Bamboo Ridge Oral History Project
Darrell H. Y. Lum
The following oral history transcript is the result of a recorded interview with Darrell H. Y. Lum (DL) on April 29, 2022. The interview took place via Zoom, and was conducted by Misty-Lynn Sanico (MS) for the Bamboo Ridge Oral History Project. This interview is part two of three sessions.
Darrell H. Y. Lum and Misty-Lynn Sanico have reviewed the transcript. Their corrections and emendations appear below in brackets with initials. This transcript has been lightly edited for readability by the Bamboo Ridge Oral History Project. The reader should bear in mind that they are reading a transcript of spoken, rather than written, prose.
MS: This is Darrell and Misty, the second session. It’s Friday, April 29, 2022.
DL: Should I be wearing the same shirt as last time? You know, for continuity sake?
MS: No, I think you’re fine.
DL: This is my “Pass on, No Pass Back” shirt.
MS: Oh, I like it. Did you make that shirt?
DL: No, it’s a copy of the cover of Pass on, No Pass Back. My intermediate school classmate Arthur Kodani did the drawing.
MS: Is he the one who did the art for Issue 100 too?
DL: The cover of Issue 100 was Grant Kagimoto of Cane Haul Road.
MS: So, this one is somebody else then.
DL: Yeah. This was my classmate from Kawānanakoa Intermediate. And we used to [laughs] draw on the desks.
MS: Did you get in trouble?
DL: No, but then some of them were actually pretty nice, so you know I would have to convince him to actually draw on a piece of paper. It was those, in the style of MAD Magazine. The comics with the racing cars. Yeah, you’re too young to know, but there was a cartoonist named Big Daddy Roth and he would draw or paint these racing cars—dragsters. So that was our hobby. He and I drew dragsters in the style of Big Daddy Roth.
MS: And then when you asked him to do the cover for Pass on, No Pass Back—
DL: He worked as a scientific illustrator for the Bishop Museum. And you know his day job was he had to look through a microscope or a binocular lens and draw bugs. He said the bosses were very particular because if the bug had spots on its back, they would insist that he accurately did the same number of spots as the specimen. So, there was no room for, you know [laughs] for creativity.
Which, when you think about it, nowadays they would take a photograph. They would take a micro photograph or something, right? But I guess those were the days where you actually drew stuff with pen and ink.
MS: Last time, we left off right when you came home for sophomore year to go to UH undergrad. So, talk a little bit about what UH was like at that time or what it was like for you as an undergraduate.
DL: Well, I think I mentioned that when I entered UH, I got put on probation because I got a D in Art History.
And then let me see. I don’t know if I mentioned that I liked art, or graphic design, and creative writing, but that I didn’t wanna become an English major ’cause I didn’t wanna take all the required periods of literature. And I didn’t want to become an art major because I didn’t wanna take all the required art history. So, at the time I became a non-major major. Which became later called Liberal Studies, but at the time it was actually called a non-major major. Which was a difficult pill for my father to swallow ’cause he probably was bragging to his friends that his son was away on the mainland at college to become an engineer—and then he came home to become a non-major major. Which is, I guess you ought to call it, just not majors or minor.
MS: But you were more interested in the creative aspects of art and writing?
DL: Yeah, it was just avoidance behavior, you know, I didn’t want to take all those other required courses and was stubborn. I just wanted to do what I wanted to do, so—
MS: What was the social atmosphere like as an undergraduate at UH. Anything interesting going on at the time?
DL: Oh, the anti-war radicals. I think I told you about the Young Locals for Peace and I participated a little bit in that. Except when at some rally somebody said, “Let’s go down to the quarry and burn down the ROTC building.” At that point I thought, “Well, it’s getting late. I gotta go home.”
MS: And when did you reconnect with Eric?
DL: We were always sort of in contact ’cause Eric sort of hung out with the AP English folks who met outside of school to do reading discussions. We had a student teacher who was also interested in pacifism and anti-war stuff. So, he convinced us to do some readings, I forget of what books, and meet outside of class. Kind of an introduction to a seminar style of literature discussion. So that was good for us, I think.
MS: All I Asking for Is My Body, you mentioned it very briefly before, but I know that it was a little bit more of an influence on you.
