Sept. 17: Jeffrey Ryan Long

imageJeffery Ryan Long lives in Honolulu and is a student in the English Department at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa.


How long have you been writing? What has changed, in terms of either subject or yourself as a writer, along the way?

I’ve been writing since I was in high school, though for a long time I was engaged with poetry and songwriting. During my final semesters as an undergraduate I began writing stories, because I became very interested in the many possibilities of narrative as a means of expressing ideas.

Could you tell us about what kind of stories you wrote back then? What ideas did you strive to express? 

I was attracted to narrative as a means of expressing ideas because in songwriting, I had a hard time moving outside my point of view in order to say something about any particular thing. It was all very personal, and somewhat monotone. With narrative fiction, I was able to bury, a little, my own point of view in an effort to portray people that I didn’t necessarily know or agree with. This inspired me to talk to people, to learn from people, to try to understand what different people felt, and why they felt that way. There are magnificent stories out in the world I’ve never personally lived or even quite grasp the significance of. But they are beautiful–and all stories have something to teach. So, by respecting these different voices–and if I can express at least part of that beauty, and try to understand, with the reader, where the meaning lies in the story–I feel like, through narrative, I can express something meaningful.

How would you describe your work thus far?

The majority of my work is about work–the identities we create for ourselves while we work, and how those identities are sometimes in conflict with how we act or feel outside of work. For the most part I’ve stopped writing stories that aren’t about or set in Hawai’i.

Why is that?  

I must admit, I felt a little uncomfortable about writing about Hawai’i because, even though I have roots here, I am sensitive to the politics of identity like “local” and “haole” and “settler” (there are probably more terms I haven’t heard yet). I thought it would be easier to avoid the conflict altogether, if I just write about these places I’ve made up in my mind.

 As I grew in my writing, I realized that avoiding Hawai’i was cheating my own inspiration, in a way. As someone who lives here and sees what happens here from a variety of perspectives, I feel compelled to contribute to the conversation about this constantly growing, constantly changing, constantly intriguing place.

Are there certain fields of labor that your writing addresses? 

 There aren’t certain fields of labor–but, as an office man, I find there is a lot of drama that exists in the workplace, especially when the line of personal vs. professional breaks down.

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on several stories (more stories about work) and revising some earlier things I’ve been putting off. All this in addition to schoolwork and work-work.

Could you give us a preview of what you’re planning on reading at MIA?

I’ll be reading “Two Drunks” at MIA, a short story originally featured in Intellectual Refuge in 2012. I’ll have a few copies of my short story collection University and King available for anyone who might want a copy.

Hear Jeff read his work on Sept. 17, 7 p.m. at Manifest in Chinatown.

Sept. 17: Lee Kava

L. KavaLee Kava is a hafekasi musician of Tongan descent, currently dreaming/scheming about how she might produce an album and make it an acceptable form of completing her PhD in English at UH Mānoa. She is the founder of the Pacific Verse, a music-writing workshop series that works with participants to create original lyrics and music using indigenous Pacific languages. She dedicates her work to the genealogy of creative expression in Oceania, and hopes to make positive social change through Pacific music and poetry.

It’s great to see you in the English department! Could you tell us about your transition between programs and what inspired the shift?

I just finished my MA in Pacific Islands Studies over at UH Mānoa Center for Pacific Islands Studies (CPIS). When I started there, I hadn’t thought of myself as a writer or poet, and it took the encouragement of good friends and excellent professors in the UH Mānoa English, American Studies, and Pacific Islands Studies departments to start working through poetry as a critical and creative means of  working through Pacific Studies. I had the opportunities to take creative writing seminars in the English department that centered the Pacific–classes like Alice Te Punga Somerville’s seminar on Pacific Literature and Craig Santos Perez’s creative writing seminar on Pacific poetry. I think these seminars, the training that CPIS provided, and the opportunity to work with the Pacific Tongues organization here in Honolulu truly changed the way I think about creative writing and the power of poetry. Through the support and guidance of my professors at CPIS, I was able to foreground Pacific poetry and music in my MA portfolio, and encouraged to apply to a PhD program. I applied to the English department at UH Mānoa because I wanted to keep shaping my skills as a Pacific Islander poet and writer, and I wanted specifically to stay at UH Mānoa in order to keep working in the communities of poets/writers/scholars/musicians/activists who are changing how we use our writing and performance to make a difference in the Pacific.

How long have you been writing? What has changed, in terms of either subject or yourself as a writer, along the way?

