this time, who’s Sonny Mehta, who was also the publisher of Knopf, that I’ve always felt my books were covers that would only induce a woman to pick up the book in a bookstore, you know, that I know that women are the primary buyers of fiction, but it would be awfully nice to have a book that a man might want to read from the cover.  And I think covers do make a difference.  And he said: Yes, yes, I agree that would be good, especially as it might be your last cover.  And I thought: [GASP] What does he mean?  He saw my face, and he said: No, no, I will always publish you; I don’t mean that, I mean that it might be the last …

 

Paper book.

 

–book in which you’ll be able to hold it in your hands. So, it’s changing.

 

[END]

 

 

 

A Modern Twist on a 19th-Century Classic

 

A Modern Twist on a 19th-Century Classic: Les Misérables on MASTERPIECE

April program guide cover story by Jody Shiroma, PBS Hawai‘i

 

The story unfolds with Jean Valjean, a worn-out convict who cannot seem to break free from his life of crime, until a simple act of kindness changes his life for the better as he chooses to “pay it forward” by committing to save a young girl from a life of poverty.

 

Les Misérables: David Oyelowo as Javert, Dominic West as Jean ValjeanWhile you have probably heard of Les Misérables, or have seen the musical or the film of the musical, the dramatic interpretation of this classic novel on MASTERPIECE takes a new twist. Viewers tuning into the series will see the same story told differently, in a modern take on this French classic, as the team behind this television adaptation is ignoring the famous songs and instead embracing speaking-only roles in an ethnically diverse cast sporting British accents in a French setting. The intent is to add a contemporary feel to the 150-year-old story.

 

The series features an esteemed ensemble of actors to bring the story to life. It stars Dominic West in the iconic role of ex-convict Jean Valjean, David Oyelowo as his nemesis Javert and Lily Collins as the destitute Fantine as key players in the amazing cast.

Les Misérables: Lily Collins as FantineThis television adaptation of Les Misérables brings the renowned classic by Victor Hugo vibrantly to life through colorful and fetching characters. Multi award-winning screenwriter Andrew Davies goes back to the original novel and digs deep into the many layers of Hugo’s story, taking viewers on a roller coaster ride through Jean Valjean and Javert’s cat-and-mouse relationship set against the epic backdrop of France at a time of civil unrest.

 

Les Misérables includes some of the most famous characters in European literature, and touches upon many of the same social problems that we face today – the struggle of poverty, crime and punishment, good vs. evil, social injustice and wrong vs. right.

 

Director Tom Shankland says: “Working with this incredible cast on Andrew Davies’ fantastic adaptation of Les Misérables, really is a dream come true. We want to capture the thrilling spirit of passion and protest in Victor Hugo’s novel and make it feel more relevant than ever. The conviction, intensity and authenticity that all of these actors bring to their work is going to be a massive part of making this story speak to audiences everywhere.”

Les Misérables on MASTERPIECE

Sundays at 8:00 pm
April 14 – May 19, 2019
on PBS Hawaiʻi
Watch a preview here

 
Les Misérables on Masterpiece

 

 

 

SHAKESPEARE UNCOVERED
The Merchant of Venice with F. Murray Abraham

SHAKESPEARE UNCOVERED: The Merchant of Venice with F. Murray Abraham

 

Three centuries before The Merchant of Venice was written, England became the first country in medieval Europe to expel its Jewish population. Comparing Shylock to the stock Jewish villain of the day, the episode looks at the efforts over the years, for better or worse, to treat him more as a victim – and rescue Shakespeare from any taint of anti-Semitism.

 

Preview

 

 

 

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I
Literacy in Hawaiʻi

 

We know literacy as reading and writing, but it has become so much more. Literacy enables people, especially our keiki, to understand concepts and ideas and express opinions. Importantly, literacy allows them to grasp knowledge needed to meet the demands of today’s rapidly changing world. On the next INSIGHTS, we’ll discuss literacy in Hawaiʻi and look at how we are preparing children to not only participate in society but how to lead and solve problems. Join the conversation by phoning in, or leave us a comment on Facebook or Twitter.

 

Phone Lines:
462-5000 on Oahu or 800-238-4847 on the Neighbor Islands.

 

Email:
insights@pbshawaii.org

 

Facebook:
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Join our live discussion using #pbsinsights

 

 

 

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