Around since 1978, the premiere journal of the literatures of Hawaiʻi, Bamboo Ridge, has upgraded itself for the audiovisual-media-friendly era with “Bamboo Ridge at Home” (youtube.com/playlist?list=PLM9u0tLyADkCCmC92KnUZVz475_yvQe9X). The series of online videos show Hawaiʻi creative writers filmed in their living rooms while they explain the context for, then read excerpts from, their fictional stories, creative non-fiction, dramatic plays and poetry. The editors wanted to offer BR fans and lovers of “local literature” some comfort during the coronavirus era, so in mid-April, they launched this reassuring series of nostalgic and current creative works by Hawaiʻi writers — demonstrating at the same time that the diverse peoples of our islands have survived far worse than this virus.
Some featured pieces are longtime favorites of BR readers, such as “Tsunami, April Fool’s Day, 1946,” from Juliet S. Kono’s 1988 Hilo Rains collection of poetry. Before her short online reading, the retired Leeward Community College English professor, who also writes fiction, reflects how the societal impact of the tsunami that she had experienced as a 2 ½-year-old child, 74 years ago, was much like the devastation of the coronavirus today.
“Like COVID-19,” she says in her video, “it (the tsunami) was fast, furious, devastating.” In her introduction to the poem, the Buddhist writer describes how the compassion of others had saved the lives of herself and her family during the attack of merciless tidal waves: how her grandmother had been rescued by a young man who lifted her up into a tree but had himself later died; how she as a young child had been carried off to safety by another man. “… (T)hinking back on it, this is very much like what the doctors and nurses helping COVID-19 patients are doing today at this moment of the pandemic,” she shares.
Other work read for BR at Home is bespoke especially for our current time of crises, including a wry, dialog-driven treat by BR’s co-founder, the esteemed playwright and short-fiction writer Darrell H.Y. Lum himself, entitled “Boy and Uncle: Virus.” “Uncle, how come you wearing the Burger King crown?” / “Somebody went ask me if I had corona; I said, yeah, I get one crown,” the mini-play starts with Lum’s trademark working-class, Hawaiʻi Creole English-inflected humor. Though opening in this light-hearted way, Lum uses the brief exchange to have uncle educate nephew on one tragic aspect of Hawaiʻi settler history. Immigrants from the land of the uncle’s ancestors were once targeted for disease transmission due to anti-Chinese prejudice, as Territorial-era authorities had often equated these East Asian newcomers with rats. Lum parallels the 1900 historical burning of Chinese businesses and cultural institutions downtown, with the current U.S. trend of blaming China and Chinese people for the coronavirus.
Lisa Linn Kanae, poet, short-fiction writer as well as creative non-fiction auteur, reads her poem, “Our Flying Circus,” which features once more her younger brother, star of her well-read (and frequently classroom-taught) HCE life-writing narrative from 2001, Sista Tongue. The English professor at Kapʻiolani Community College shares lyrical snippets of charming childhood moments when the Native Hawaiian siblings had pretend-performed music and skits that imitated global pop-cultural TV shows, films and music including Monty Python’s Flying Circus, together at home while their working mother had been out serving tourists in Waikīkī. The story ends with the brother refusing chemo after both siblings had grown into adults, an intensely moving finish which Kanae delivers with quiet restraint. “Okay, that was kinda sad,” she admits emotionally, as a canine family member barks in the background. “And that’s my dog! But maybe it’ll inspire us to remember to take care of each other, because I think that’s what we really need to do right now.” She wishes everyone safety, health and malama to close out the video.
The BR website offers author blogs, writing prompts, books and chapbooks for sale as well as the occasional writing contest or writing workshop (bambooridge.com). The out-of-print Hilo Rains can be read for free at the KapCC digital archive (dspace.lib.hawaii.edu/handle/10790/5187). For the short script of “Boy and Uncle: Virus,” see bambooridge.com/bambooshoot.aspx?bid=2134. The 2008 edition of Sista Tongue is still sold through its publisher, Tinfish Press (tinfishpress.com/?projects=sista-tongue). Out of print and nearly out of print issues of BR can be read, without cost, at dspace.lib.hawaii.edu/handle/10790/5185.