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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]

 

 

 

Just One More Chapter, I Promise…

 

Just One More Chapter, I Promise...

By Emily Bodfish, PBS Hawai‘i

 

Just One More Chapter, I Promise...

GET CAUGHT READING, PBS HAWAI‘I | New Local Multimedia Initiative Launching This Month
It’s always a rough landing, getting pulled back to reality when you were just immersed in a great book. One minute, you’re saving the known universe with a plucky band of misfits riding mechanical, intergalactic sheep-dragons, and the next, you’re late for your dentist appointment. You got caught reading, and we think it’s a great thing. We want everyone to GET CAUGHT READING!

 

We want everyone to find those books that make you wonder where the hours went, because it’s those stories that we just can’t put down that turn “have to read” into “want to read.” The written word opens doors to adventure, relaxation and knowledge about ourselves, our world and more. Reading brings the world to your fingertips.

 

HPD Police Chief Susan Ballard reading from Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!

 

GET CAUGHT READING is a new multimedia initiative at PBS Hawai‘i, made up of video stories for on-air and online, and in-person events. Beginning March 3, you’ll see GET CAUGHT READING videos in the intervals between our regular programs. In these short videos, we highlight the power of words, and the many ways people get caught reading every day. You’ll hear community members read passages that hold deep meaning to them; watch keiki exude excitement talking about their favorite stories; witness parents and their grown children revisit books they read together years ago. These videos will also be available to watch at pbshawaii.org.

 

In the following months, PBS Hawai‘i will be partnering with Hawai‘i public libraries to host keiki events. We’ll host story time, give away books, and give the children a platform to talk about the books they love. Part of the goal of GET CAUGHT READING is to engage with rural communities, especially on neighbor islands. We plan to host events on O‘ahu, Kaua‘i, Hawai‘i Island, Maui, Moloka‘i and Lāna‘i.

 

State Librarian Stacey Aldrich, who grew up watching PBS programs, said that GET CAUGHT READING is “a perfect partnership” between PBS Hawai‘i and the Hawai‘i State Public Library System. “We know that just the simple act of reading a book creates strong new connections in our minds and with each other,” Aldrich said. We hope to see your budding reader at an event near you. Until then – GET CAUGHT READING!

 

Retired Hawai‘i Sportscaster Jim Leahey reading from Ron Chernow’s Grant

 

 

 

GET CAUGHT READING
Sharing Book Bliss

 

CEO Message

 

GET CAUGHT READING, Sharing Book Bliss

Leslie Wilcox, PBS Hawai‘i President and CEORemember when reading meant more than checking one’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts?

 

Thankfully, many people still make time to read whole books, knowing the truth of what Katie M wrote on @betterbybooks: “Books let you fight dragons, meet the love of your life, travel to faraway lands and laugh alongside friends, all within their pages. They’re an escape that brings you home.”

 

As part of PBS Hawai‘i’s GET CAUGHT READING multimedia initiative, which is launching this month, we’re asking adults and children to read a favorite passage to fellow Island residents.

 

“How do I pick?” is a typical response. “I have a lot of favorite books.” These are words we love to hear at this educational media organization!

 

Here’s a sampling of the excerpts that Hawai‘i citizens chose to GET CAUGHT READING:

Susan Ballard, Honolulu Police ChiefHonolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard spoke up for the little guy in picking Horton Hears a Who! by Dr. Seuss, with Horton musing that there just may be a tiny person atop a speck of dust:

“Some sort of a creature of a very small size, too small to be seen by an elephant’s eyes…some poor person who’s shaking with fear that he’ll blow in the pool! He has no way to steer! I’ll just have to save him, because, after all, a person’s a person, no matter how small.”

Mahealani Wendt, Activist and poetActivist and poet Mahealani Wendt of Hāna, Maui read from her own poem, “Voyage,” inspired by the Polynesian voyaging canoe Hōkūle‘a:

“We are brothers in a vast blue heaven, windswept kindred souls at sea. We are the sons of vast night, planets brilliant and obscure, illimitable stars and somnolent moon. We have loved lash and sail, shrill winds and calm, heavy winds driven in squalls over turbulent seas. We have lashed our hearts to souls of islands, joined spirits with birds rising to splendor in a gold acquiescence of sun. We are voyagers and sons of voyagers, our hands working the cordage of peace.”

Eran Ganot, UH Basketball CoachUniversity of Hawai‘i Men’s Basketball Head Coach Eran Ganot read The Stonecutter’s Credo by Jacob Riis:

“When nothing seems to help, I go look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. But at the hundred-and-first blow, it will split in two. And I know it was not the blow that did it…but all that had gone before.”

We invite you to listen to words of life and imagination and power on PBS Hawai‘i and pbshawaii.org. Join us at read-aloud events at public libraries. And find joy as you GET CAUGHT READING!

