Hawai‘i’s literary community lost one of its kindest, most talented and most generous souls with the passing of Marie Hara on Aug. 23 at the age of 75.
I had lunch with Marie about a month earlier. We talked about some of her health challenges. It’s a common topic of conversation among those of us in the Social Security/Medicare age range. She couldn’t drive anymore, so I picked her up at her architect husband John Hara’s office in Mö‘ili‘ili, where she spent most of her days because it was safer than being at home alone. She was still writing her stories and poems. Hand-writing them, of course. It’s how she was most comfortable writing. And if you read her writing, you would conclude that technology is over-rated.
I met Marie for the first time when I started writing for the Herald back in the 1980s. She was a Herald staff writer at the time. I was familiar with her name long before I ever met her in person, because she, Arnold Hiura (former Herald editor) and Stephen Sumida (now-retired University of Washington professor) had co-founded Talk Story, Inc., one of the earliest celebrations of made-in-Hawai‘i literature. From Talk Story, Inc. grew Bamboo Ridge Press, now four decades old.
Marie supported and encouraged so many writers. She helped people turn their “dream book” into reality, sharing her editorial perspective, helping them edit, critiquing their work to make it better . . . always believing in their dream.
In my early days at the Herald, I remember thinking how blessed she was: She could do journalism as well as write creative stories. I wished I could do that. But I know Marie worked hard at it and took the critiques of her “Study Group” friends — most of them fellow Bamboo Ridge Press writers — seriously.
Her husband John and their daughters, Mayumi and Kasumi, and their husbands and children were her first family. The Bamboo Ridge writers and editors were her second family.
I found an essay Marie wrote for the Herald on the 1998 release of the Bamboo Ridge volume titled “Growing Up Local: An Anthology of Poetry and Prose from Hawai‘i.” It celebrated Bamboo Ridge Press’ 20th anniversary. Here’s an excerpt from the essay.
“We help each other when a book is to be published. We cover the tables when books need to be sold. We help to raise funds at benefit plays, at teachers meetings and by asking friends for donations. In the past we spent endless hours at mailings and we occasionally still do (Feeble writers’ joke from those sessions: ‘Are we committed, or should we be committed?’ We have learned the hard way about the necessity of sharing the work. We have gotten to know each other and have learned at great length how difficult it is to continue to believe in the value of the art of writing, in keeping the writer’s real voice alive, especially since publication never comes easily . . .”
“When I think back to the day that my book, ‘Bananaheart and Other Stories,’ was released by Bamboo Ridge Press after at least two years of group effort on my behalf, I see the faces of the entire gang who had written grants, kept accounts, helped to edit and proofread, stuffed envelopes, asked fellow writers for local and national reviews, talked to classroom teachers and librarians, wrote publicity, set up signings, found venues and audiences, helped me prepare readings and much more just to ready me for the new job of being a published writer. Every one was an unpaid volunteer. I was so grateful for such solid anchoring and hands-on friendship. And I still am.”
I’m sure Marie remained grateful — to her family, her Bamboo Ridge ‘ohana and other friends — until she took her last breath.
Aloha ‘oe, Marie . . . until we meet again.