DL: Well, it was the first example of Pidgin on the printed page, and a lot of people liked it. It was probably the only book [at the time] that sort of depicted the plantation era, and the characters actually spoke good Pidgin and differing types of Pidgin. You know, there’s the sort of the Japanese Pidgin spoken by the parents and there’s the Creole spoken by the kids. And so, I thought that was kind of neat. It was the first time I’d seen that on the printed page. I guess it made it okay to try to emulate that.
Well, [All I Asking for Is My Body by Milton Murayama] was the first example of Pidgin on the printed page, and a lot of people liked it. It was probably the only book [at the time] that sort of depicted the plantation era, and the characters actually spoke good Pidgin and differing types of Pidgin. You know, there’s the sort of the Japanese Pidgin spoken by the parents and there’s the Creole spoken by the kids. And so, I thought that was kind of neat. It was the first time I’d seen that on the printed page. I guess it made it okay to try to emulate that.
MS: This may be a little bit incongruous, but what is the PPP?
DL: [laughs] The Pacific Pinochle Players!
MS: Yeah, when was this in the context of your college years? The PPP?
DL: I’m not sure exactly when it started, but like I said, Eric has a better memory. When we were in college, I think Eric was the founder of the PPP. And it was just an excuse to play cards and drink. [laughs] We just did that. And of course, in our discussions we solved all the problems of the world.
MS: I think it’s a good indication of how you guys work and relate to each other. You know it’s not just professional, I guess.
DL: Yeah, once in a while we would diverge from pinochle and play poker or do Indian poker and other silly things.
MS: Okay, let’s get back to you. We talked about when you first started writing your own stories and poems. When did you first start trying to get them published?
DL: Well, I started enjoying the writing process when I was in engineering school, and I had to write a lot of letters. And then when I came back, you know the non-major major, tried to create a major out of what I thought would be the easiest classes to take. I thought if I get to choose, I’m going to choose all the stuff that I want to take—stuff that I might be halfway decent at and that was kind of easy. [laughs] So I thought, “Oh, here’s creative writing. It’s not literary history, or all the stuff that I was trying to avoid. I’ll put a lot of creative writing courses in my major.” Take the path of least resistance.
MS: What made you decide to keep pursuing creative writing and art into graduate school?
DL: Well, as an undergraduate, I think I had a couple of pieces published in Kapa and that was this student literary journal. So, that kind of got you going thinking that maybe what I’m doing is kind of okay.
I had a mentor teacher, Phil Damon. He was the one who kind of rejected all my generic, set on the mainland stories with characters like Smith and Jones. He very pointedly asked me if I had ever been to Chicago, because there was one story I wrote about being in Chicago, and I said no. [laughs] He said, “I don’t want to see any of that again.”
Luckily, he was very blunt in his critiques and the idea of writing authentic characters and so on then became, “Well, what do I know?” I know people in my family, like how my uncle speaks or how my mother and father relate to each other. I think one of the earliest, the first real play I wrote was the one act called Oranges Are Lucky. That one was kind of a guilt payment, so to speak, because I don’t speak or understand Chinese and I was feeling really bad about it, so that’s where Oranges Are Lucky came from.
MS: 1976, and that was your first play. What made you think to write it as a play, versus a poem or a short story?
DL: I think the entry level creative writing course you had to do all three genres. Poetry, fiction, and plays. Or you were required to do at least two. Two out of the three. But I think some classes required you to do all three. Which is nice because basically they force you to try it out.
MS: And how did you like writing plays? I mean, you’ve published both plays and short stories throughout your writing career so—
DL: Well, I think I gotta stand corrected. I believe Oranges was out of a Pidgin playwriting course taught by Dennis Carroll of the drama department. What was memorable about Dennis Carroll’s class was there was a graduate student who sat in on the class, and he would critique our beginning plays and our scenes and this and that.
Now, this was called a Pidgin playwriting course, right, but at one point he said, “I really don’t believe that Pidgin can carry the depth and breadth of the human experience,” or something to that effect. And, you know, in one fell swoop, he pissed off everybody in class. So, there was that “Well, I’m gonna show him!” spirit in the class. There were only six or eight students. But were very supportive of each other. That also was what kept you going.
Now, this was called a Pidgin playwriting course, right, but at one point he said, ‘I really don’t believe that Pidgin can carry the depth and breadth of the human experience,’ or something to that effect. And, you know, in one fell swoop, he pissed off everybody in class. So, there was that ‘Well, I’m gonna show him!’ spirit in the class. There were only six or eight students. But very supportive of each other. That also was what kept you going.
