Writer Kimo Armitage has been writing for two decades---he’s published over twenty children’s books, including many bestsellers, like Honu the Blue Turtle. Last month he published his first novel, The Healers, and suddenly he finds himself the winner of a major national award. HPR’s Noe Tanigawa reports.
Writer Kimo Armitage was raised by his grandparents in Hale‘iwa.
“My grandparents hānai’ed me when I was very young and so I lived my entire life with them. When I would go and visit my mom, who was their daughter, I would sleep with my brothers and sisters, sleep over, then go to school the next morning. My mother and step father used to live next to Queen Lili‘uokalani Protestant Church, where my great grandparents and great-great grandparents and great- great-great grandparents were buried. In order to get to the school bus you had to walk through the cemetery, so I think I started creating stories about these people and places so I wouldn’t be scared."
"But I’ve always been surrounded by stories because that’s the nature of grandparents, their friends come over and visit and they talk and I listened, their brothers and sisters come over, they talk and I listen. And so I’ve never been one not to have something to say!”
Armitage has won the prestigious national 2016 Maureen Egan Writers Exchange Award for Poetry. Local writer, Alicia Upano won the award for fiction. The award includes an honorarium, a residency at a writer’s retreat, and an expenses paid trip to New York City with a public reading and meetings with editors, agents, publishers. Previous winners, like Sue Monk Kidd (The Secret Life of Bees), have successfully used the opportunity to launch their careers. Armitage is slowly taking it all in. He has spent two decades writing children’s books here, the poem he submitted for the award was the first he’s ever written.
“There have been some really incredible storytellers. I have two, Aunty Marie Solomon and Tūtū Lilia Wahinemaika’ihale were two revered kūpuna who had this way of looking you straight in the eye and telling you a story that all of a sudden became so relevant to your life and where you were."
"I remember Aunty Marie Solomon telling us a story of her parents. She was raised on the Big Island. Every day before her father went to work, her mother would make him a lei to put on his hat. He was a paniolo. And whenever he came home, he would get that lei and fling it onto their tree, so the entire tree was made of these dried haku lei. She told it much better, and much more eloquently. And because it was her story you really got a sense of what it was like to live in that time period when love was expressed with “I’m going to make something from my hands for you every day.”
Marvel and DC have nothing over Hawaiian superheroes. But for his winning poem, Armitage explored another world, that of Peter “Boy” Kema, a child who has been "missing" since 1997. That’s another gripping story, this time contemporary. You’ll be moved by how Armitage tells it.
The poem is a work in progress, but you can see the prize winning submission here. It begins:
My name is Boy
Each night, I scurry
like a crab into the kitchen.
I know there is nothing there
but the dream of something delicious
Mom sleeps on the couch
like she does every night.
Her torch and pipe clutched in her hands.
The white smoke fills her lungs and belly before rising into her eyes.
I can see when she is there,
her eyes are large black eggs.
She breathes out the white cloud and
she is gone for hours.
I used to
be jealous of that secret place she visited.
When she comes back,
I ask her where she went
but she looks right past me
into my father’s face.
She pulls off her dirty shorts and
climbs onto his lap. She gulps air
like a fish and swims into him.
I crawl through the living room,
out the screen door
to look for fruits along the street.
I will be hungry for years.
My mom, blind to it all,
three children, no electricity,
the paint falling
like sugar cane ash off the walls,
years of violent nights,
her lust the only thing
bringing her through.