3 Writers I Discovered When I Moved Home to Hawai‘i

This is a guest post from Connie Pan. Originally from Maui, Connie Pan earned a BA in creative writing from Grand Valley State University and an MFA in fiction from West Virginia University. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Fiddlehead, Carve Magazine, PRISM international, Hawai’i Review, Bamboo Ridge, and elsewhere. An aspiring novelist, she lives in California, where she is a freelance writer and editor. Follow her on Twitter @panlikepeter.


A Maui girl removed from the islands at fifteen, I wrote elsewhere: Michigan, West Virginia, Pennsylvania. Whenever I returned for break, I—overdue for R&R, strung out on large coffee after large coffee, wrung dry of words—devoted myself to reading. I’d spend vacation hoarding books I couldn’t find on the mainland, binging on Vitamin D (the sun, not milk) and onolicious grinds.

Post-MFA, I worked all of the jobs I could find and fell in love with my fiancé. When he had to relocate, we decided that I’d accompany him. He applied to five positions, which included places I couldn’t point to on a map where I knew the sun rarely showed its face. When an offer from Hawai‘i arrived, I felt like a brown Cinderella. But the superstitious part of me dreaded I would never write again. There, I was so many things, but I was never a writer. Did that charged distance nourish the words?

Looking back, I laugh at my jitters. In A Little Too Much Is Enough, Kathleen Tyau writes, “What we pass on to you is more than custom, more than china and jade.” Yes, queen. Returning, for me, was invaluable. Instead of cramming books in during my visits and in the little square of suitcase I managed to reserve for literary finds, I soaked up the place that I have been obsessed with my entire remembered life.

Pat Matsueda – When I first returned, I interned at MĀNOA: A Pacific Journal of International Writing. Nosy and research-obsessed, I Googled the staff. Online, I found the managing editor’s novel excerpt and an interview—both fantastic. Months later, a colleague asked if I had read Matsueda’s book. When I shook my head, he gave me a look that could only mean, Do. It. Now. I devoured the collection. I read it aloud to my partner. I posted poems at my desk to reread. I revisited lines like these in “Inflamed”: “Rinsing, cleaning our skins. / Coaxing the ocean / out of our black hair.” Her poems are magic. So magical, my water bottle leaked in my tote and drenched a hand-edited manuscript, but Stray remained unscathed. 

Nora Okja Keller – When I travel, I find food and bookstores. A habitual creature, I purchase a book to remember each place. In Kailua (yes, a trip across O‘ahu that includes a mountain-tunnel ride counts as a journey), I visited BookEnds. Inundated with dust, book stacks, and a knowledgeable yet intriguingly aloof staff, I searched the wonderful selection of Hawaiiana literature. New and used books mix, forcing patrons to sift. In the hashtag age, BookEnds forces how a bookstore experience should be: perusing, digging, uncovering. It takes time. Books pile, horizontally, on top of the vertical standing lines. They brag, Look how much knowledge exists for you to obtain. I skimmed and extracted Comfort Woman. At first sentence, I knew it would be mine. By the end of the page, I was walking to the register. In case you’re wondering about that opening line: “On the fifth anniversary of my father’s death, my mother confessed to his murder.” 

Kathleen Tyau – A couple of the most common Hawaiian words are makai (toward the sea) and mauka (toward the mountains). Until I moved back, I forgot how much we used them, but I, lost in the oceanless and mountainless places I have lived, could never ignore that I understood my location according to makai and mauka. Maui had imprinted itself on my mind. While visiting the haole side of my family in Michigan, I stopped at Schuler Books & Music, an indie store. Overwhelmed and crunched for time, I froze in front of a bookcase, struggling to breathe, and saw Makai. An autographed hardcover edition. The dust jacket is the color of what you see if you stare at the horizon at dawn or dusk, a delicate pink sky that eases the heart resting with the soulful blue ocean, and I was no longer lost.

Celeste Ng, Jesmyn Ward, and Robin Sloan recommend their favorite books in our newest podcast, Recommended. Download it for free from Apple Podcasts or Google Play.
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