I’ve been playing music since I was 5, and attempting to write lyrics since I was about 15. I never thought of myself as an artist, let along a “writer”, until coming to UH Mānoa. What has changed is how I’ve been taught to think of writing and the power that self-expression through poetry can have. I think the major change in my approach to the power of poetry and writing is a result of being part of Pacific Tongues and going through poet facilitator training. Through our training, we work through how we as poets and performers can get youth, and really anyone we work with in writing workshops, to speak their own truths through poetry. There is so much at stake for our youth, and our communities in general, if we do not feel empowered to speak. Pacific Tongues provides tools and stage for some of the youth of Honolulu to empower themselves through spitting their poetry, and it is this relationship to the power of the word and self-representation that reminds me what is so important about writing and performance. I think the root of this is the idea of responsibility as a writer, particularly as a writer with the opportunity to be in an academic institution where I can teach.

What kind of truths speak through your own poetry? 

Perhaps words and poetry are the tools and medium for the truths I want to get at through the act of performance. It’s hard to explain – perhaps writing about and grappling with identity as a mixed-race Pacific Islander woman on a page, and then speaking those words to life on a stage, are parts of a process of getting at some truth. I want to speak truth to the importance of expressing Pacific Islander identities, that our stories matter, that we matter, our Ocean matters, and our connections to our Ocean are critical to our survival. Our words as Pacific Islanders are important to be written, and even more important to be spoken and passed along, even if it’s just to the one friend who’s down to listen, or that one family member who’s open to hearing your work and keeping you responsible to the real emotions, people and communities you bring with you when you write.

How would you describe your work thus far?

Pacific identity-centered and aimed at empowering Pacific audiences. I am still figuring out what to do with form and structure, but I do feel that I am getting to understand the importance of a sustained writing practice.

What are you currently working on?

I am the director of the Pacific Verse project, which is hosted by the ICON Creative Summit in Tonga and Pacific Tongues here in Honolulu. This project focuses on music and poetry-writing workshops that get participants to engage indigenous Pacific languages and cultural genealogies in our writing. As for my writing, I’m currently working on poems in Craig Santos Perez’s Ecopoetics writing seminar.

Could you give us a preview of what you’ll be performing at MIA?

Sure! Here’s a section from a poem I’ll be reading entitled “driving between – for Lucy”


every day, Lucy Lou drives herself

crazy long distances

on her tiny blue Toyota car, running

between UH Mānoa and keeping both eyes

on wandering grandparents, who occasionally

walk free down the road from the family house in Laie –

Lucy Lou steers one-handed between

the exit off University and her wedding

plans for June on Big Island, accelerating

to make it through intersections of good student

and responsible daughter, Lucy Lou

is not afraid of the cops

or bossy mechanic authorities

who try and dictate how “a good Tongan girl”

should maintain herself

Hear Lee read her work on Sept. 17, 7 p.m. at Manifest in Chinatown.

Sept. 17: Kapena Landgraf

1380120_10202076552253216_1392816113_nBorn and raised in Hilo, on the Big Island of Hawaii, Kapena spent much of his childhood in the plantation towns of Pepe’ekeo and Papa’ikou along the Hamakua coast.  His family later moved to the Kaumana area of upper Hilo where he attended Hilo High School, graduating in 2006.  Kapena moved to Oʻahu to attend UH – Mānoa in that same year,  eventually earning both his BA and MA in English.  Currently a Ph.D. candidate in English, Kapena is the current Fiction Editor of Hawaiʻi Review and is an avid reader of indigenous Hawaiian literatures and local literatures of Hawaiʻi.

How long have you been writing?

I began writing in 2008, when I took a 313 creative writing course from Rodney Morales.  I jumped majors a few times during my undergrad, from chemistry to medical technology to secondary education in English.  I was pretty set on becoming a high school English teacher with a BEd in secondary education, but taking Rodney’s course opened a new chapter in my life.  Studying literature and redeploying the techniques of great writers was, and still is, so compelling to me.  I wrote my very first story in that class, and it went on to win a Myrle Clark award for creative writing.  The very next semester, I became an English major and I’ve never looked back.

Could you tell us a little about that first story?

My very first story was titled “Baptism.”  At the time, I was very into war stories, mostly fiction, creative nonfiction, and memoir.  “Baptism” was about the experiences of a sailor aboard a US navy ship fighting the Japanese in the battle for the Pacific.  I was quite naive when it came to anything war related, so the story was driven more so by the central character than by plot.  I became fixated on nailing the development of dialogue in the story, and thus, I see “Baptism” as sort of the genesis of my obsession over dialogue.  I’m a big fan of silences in literature as well as film, and I insist that the speech of my character be concise but potent; loaded in a way that permits the reader the freedom of interpretation.

What has changed, in terms of either subject or yourself as a writer, along the way?

