This week’s show features a short story and an accompanying musical playlist by Bryan Kamaoli Kuwada.
Bryan Kamaoli Kuwada believes in the power and potential of ea, of life, of breath, of rising, of sovereignty, because he sees it all around him, embodied in the ʻāina, the kai, his family, his friends, and his beautiful community. He is a long-time Ph.D. candidate in English at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, focusing on translation theory. He is currently editor of the journal Hūlili: Multidisciplinary Research on Hawaiian Well-Being, and is also a creative writer. His story, “Of No Real Account” earned him a feature as one of Hawaiʻi Review’s Students of the Month and won second place in the 2017 Patsy Sumie Saiki Awards for the best short story by a UH student. For this award, winning stories powerfully reflect Hawaiʻi history, culture, and traditions.
I chose songs by indigenous artists, partly to show the diversity of the kind of music being put out, but also just because these songs are so good.
Standing in the Rain by Kainani Kahaunaele: At one point, the story opened with Keaka standing in the pouring rain trying to figure out how to reverse what he had done, so I thought this song was fitting. Also Kainani is my cousin and I love her voice.
How the Rain Feels by Hanale Bishop: Continuing on with the rain theme. Hanale makes my favorite poi and some of my favorite music.
Fade Away by Che Fu: Che Fu is a politically conscious Niuean/Maori artist who put out some amazing albums throughout the ‘90s and early 2000s. This one is about really enduring friendship, and I thought it was a nice connection with Keaka and Liko’s friendship, and it makes me think about the support of my own friends who have really been there for me through a lot.
Manitou by Ziibiwan: Kind of stretching here, but Ziibiwan is an indigenous artist I really like, and his song opens with loons. And while loons are not actually ducks and do not sound like ducks, they kind of look like them.
R.E.D. by A Tribe Called Red makes me feel like a superhero when I listen to it.
Home by Cornerstone Roots and Huki ‘ia by ‘Ai Pōhaku are rooted in place and connection the way I want my stories to be as well.
INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR
What inspired you to write this story?
A while ago, I saw the movie Mystery Men, which was a comedy about a bunch of misfit scrub superheroes who had to save the city after the main hero was accidentally killed. I thought it was hilarious and kind of wondered about what would happen if we had a story like that here. Māui is like this pan-Pacific hero who fished everyoneʻs islands out of the ocean, and I figured that he must have cast a pretty big shadow over the other “superhero” kind of folks who were around during his time.
I also wanted to write a funny story. I think we are often told how important our stories are as indigenous people, and so we often treat them as solemn and sacrosanct. I definitely think we need to be respectful of our stories, but that also means that we sometimes make them too serious. Traditional moʻolelo often had hilarious scenes in them, and I wanted to add some humor to my story, especially because humor is so underrated as a device of serious literature, but is so integral to the kind of everyday stories that I love. I wanted to write something that sounded like your good friend was retelling a traditional story that he had learned, but was kind of messing up, maybe forgetting parts or embellishing things to make it more fun.
Who do you write for?
I’m not really sure. Definitely for people like me who grew up loving to watch sci-fi movies and read comics, but would still always think about how cool it would be if there were people like us in them. As a kid, I really identified with Lou Diamond Phillips as Jose Chavez y Chavez in the movie Young Guns, and not because I had any real connection with the character he played, but because he was brown and kind of looked like the people I knew. There were almost never any Hawaiian characters in anything, so I flocked to all the Native American characters in stuff because that was as close as I could get, and we all know how stereotypical most of those representations were, so I grew up with all of those weird ideas about the “vanishing indian” and that like every Native American was a mystically powered tracker who came from the Plains.
I see that same thirst and desire to see ourselves in these cool books and movies and comics when I look at the students I would have when I taught Hawaiian lit. I see it in my nerdy friends now. We want to be in cool stories, and if we have stories that are more culturally grounded, more culturally appropriate, more actually-written-by-us, then imagine how much stronger our sense of self would be. Our sense of wonder. What if instead of native people always being relegated to the past, we could see ourselves in stories set in the future?
I think lit lets you experience things in a way that is impossible with other media. The story takes place all in your mind, in your body, and you create everything. There is such power in the worldbuilding that takes place within us when we read or hear or experience lit. I love academic writing and blogging, but because of the work that you have to do to build the story worlds within yourself, stories and poems and other forms of literature really have this deeper, more embodied way of affecting you. Also, if you are trying to get across a particular message, like how so much of the good speculative fiction written by POC folks right now does, it’s easier to worm your way into people’s brains because the message is (hopefully) woven seamlessly into the world that the story is building in the reader’s mind. It is not so upfront the way those other forms of writing can be.
What are you working on now?
I have a steampunk story set in the Hawaiian kingdom era coming out in an anthology out of Aotearoa in July. I’m working on a different steampunk story set in the kingdom that PhDJ keeps telling me is a novel (which is actually the same feedback I got from the anthology editor on my other steampunk story), and I am trying to figure out a monster story for an anthology that is coming up relatively soon as well. What I don’t seem to be working on is my dissertation.
How can folks connect with you?
Folks can connect with me on FB or randomly in person.