MS: And clearly the instructor believed that you could write plays in Pidgin, otherwise he wouldn’t have created a course such as that, but the graduate student obviously didn’t seem to grasp what was happening. Was that maybe the first instance where you got an idea of this Catch-22? Where you have instructors at UH and mentors who are telling you, “Darrell write what you know.” Write the vibrancy and the culture and the life and the language of this place that you are part of. But then you have other people who are telling you nobody cares, it’s not good enough to be real [literature -MS].
Is this one of the first instances where you really got a sense of that?
DL: Well prior to that, everything was warm and fuzzy, right? I mean people liked that you did stuff in Pidgin. Pidgin in creative writing, it was new, fresh, and you know everyone was very encouraging. Even in the creative writing classes that weren’t specifically Pidgin.
In the critiques, people were very supportive and were just curious, wanted to know about it even if they didn’t speak or understand Pidgin. And it was then that I figured out that I didn’t have to explain a whole lot. People got it. You know, so that was nice to see, that people got what I was writing about, even if they didn’t necessarily speak Pidgin.
MS: As you said, a lot of the support came from fellow students.
DL: Yeah. The funny thing is, a good friend of mine sent Sun to a friend on the mainland who he knew spoke Pidgin. He thought his friend would appreciate having my book, so he sent it and the friend’s response was, “Thanks for the book, but I can’t read it. I don’t understand his writing.” [laughs] And I was like wow. And like I said, there were many people who didn’t speak or have ever read Pidgin who understood it completely, you know?
So, I thought of it as, some people are more willing than others to work at understanding language. Well, because you have to work a little bit to get into the rhythm or the cadence or how words are spelled. You know, as a reader you gotta put in a little work.
MS: You had a collection of stories that you were calling Sun. I know that you had sort of self-published Sun, in a way, before it actually became a Bamboo Ridge book, before Bamboo Ridge existed, right? Would you tell us about that?
DL: That was my senior honors thesis project. I wrote the stories and as part of the graphic design part, I designed the book and I actually set the type. Which was quite a task because it started out setting individual letters and there was only enough type in the graphic design lab to set about half a page and then you’d have to print up only the number you needed. Then you’d break down all the type and have to set the other half a page. So after about three pages of that I thought, “This isn’t gonna work.” [laughs]
Luckily my teacher told me that I could go to the Star-Bulletin, Hawai‘i Hochi, or, you know, one of those places and give them the text, and they would type it up and give you back the linotype, which are the little lead slugs, line by line. And I used that to actually print my thesis.
Which was kind of a cool experience to watch them do it because they’re using hot lead, right? And so line by line comes out of the machine, and it’s hot. It’s kind of a visceral experience, right?
MS: And then at this time, before the Talk Story Conference, you were organizing and teaching fiction workshops?
DL: Before the conference. I don’t remember.
I don’t know if it was before Talk Story or after, but I guess roughly around that time, I was doing writing workshops for teachers. I knew some of the English district language arts specialists, and they would always have to have training for teachers. So they asked me to run parts of the training, to do a writing workshop, you know, because part of it was introducing Bamboo Ridge as a classroom resource, either to teach the literature and then the other part was to you know, to teach the writing part.
Which was kind of an interesting experience because the most reluctant writers were the teachers. I could work with the students, you’d give them a prompt and they just go at it. But teachers, they didn’t wanna do it, they were resistive and afraid to share their work. [laughs] And I would end up sort of yelling at them. I said, “You expect your students to stand up and read what they’ve written, and then none of you wanna do it?”
MS: Well, let’s backtrack just a little bit. I wanted to talk to you about your experience with the Hawai‘i Literary Arts Council [HLAC], can you tell us a little bit about that?
DL: I guess I was sort of involved in Eric Chock’s coup of the HLAC presidency. At the time, the HLAC officers and the writers that they brought and had readings, and actually paid, were very white. As a matter of fact, there were two committees called the “Visiting Writers” and the “Local Writers” and the Visiting Writers Committee could offer visiting writers honoraria like $500. And for local writers it was only like $50. So Eric, you know, really saw the inequity of all that.
Prior to that, there was a nomination committee that pretty much recommended a slate of officers—for the following year without any other input, and it was kind of a rubber stamp. The slate always got elected because there was nobody running against them. And so, Eric decided to upset the applecart and actually run for president of HLAC. [laughs] He won because we went out and got people to join HLAC as members, actually sign-up and pay the $10 dues, and then vote for Eric.