Since then, much has changed in terms of my writing focus and style.  Most of these changes came during the MA program, where I took American literature and Hawaiian literature courses from Jim Caron and ku’ualoha ho’omanawanui.  I had always felt my writing lacked direction and purpose.  I knew I could write a decent story, but I would choose my topics on a whim.  I didn’t like that.  I credit much of the students in the MA program for pushing me toward indigenous Hawaiian literature.  No’u Revilla was a big inspiration to me, and slowly but surely, I began to embrace my Hawaiian upbringing and heritage within my personal writings.  My MA thesis ultimately combines the the literary style and techniques of Faulkner and Hemingway to describe Hawaiian stories of dispossession, loss, but also reclamation.  I continue to write in this fashion.  There’s something about minimalist writing that I find incredibly powerful.

Was there anything challenging in this shift to embracing your background? 

My decision to embrace my Hawaiian heritage was, and continues to be, extremely difficult for me.  I come from a very assimilated family who have built solid reputations at multiple levels of government here in Hawaiʻi.  My journey through academia, an indeed writing for that matter, has been driven by a desire to develop some sense of “hyrbid-identity” that observes a balance between embracing my Hawaiian blood while also being sensitive to the limitations of my upbringings within an assimilated family.  This is why I’ve found the readings of John Dominis Holt to be incredibly powerful.  I often describe my writing as “fractured” for exactly this reason, choosing to portray my central character(s) as passive and silent in order to illustrate the incredible amount of internal conflict that exists within an individual who is a child of two very different worlds.  Jonathan Osorio wrote an amazing article, “On Being Hawaiian,” borrowing its title from one of Holt’s texts.  In it, Osorio goes to great lengths to describe Hawaiians who are “huikau,” or confused about who they are; their identity, their origins, their sense of belonging.  Haunani Trask has also written of such confusion in a number of her articles, and unfortunately for me, I belong to this group of “confused” individuals who were divorced from the history and culture of their lahui.  However, rather than viewing my situation as hopeless, I think I’ve been given an amazing opportunity to illustrate the repercussions of colonialism, assimilation, and reclamation experienced by those who occupy the grey space of erasure.  It is a place where deep meditations can be had as to the emotions of finding a sense of belonging.

I was big on Raymond Carver when I started writing and kind of obsessed over his economy of language. How was minimalist writing useful for the stories you were trying to tell? 

I’ve really become a fan of Faulkner and Hemingway and their use of imagism.  I’ve received a lot of flak about this being very “cliche” and odd, since I’m “idolizing” these well-known American authors to portray narratives steeped in Hawaiian history and cultural issues, but as Lilikala Kame’eleihiwa has said about Queen Lili’uokalani’s writings, one of the queen’s greatest strengths was her ability to redeploy Western technologies (language, education, etc.) for purposes supporting the lahui and the kanaka.  Faulkner and Hemingway have a way with world-building that is truly unbelievable to me.  Some of their shorter stories can completely gloss-over much of the main character while a narration of the senses conveys to the reader everything and anything they need to know.  I think that works which observe an economy of words forces the reader to reach certain monumental epiphanies for themselves, encouraging moments of self-reflection, self-realization, and meta.  A true connection is thus established between not only the reader and the text/characters, but also the underlying themes presented in the story itself.

How would you describe your work thus far?

 It’s difficult for me to discuss my work because, until VERY recently, I’ve never shared any of it beyond the classroom workshop setting.  Since much, if not all, of my writing concerns elements of indigenous Hawaiian culture, traditions, and knowledge, I’ve kept my writing underground for reasons of kuleana.  I feel very strongly that if I’m going to incorporate anything Hawaiian into my narratives, I must do so responsibly.  It’s a great fear of mine to lose credibility because I misinterpreted an olelo no’eau or retold a part of Hawaiian history inaccurately.  I thus take my time before sharing my stories to make sure I’ve done as much research as I possibly can; that I’ve consulted with others more knowledgeable on particular issues and have their approval.  Most of my stories deal with a character in the process of reclaiming his Hawaiian heritage and ancestry, mirroring my own journey through life and similar to the works of Alani Apio and John D. Holt.

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently brainstorming a number of stories.  I have an odd writing process that relies heavily on post-it notes and web diagrams as brainstorming techniques.  What make this odd is that when I actually start writing a story, I tend to completely ignore all the brainstorming I had initially done in preparation.  I’m looking to do a short piece concerning the plantation period and the use of bango tags.  Another idea I’m working on is a story told to me by my grandfather about several forestry cabins on Hawaiʻi Island that could hold invaluable information within their walls concerning Hawaiian history and language.

Hear Kapena read his work on Sept. 17, 7 p.m. at Manifest in Chinatown.