1978 was a significant year in Hawai‘i history—we held a statewide constitutional convention, and Eddie Aikau was lost at sea in the first sailing of the Hōkūle‘a. That same year, Hawai‘i’s literary history reached a crossroads as well, as part of an assertion of local confidence and identity. HPR’s Noe Tanigawa reports a celebration is in store this Saturday.
The Bamboo Ridge “Not Pau Yet” Fundraiser is set for tomorrow, Saturday evening, at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i, with the year’s best auction of local fine art and jewelry.
"In June of 1978, we celebrated the literary heritage and creation of local literature for the first time."
Writer Wing Tek Lum says the Talk Story Conference of 1978, organized by Stephen Sumida, Arnold Hiura, and Marie Hara, was a first attempt to figure out what local literature is, and who was writing. Sumida and Hiura also published an annotated bibliography of local writers that year, further cementing a new literary movement.
About a hundred fifty writers and many others turned out to the Talk Story Conference, held at Mid Pac, not at UH Mānoa, where the English department reigned.
“Everybody thought we were so locked in with this pidgin, nobody would get us.” Writer Lois Ann Yamanaka was there.
Yamanaka: People think it limits us, it shows we’re ignorant, we’re stupid, but it doesn’t. We’re just another voice. The universality of human experience arises out of voice, no matter how you say it. That’s what I found out when I started writing, using voice.
Yamanaka’s first book, Saturday Night at the Pāhala Theater, was published in 1993 by Bamboo Ridge Press, which was founded in 1978 out of the Talk Story conference by writers Darrell Lum and Eric Chock.
Wing Tek Lum: At that time, there was rejection of the notion of Hawai‘i as a melting pot.
We were just waking up to Hawai‘i’s true history, and beginning to admit to cracks in the rainbow, Lum says BR founding editors Darrell Lum and Eric Chock insisted they would publish anything by anybody that was of high quality, and over the years, writing in Bamboo Ridge tends to have a strong sense of place, and an expansive notion of time that includes obligation to those before and after you. Many stories reflect hard won personal relationships, essential for island life.
Lum: There were a lot of people who felt we should reject these myths. They tried to focus more positively on Hawai‘i as a unique setting with an island geography and environment. There was also a greater appreciation and understanding of colonial history, the plantations. There was also an honest acknowledgement of conflicts among us in a multicultural society.
Lum: Lastly and I think most importantly, there is a commitment to pluralism. Which means you have a grudging tolerance of people who are different from you. That kind of attitude, in a lot of different ways, guided the beginnings of Bamboo Ridge.
Lum says BR founding editors Darrell Lum and Eric Chock insisted they would publish anything by anybody that was of high quality. Over the years, Lum says, a certain esthetic emerged. Writing in Bamboo Ridge tends to have a strong sense of place, and an expansive notion of time that includes obligation to those before and after you. Many stories reflect hard won personal relationships, essential for island life.
Local history comes to life in BR special issues including for the Chinese bicentennial, and Korean and Filipino centennials. Native Hawaiian special projects include, notably, the journals of George Helm. There are also issues devoted to Native Hawaiian dramatists, women, and the Hapa community.
Lum says he particularly enjoys the different voices he finds in any BR issue. He notes clear, concrete imagery, and a talk story style are often a part of the genuine, heartfelt writing he encounters.
Also characteristic of BR over the years, Lum says, are qualities of respect, reciprocity, and deference, qualities demonstrated in the running of the magazine.
Lum, a businessman as well as a writer, took over the job of business manager for Bamboo Ridge in 1986. He says the press’ fiscal fortunes have not improved much over the years.
Lum: Hand to mouth. That has been part of the story of Bamboo Ridge, part of the challenge. I like to use the word precarity when I think of Bamboo Ridge, which means, that there’s always this insecurity about whether we can still put out the next issue. But then again, that keeps us humble.
Lum: We’ve had to endure a lot of different mistakes we made by ourselves. We’ve had to endure people who have ignored us. I wouldn’t say we’ve necessarily thrived, but we’ve survived, and I think there are several reasons for it.
Lum cites financial assistance from the NEA, the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, the Cades Foundation, and from over a hundred individual donors. BR is holding a "Not Pau Yet" fundraiser October 20, 2018.
Yamanaka: Bamboo Ridge, Eric Chock, was willing to give me a shot. I felt like I could finally had the permission to be who I was. They are phenomenal, not only in what they’ve done for me, but what they’ve done for generations of writers. They’ve given us a voice, they’ve given us a face in literature, and we exist.
After her first book of poetry on Bamboo Ridge Press, Yamanaka went on to win the Pushcart Prize and an American Book Award.
Lum: If they had presented their business model to me, I would have told them, it wouldn’t have penciled out. I’ve been wrong for forty years now.
There will be a toast to that! Saturday, October 20, 2018. Happy birthday, Bamboo Ridge!