 

Aloha Nui,

Leslie signature


 

 

 

Leadership Takeaways from Long Story Short

 

CEO Message

 

Leadership Takeaways from Long Story Short
 

Leslie Wilcox, PBS Hawai‘i President and CEOI wish wisdom were contagious, like colds. If so, my Long Story Short team and I would be wise beyond our dreams. Over the last decade, we’ve been face to face with well over 200 leaders and interesting citizens, listening to their personal stories of success and failure and lessons learned. As we look ahead to a new year and new resolve, I thought I’d share with you a few leadership traits and skills touched upon by guests on the program:

Ability to Distill What’s Most Important

The outgoing he'd of Punahou School, Dr. Jim ScottThis is the ability to filter ideas and aspirations through the context of one’s purpose, goals and resources.

 

Example: The outgoing head of Punahou School, Dr. Jim Scott, deals with students, teachers, parents, administrators, donors, alumni, trustees and untold complexities. Every day, he said, every third person who walks into his office has a great idea for him.

 

How does he set a course? He recalls his baseball days. As a student athlete at Punahou and Stanford University, he was better at pitching than hitting. When he became a teacher who also coached baseball and he wanted to know more about hitting, he picked up a book by one of the greatest hitters of all time, Ted Williams. Williams wrote that the secret is knowing what pitches to let go.

 

Dr. Scott said: “I got to thinking about the Ted Williams School of Management and wondering what pitches not to swing at, which good ideas do you not go for…From where I sit in my office, I’m looking for synergy, congruence. I’m kind of a broker of ideas, and when I see patterns and recurring themes, they become good. And that’s why an idea sometimes takes time to bake, to form.”

 

Battle-hardened Confidence

Former CEO of Hawaiian Airlines Mark DunkerleyThis is the conviction that you can and will make a tough decision, because you’ve done it before.

 

Example: Mark Dunkerley, the former CEO of Hawaiian Airlines, a brilliant strategist and turn-around master in a fiercely competitive industry, commented: “I’m always struck by how difficult a time people have in making decisions. Making decisions, based in part on analysis, but never with perfect information, and largely based on the accumulation of one’s personal experience, is something that I’ve always felt comfortable with. That’s not something that keeps me awake at night.”

Fearlessness

Civil rights Icon Minnijean Brown TrickeyThis is a willingness to take bold action, even though it turns the status quo upside down or inside out.

 

Example: Civil rights icon Minnijean Brown Trickey, visiting Hawai‘i from Arkansas, was one of the Little Rock Nine – nine African American teenagers who in 1957 integrated a white school, Central High, amid riots. They kept going to school despite hatred and harassment.

 

“Somebody had to do it,” Trickey said. Explaining that the civil rights movement was youthdriven, she said: “The young people were doing things that the grown-ups couldn’t do, because in fact they would lose their jobs. And they didn’t put us there, we put ourselves there and asked them to come with us. There’s a line in a freedom song (that says) ‘if you don’t go, don’t hinder me.’ And another line is, ‘If my mama don’t go, I’ll go anyhow.’ It was about seeing a different vision, and hoping that it didn’t stay the same.”

 

There are many life takeaways in the Long Story Short files, and I’ll bring you more from time to time. Also, I invite you to view or read transcripts of the interviews on our website at pbshawaii.org/lss

 

We at PBS Hawai‘i are grateful to you, as a loyal supporter, for helping to provide this rich resource.

 

Season’s Aloha

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The Ultimate Real Estate in a Democracy: Common Ground

 

CEO Message

 

The Ultimate Real Estate in a Democracy: Common Ground

 

KĀKOU – Hawai‘i's Town Hall

 

Leslie Wilcox, PBS Hawai‘i President and CEOAs Hawai‘i real estate keeps getting pricier, I keep thinking of a different kind of real estate that is ultimately more valuable in a democracy.

 

Common ground in our national and local discourse: Priceless.

 

These are days when people don’t just disagree on issues; they have different sets of facts. And there’s a media voice catering to every opinion, affirming what one already believes, whether it’s true or not.

 

We all have reason to worry about our democracy, since its health depends upon shared core values, a level of trust in our leaders, and the reliability of information on which to act.

 

Hawai‘i is by no means seeing the kind of partisan polarization that is gripping the Continent, but we’re struggling to get our arms around and agree upon big issues, such as what to do about homelessness and how to support jobs with increasing automation in the workforce.

 

PBS Hawai‘i brings together Islanders with differing perspectives to engage directly with each other on many top-of-mind subjects and some issues that aren’t considered enough. Real democracies require real discussion.

 

This is not the same as what local daily broadcast news operations do – they generally try to tape separate interviews with the parties, and air the contained sound bites in a two-minute story in the newscast. (It’s not easy to convene people who disagree with each other, especially on short notice.)

