English professor nationally recognized for ‘This is Paradise’

Western Today staff

Kristiana Kahakauwila, Western Washington University assistant professor of English, was selected to be part of the summer 2013 Barnes and Noble Summer Discover Great New Writers program and the Target Emerging Author program for her literary short story collection, “This is Paradise.”

“This is Paradise” depicts the daily lives of Hawaiian natives, relationships between locals and tourists and the struggle between the traditional Hawaiian culture and the modern world encroaching on its shores.

The short stories allow the book to capture the mixed races and cultures in Hawaii, Kahakauwila said. In one story a young woman, “Wanle,” follows in her father’s footsteps to become a legendary cockfighter to avenge his death, and another story follows a young tourist drawn to the darker side of the city’s nightlife, as told in the perspective of local Waikiki women.

Kahakauwila is native Hawaiian, but was raised in California. While studying creative writing in the MFA graduate program at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, she took courses in Pacific History and began to formally study Hawaiian and Native histories. Kahakauwila moved to Hawaii after earning a master’s degree, and chose to explore rather than write for the first year, she said. At the end of the first year on the island her paternal grandmother died, and Kahakauwila wrote an email to a close friend about who her grandmother was and what the funeral was like. Later, she fictionalized the plot and characters in order to write the story, “Thirty-Nine Rules for Making a Hawaiian Funeral into a Drinking Game.”

“As soon as I wrote it I knew that I had the first short story in a collection,” Kahakauwila said.

Most of the stories begin with strong, sensory details of real objects or incidents drawn from personal experience, she said. Objects can carry weight, and have a relationship to the character that develops the scene, she said.

All the stories Kahakauwila has written began with a driving question and a need to understand, she said. In “Wanle,” Kahakauwila said she was fascinated about how women exist in men’s worlds and how men exist in women’s worlds, and cockfighting is a male-dominated sport in Hawaii.

The stories explore “something I truly want to understand, and only by writing am I going to begin to understand it,” Kahakauwila said.

Kahakauwila earned a bachelor’s degree in comparative literature from Princeton University and a master’s degree in Fine Arts from the University of Michigan. She has taught English at Chaminade University in Honolulu, and has worked as a writer and editor for Wine Spectator, Cigar Aficionado and Highlights for Children magazines.

Kahakauwila’s book is on sale at Western’s Bookstore, Barnes and Noble and Amazon. Her next project is a novel based on a decade-long court case in Hawaii where East Maui taro farmers sued a sugar plantation over water rights. It was a landmark court case for the islands, and is celebrated in Native Hawaiian communities.

For more information, contact Western Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing Kristiana Kahakauwila at (360) 650-6605, or Kristiana.Kahakauwila@wwu.edu.