MS: What other events and programs stood out to you in terms of writing literature? The local scene before Talk Story Conference.
DL: Before Talk Story Conference. Well, it was trying to get Eric’s book of poetry 10,000 Wishes done by the time that the conference occurred. Even though we were talking about trying to feature local writers and kind of change things—at the time there wasn’t very much publishing except for Kapa, the UH student journal. I think there was Chaminade Review also. But you know, no place, no real journals that fostered local writing.
So, our idea was that, well, there’s this Talk Story Conference. We have this idea of starting Bamboo Ridge The Hawaiʻi The Writers’ Quarterly, but we hadn’t published it. You know, we hadn’t come out with it. So, Eric’s book was our first, something we were able to hold in our hand and say, “This is what we want it to be like.”
So, our idea was that, well, there’s this Talk Story Conference. We have this idea of starting Bamboo Ridge The Hawaiʻi Writers’ Quarterly, but we hadn’t published it. You know, we hadn ‘t come out with it. So Eric’s book was our first, something we were able to hold in our hand and say, ‘This is what we want it to be like.’
And the other part of it was that we laid out Eric’s book, it’s like 80 pages or something like that, and we took it to the printers. It was a guy who used to work at Bow Press on the UH campus. They’re the guys there who did the layout for Ka Leo every day. So, this guy that used to work there as a student—or he was a technical person running the printing presses—he went out on his own and started a company called Pioneer Printers, and he was right down the street in Puck’s Alley. Because I knew him from UH, we took Eric’s book down and asked him how much it would cost to print. And he gave us an estimate and we must have looked so crestfallen. [laughs] Because it was like, you know, $500.
He looked at Eric and me and said, “Well, how much you got?” So, I said we each can put in $150, you know? So that’s $300. So he said, “Ugh, okay.” You know, he’ll do it. And then we said, well, we didn’t care, just use whatever paper you have lying around the shop. He said “No, you’re gonna do it right!” He pulled out all the paper samples and slapped it on the counter and said, “You guys pick what you want.” And so yeah, you know support comes in strange ways, and then when the printing job was done, he looked at us and complained, “Ho, you guys!” Because at the time, pages were hand collated and then saddle stitched, you know, the staple. So, you had to get everybody in the shop, and you go walk around the table putting the pages together, right?[laughs] And he said, “This job took so long because all da boys was reading.” They were reading the book! [laughs] It took so long to go around and assemble. What high praise, man! That the most nonliterary people you would think enjoyed Eric’s book.
MS: Okay, so you finally have a printed book and the beginning ideas of Bamboo Ridge, and you’re going to do this Talk Story Conference to tell people about it. How was it received when you had the book in your hands and you showed it to people?
DL: Well, we were trying to convince people to subscribe, ’cause it was a quarterly for $5. It’s a dollar and a quarter per issue.
I don’t know how many we actually sold during the conference. I would say it was fairly well received. You know, the—just the idea of it. But I think many of the people in the early issues were at the Talk Story Conference. I recall Ozzie Bushnell laid down the challenge that unless we write about our lives, someone else is gonna do it and they’re gonna do it wrong. He did kind of like a keynote address. He and Maxine Kingston were the sort of the luminaries. But it was Bushnell who challenged all the writers to get going. To do it.
MS: What else do you remember about the Talk Story Conference?
DL: Well, I already talked about Steve Sumida, Arnold Hiura, and Marie Hara. They were the organizers of the conference, and it was patterned after an Asian American Writers Conference that was held in Seattle. So, they wanted to do something similar. They invited Frank Chin and Shawn Wong as the sort of, the mainland famous writers. I guess it was Frank Chin who also laid yet another challenge when he critiqued my work, he says, “Lum only writes about the retards, the misfits, and the dregs of society. He should be writing about the heroic Chinese Americans.” Yeah, that would get you going a little bit, yeah.
Of course, I had no response to that because I didn’t know what to say. Being a writer, you think of what to say after the fact. The next day or the next week, you know. [laughs]
MS: Yeah, as you’re stewing over it in your head—
DL: Yeah, right, right, it’s like, “Wait a minute, the heroic is already there in those characters, in those he calls ‘the misfits and the retards and the dregs of society.’ Those ARE heroic characters, it’s just that you don’t see it.”