 

On our weekly hour-long Insights on PBS Hawai‘i and our periodic two-hour KĀKOU – Hawai‘i’s Town Hall, people on different sides of issues meet face to face – and they’re being televised and streamed live. They show up, because they want to get their message across; because it’s the responsible, responsive thing to do; and because they trust us to treat them fairly. Once in a great while, when an issue is particularly volatile, we’re unable to get pro and con leaders to sit down together. And also infrequently, we end up with a lackluster program because we can’t get participants to depart from canned comments, to have a real conversation.

 

But most times, participants put aside any discomfort they may feel about engaging directly with opponents or critics and answering follow-up questions from our moderator. The best of these participants truly listen, instead of trying to cut short their opponents or simply waiting for their turn to speak. This leads to candid, meaningful exchanges that help viewers develop their own perspectives.

 

With today’s complicated societal challenges keeping us at odds and on hold, our mired democracy seriously needs this kind of civil discourse.

 

When you contribute your hard-earned dollars to PBS Hawai‘i, you are supporting the power of media for public service over profit and politics. And you’re supporting priceless common ground for the common good. Thank you!

 

Aloha nui,

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What Drives KEN BURNS?

 

CEO Message

What Drives Ken Burns?

 

Ken Burns, Photo courtesy of Justin Altman

 

Filmmaker Ken Burns, who’s coming out with an 18-hour Vietnam War film to be shown over 10 evenings this month on PBS Hawai‘i, freely admits that he’s a workaholic; that he’s obsessive in his pursuit of archival material for his films; that his detractors dismiss him as long-winded.

 

And Burns can laugh at himself.

 

As he did when he was being honored as the greatest American documentary filmmaker of his generation. Stepping up to receive a lifetime achievement, he joked that he’d prepared a nine-part response.

 

He had to learn about laughter, since sadness and loss were prevailing childhood themes.

 

Burns, 64, is clear about what drives him and his compulsion to look at the past. It is the death of his mother, Lyla Burns, just before he turned 12. She had suffered from breast cancer for nearly a decade.

 

Burns remembers coming home from school or play every day and telling his ailing mother stories about what had happened, in effect sharing life with her. After she passed away, he recalls watching movies with father, Robert Burns, and seeing him cry, which was something his father didn’t do in other circumstances. That’s when young Burns says he grasped the storytelling power of film.

 

In a short video posted online at creativeplanetnetwork.com, Burns says: “I found myself becoming a documentary filmmaker, trying to tell stories and using American history to tell those stories that I wanted to tell. When you look back at it, the job that I try to do is to wake the dead. And it doesn’t seem too far a leap to understand, from that early decision to be a filmmaker, who I really want to wake up.”

 

From the earliest time that he can remember as a child, he says he knew his beloved mom was sick. He was not close to his father.

 

As a young man, he rejected chasing a Hollywood-type career. He says he innately knew, and was taught at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, that “there’s much more drama in what is and what was, than in anything the human imagination can dream of.”

 

Delivering the commencement address at Stanford University last year, Burns explained that delving into history can lead to personal and professional breakthroughs.

 

“The past often offers an illuminating and clear-headed perspective from which to observe and reconcile the passions of the present moment, just when they threaten to overwhelm us,” he told new graduates.

 

Burns wants this newest film with his creative partner Lynn Novick, about the divisive Vietnam War era, to spur national healing.

 

As he told an interviewer from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee:

 

“We caught something during the Vietnam War – like a virus – and we are still suffering from the effects of that virus today. I’m hoping my film is a bit like a vaccination – that it exposes you to a little bit of the disease to permit you to go past it and heal from it.”

 

I invite you to join me in viewing this new Burns/Novick film series, starting at 8:00 pm, Sunday, September 17, on your TV station, PBS Hawai‘i.

 

A hui hou (until next time),
Leslie Wilcoxʻ signature

 

 

We love sharing with you!

Leslie Wilcox, President and CEO of PBS HawaiiIt’s not unusual for someone I meet on the street to tell me: “You were just in my living room last night.”

 

PBS Hawaii, thank you for welcoming us into your home!

I’m always thrilled that you choose to have PBS Hawaii in your home. We do picture leaving our slippas on your porch as you beckon us inside as enduring friends!

 

PBS Hawaii and our viewers share something precious with each other.

 

You make contributions to sustain an independent, locally owned media alternative. And your gifts extend value to others who can’t afford to support public television.

 

PBS Hawaii provides a trusted place of discovery. We offer diverse subjects and storytelling that respect your intelligence and at their best are intriguing and illuminating. We bring reliable information and context, and we don’t try to tell you what to think.

 

PBS Hawaii: We Love Sharing with You!

 

Local ownership used to be the norm throughout much of the media world. But over the years, a handful of huge companies has come to control much of what we watch. That’s not inherently bad, but it is also not local.

 

PBS Hawaii is able to bring out local concerns and island voices that may not be heard in off shore headquarters. We set our own policies, make our own program decisions, and we rise or fall based on how responsive we are to local needs.

 

As your fellow Hawaii citizens, we’re thankful for you and for the precious time, curious mindset, and community values that we share.

 

With gratitude,

Leslie signature

 

 

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