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Second annual Bamboo Ridge Writers Institute hosts amateurs and professionals

by Crystal Silva, Etcetera editor


Bamboo Ridge Press sponsored its second annual Writers Institute, Try Write Again 2002, on Oct. 26 at the UH Manoa Campus Center.

The workshop, co-sponsored by the UH Manoa English Department and Campus Center Board Activities Council, brought in the best of Hawai‘i’s literary minds to lead and participate in panel discussions, writing workshops, and master workshops. Costing an additional $50, master workshops gave participants a chance to have their work evaluated by a professional in that genre.

The BRWI kicked off with readings from two of the most talented women in Hawai‘i: Honolulu Advertiser columnist and playwright Lee Cataluna and author Lois-Ann Yamanaka. Cataluna read six original monologues of eccentric but uniquely Hawai‘i characters. “Linda Hamamoto, bank workah” told of going to McKinley Car Wash instead of clubs, bars, or 24 Hour Fitness. “Wolverton Kahauna‘ele,” a police officer who uses complicated police jargon to describe the simplest of things. Cataluna’s monologues were a big hit, and had the audience screaming with laughter. Yamanaka followed, with two poems from her first novel, Saturday Night at the Pahala Theater.

HPU’s own Yokanaan Kearns led one panel discussion, “The Art of Authentic Dialogue.” The panel consisted of all local playwrights: Kearns, Cataluna, Tammy Ha‘iliopua Baker, Victoria Kneubuhl, and Ed Sakamoto. Baker specializes in plays completely in the Hawaiian language, and has had her plays tour the state of Hawai‘i as well as the South Pacific. Sakamoto’s Aloha Las Vegas just finished a reprise at Kumu Kahua Theater. Kneubuhl’s Conversion of Ka‘ahumanu will begin at Kumu Kahua Nov. 7.

Cataluna, whose plays have garnered rave reviews and packed houses, recommends that when writing dialogue, “Don’t let your characters say something more than once, unless they purposely repeat themselves.” This makes the dialogue seem less fake. “Read through your dialogue while writing,” said Baker. “If it doesn’t sound like when actual people talk, then revise.” Kneubuhl advised eavesdropping on people and writing down what was said, to get dialogue to sound genuine. She even gives her students at UH an eavesdropping assignment. Kearns admitted to spying on locals at the Nu‘uanu YMCA to get his pidgin to sound authentic after a long absence from Hawai‘i. The result? Dialogue in his play Pidg Latin sounded a lot better.

Author of The Tattoo, Chris McKinney lead a workshop in “Finding Your Voice,” referring to both author and characters. Baker revealed that much of an author’s voice is dependant on the language he or she identifies with. “It’s not necessarily the language you speak, but the one you identify with,” said Baker, who has written plays in both pidgin and Hawaiian. “Language is the carrier of history,” she explained. She went on to say that most of Hawai‘i’s history was recorded by someone who was not native, and in their writings, meaning was lost.

Sia Figiel, a Western Samoa native who won the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize, explained that she had always had her voice. “My voice didn’t need to be found, it needed to be validated,” she said. Figiel spoke of being greatly influenced by African-American writer Toni Morrison, whom she met at a reading in Berlin. “Even though Morrison was reading in English, I heard Samoan,” Figiel said. “Voice comes from your experiences, and who you are.”

Many students and working adults attended the workshop. HPU senior Cari Aguilar found the workshop not only a place to get tips on writing, but a place to make great contacts. A panelist from a workshop e-mailed her with a full-time job offer. “I can’t take it because it conflicts with school, but at least I have his e-mail for later,” she said.

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