So, in a way, it’s good there were these outside agitators. Right?
MS: And so, you’ve got the Talk Story Conference with all these big names in Hawai‘i literature gathered in one place. There must have been a lot of good creative energy there.
DL: Yeah, it was great. Like I said before, you know many of us thought we were working in a vacuum, we didn’t know any other local writers. And to meet them and listen to them read their work it’s like, “Wow, this is really great!” And at the same time, it was kind of unspoken, at least I believe, the local writers realized we’re not like those guys from the mainland. At least in my mind, a lot of the Asian American literature that came out of the West Coast was somewhat political and modeled after Black writers, and I think at some point we realized, we’re not that, you know. We can’t be that.
MS: Before your early ideas of Bamboo Ridge, what were you doing to try to get your work out there? Before you decided, “Okay, this is what we need.”
DL: Not much because I think both Eric and I were in graduate school and writing, but I don’t recall either of us being concerned with sending stuff out and trying to get published, and I’m not sure why. Maybe by then I was kind of beaten down because I had tried sending stuff out, and nothing ever happened. We were getting published in local journals. There was, oh, I forget her name. Haleakala Poetry Journal was one of them, the Chaminade Review. There was a UH Hilo journal, I think. And there were a couple small independent journals similar to Bamboo Ridge. So, it was kind of a nice time where there were, not a lot, but three or four in independent journals that came out occasionally. And like us, were very low budget. Saddle stitched.
MS: Would you say some of the energy and momentum of the Hawaiian Renaissance inspired you and these burgeoning small presses in Hawai‘i who were publishing local writers? Tell me a little bit more about this time period. Was that fuel for you guys, the Hawaiian Renaissance and the vocalization of Hawai‘i?
DL: Yeah, you know that whole notion of ethnic pride that started with the Hawaiian Renaissance movement, there was very little of that, at least for whatever local Chinese, Japanese—that kind of movement that was specific to ethnicity. But we did find that there was this, what we’re calling a kind of local sensibility that the people understood. Because again, we weren’t like the West Coast Asian Americans, right? We didn’t even call ourselves Asian American, right? [laughs]
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.
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.
In my workshops, I used to tell the students and the teachers that the hardest part for me was turning off the little editing voice in the back of your head that says, “Oh, this is stupid. Or this sounds stupid. I don’t know what I’m writing about. This is rubbish.” You know it’s all that stuff. Just focus on trying to tell the story.
MS: So, you’re getting into being able to write more about Hawai‘i as a place and I’m just curious what the conversation was or where, if you remember, it was that you and Eric decided, “We’re gonna do this!” and then came up with Bamboo Ridge. Was it like a series of you guys hanging out or you know, was it over Pinochle one night and some whiskey?
DL: Yeah, that was it basically. I mean you’re pretty perceptive. We thought, you know, there ought to be a journal that featured all the writers that we knew that were great writers and weren’t getting published. And I don’t know if we actually made a list, but between us, we knew like fifty or sixty people who were writing stuff that we admired. And so, the idea was we would have a quarterly and if each of those people that we knew or admired sent us one thing a year we would have enough stuff to fill up the four issues for the year. That was how [laughs] that was the business plan of Bamboo Ridge.
And then the title came from one of my students who had learned about fishing at Bamboo Ridge. So, it seemed like a good title. I mean he came in one day. I was an academic advisor at UH and he was an upper senior or graduate student, I’m not sure what, but he used to hang out at my office and one day he came in, is excited about going to Bamboo Ridge and learning how to fish. You know the slide bait thing, sliding the whole tako down the line as the bait, staying there overnight and the idea that, you know some of these guys haven’t caught a fish in years. But every weekend during the season, they go out and try to catch the big ulua. Try to catch the big fish. And somehow that, that—
MS: That translated a little bit?
DL: Yeah, yeah, you know it’s like going out and doing it and casting the line. And you might never catch a fish, but you’re doing the process. And when you do catch a fish, it’s a great prize, right? [laughs] It’s the big fish.
MS: I like that. I feel like that’s something that you should tell everyone that comes across Bamboo Ridge. That half the battle is casting the line, and if you don’t cast the line, you don’t catch the fish. So, keep casting the line, right? Okay, so that’s how you got the name Bamboo Ridge. What about the logo?
DL: The logo?
