This program is funded by a grant from the Hawaiʻi Council for the Humanities, through support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Nearly 45 years ago, in 1978, during a time of significant political and cultural change in Hawaiʻi and in America, Eric Chock and Darrell Lum founded Bamboo Ridge Press, Hawaiʻi’s oldest independent literary press, and the literary journal Bamboo Ridge. Since then, it has gone on to help establish what is often referred to as “local” literature and publish some of Hawaiʻi’s most acclaimed literary voices.

Following the passing of Bamboo Ridge’s long-time president and acclaimed writer and literary advocate, Marie Hara, an oral history project was launched to document the history of the journal from those with first-hand knowledge of its inception and impact. Through this project, which is ongoing, the hope is to gain insight into an important time in Hawaiʻi’s literary history.



I also look at that whole ’60s period [the counterculture], as the biggest influence. The whole civil rights, free speech, anti-war movement. Black is beautiful. All the ethnic studies movements. And all of that supported writing. But it was like a whole lifestyle. You listen to the music. You went to the marches. You wore the clothing. You wore words that said what you wanted to say. You changed your curriculum to match your philosophy… and you did your whole life around counterculture.

It was like jazz music. It was best if you learned the scales and knew the music. It was kind of the model. You did the tradition. You did your homework. Then you did something else. But to me it’s a whole cultural thing, and to isolate these different things I think is important, but at the same time I think I generally look at them as part of this big matrix, this collage, or this tapestry, or all these other metaphors.

My father grew up next to the Nuʻuanu Y. Chinatown was not that far away. My grandfather on that side, he used to walk down to Chinatown. My grandfather on my mother’s side… he used to walk down to ʻAʻala Park when it was a lot of old Japanese plantation workers and people like that, they used to hang out down there with the men… He’d go down there and drink beer with the guys at night. So yeah, the neighborhood was, our whole life was all there. The setting for everything for, at least three, four generations.

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To me, every issue—the regular issues or single author issues—are special. And in the heat and the passion of putting it together and trying to do some editing without being too obtrusive, it’s that issue that is the most rewarding because you get that same kind of excitement about ‘Wow! This is really good. I wish I wrote this.’ It was that kind of feeling that kept you going.

It was kind of an exciting time when all these things were happening. You know, following the Hawaiian Renaissance and learning about the Black movement made it okay to acknowledge your own identity in your writing. At least for me, it was the beginning of not trying to emulate somebody else. Just trying to write and see what comes out.

There’s something to be said for sticking around and being able to publish stuff that we like and others like or can appreciate and understand. I don’t think editing the 45th anniversary issue is not so much looking back but looking forward really.

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We entitled that ‘Not Pau Yet,’ because people were thinking that maybe after thirty years, we should fold the tent. But it also was a time for us to acknowledge and thank people in the community who had supported us…

You first have to understand the situation in the literary world in Hawai‘i at that time in the mid-’70s, which was basically dominated, just like the plantations, by certain arbiters at the University of Hawai‘i. There was the famous [A Hawaiian Reader] book that came out that was compiled by James Michener, A. Grove Day, and Carl Stroven. That was a top-down imposition of the literary canon, which was essentially a lot of haoles [including tourists], who came and made a lot of observations—and that was it.

There was a big controversy on Pidgin, which is in itself a language of talking story among different ethnic groups and linguistic groups. And there’s also this kind of understanding of generations, and how for me as a writer in the 1970s, I thought I was doing this on my own and inventing the wheel for the first time. And that’s not true because there were generations before us that were writing and there’s a literary history. So, all of this stuff came up in Talk Story that at least I got from participating and attending the readings and listening to other people share their stories and their poetry.

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When the tsunami came, I was only about two, two and a half, so there’s very little memory about anything there. My aunt saved me. My mother took my sister, because when they saw the wave coming, it was kind of too late, right? My father went to start the car, and he wanted everybody to come downstairs to go into the car but by that time the wave hit the house. According to my mother, we’re sort of floating on the wave, but the wave was breaking up everything…

I’m doing a lot of experimental things, like I’m doing the haibun, which is writing a piece of prose, and then writing a haiku. And then I did the zuihitsu, which is like a collage of writings. And I’m doing a lot of that hybrid kind of writing right now.

I want to grow, even at this age. I want to try. Maybe people would say, ‘Oh, that’s crazy.’ But I really, really want to do that. I’m trying all kinds of things now. I feel happy about that, and I’d like to send them out and see how that works.

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More interview transcripts and sound clips coming soon, featuring Cathy Song, Mavis Hara, Arnold Hiura, Stephen Sumida, Rob Wilson, Lanning C. Lee, Jean Yamasaki Toyama, and more.


Talking Story: A Panel on the Bamboo Ridge Oral History Project

Hosted by Craig Howes. Moderated by Donald Carreira Ching and Ken Tokuno. Featuring Eric Chock, Darrell H. Y. Lum, Juliet S. Kono Lee, and Jean Yamasaki Toyama.

Reflections, Memories, and Da Kine: A Preview of the Bamboo Ridge Press Oral History Project.

Hosted by Donald Carreira Ching. Featuring Susan Lee St. John, Stephen Sumida, Ken Tokuno, and Rob Wilson.


Want to help preserve the oral history of Bamboo Ridge?

We’re looking for a few volunteers to help us out with interviews and other tasks in the administration of this ongoing project. If you are interested in lending a hand and want to learn more then send us an email below, we’d love to work with you!

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Share your stories, memories, or photos of Bamboo Ridge!

Your support and participation has helped make Bamboo Ridge what it is today. Along side our oral history project, we’re also collecting the experiences and memories of BR readers and writers. Send us a message and share your favorite BR events, anecdotes, or photos!


Recording the History of Bamboo Ridge 

This project seeks to document the history of Bamboo Ridge as told from the perspectives of the people who created it and others who have worked hard to keep it thriving for the last forty-five years.

If you’d like to make a small donation your kōkua would go a long way and be greatly appreciated. Donations are tax-deductible.

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