MS: The logo for Bamboo Ridge, the two fishes. Did you draw the logo?
DL: Gary Nomura designed the logo.
MS: That wasn’t until a little bit later though, right?
DL: He did the design for The Best of Bamboo Ridge and it features the net and the ocean and it’s actually in the style of, or maybe it’s a rip off of, a print that although it looks Japanese, it was by an American artist, I think. And then the two fish in the circle logo was designed by Suzanne Yu. So, we had a lot of good help.
MS: But Bamboo Ridge in its first few years, didn’t have an official logo. Or did it?
DL: No, it had just “Bamboo Ridge” the type, but there wasn’t an official logo. The type was the design I made.
MS: Your own font?
DL: Yeah, yeah. As a matter of fact at one point, the UH Campus Center gallery guys stole the font and started using it right? [laughs] And so I went to complain.
MS: Yeah, that’s a no-no.
DL: It was only for one show that was in the gallery, but I thought “Boy, that font looks familiar.” [laughs]
MS: Tell me about the line drawings that we often use. The one for the cover of the first issue was a line drawing of Bamboo Ridge and then in other issues you had line drawings of fishermen, and those are by you. So, tell me about that.
DL: It was an economic decision. Because Bamboo Ridge was so poor, we couldn’t afford the extra cost of having photographs included. Because it would involve having to make screens for the printers to change the photograph into, you know, black and white dots. We didn’t have any budget for that, but we could do line drawings because then it was just black or white, same like type. You know you didn’t have to process it in any way. Luckily, my cousin, who at the time was an architecture student, taught me that you could trace over a photograph using just pen and ink and kind of the stippling shading, and it would be just black and white. And he said, “Oh, the architecture students do it all the time when they’re making their renderings. They just trace.” I said, “Oh, I could do that.” [laughs]
And I already had photographs of Bamboo Ridge, so it was just a matter of tracing them—or trying my hand at tracing them.
MS: And these are the photographs that we sometimes use of the fisherman baiting the tako? Tell me about when you took those photos. I mean, so you’re so artistic. You drew the cover, you did the font for the journal title, you took pictures at Bamboo Ridge, tell me about those things.
DL: [laughs] Here’s a story. My wife was pregnant with my daughter. She was pretty big already. And I drove out to Bamboo Ridge and said I’m gonna go down and take pictures and see if the fishermen are there. But she wanted to come, and she’s big as a house, right? So she’s going down this path, and each step had this white paint to indicate where the step was and where the drop was, and every other step there was the word “abunai” which is “danger” in Japanese, right? So yeah, I don’t know if you’ve seen that photo. But—abunai!
MS: Okay, your very pregnant wife is with you on the dangerous rock area, you’re taking pictures—
DL: And yeah, luckily the fishermen let me take pictures. Tony Lee, the guy who wrote the essay about Bamboo Ridge, was with me one time and he introduced me to the guys who were there. So, it wasn’t like I was invading their space and they didn’t seem to mind. Because it was kind of this very tight society there, right? When Tony first learned, or I don’t know who got him into it, or if he just went and learned how to fish, or just wanted to fish there. And being the new guy, he said they accepted him and they welcomed him, but as the newest guy, late at night they would send him up to go to McDonald’s to buy coffee. [laughs] That was his, you know, rite of passage.
MS: So, have you never fished at Bamboo Ridge?
DL: No, I’m not a fisherman. You know, it’s specialized equipment, very long heavy poles and the bait is so heavy, you can’t cast it. You can’t put it on the hook and cast it. They have to cast a hook that’s a barb, and then you bait the hook with the tako, and then you slide the whole thing down your line. It’s called the slide bait method. That way, without the tako on it, you can cast your line farther out.
MS: Okay. Well, it’s one thing to have an idea, and then it’s another thing to execute that idea. What was the execution like of getting Bamboo Ridge off the ground that first year? What were some of the minutiae things that you guys had to do or that were frustrating or joyful in just getting it done? Getting it out.
DL: Well, I don’t know. I mean it was more something that we believed in enough that we just did it. After that initial Eric Chock sample issue, it was the usual call for submissions and hopefully people send stuff in.
MS: What was that original call for submissions? Did you post flyers? Did you just tap all your friends and say, “Hey, we’re putting together this journal” or “We wanna publish an issue of something we’re calling Bamboo Ridge, send us your stuff.” How did that go?
DL: Basically, like that. We did both. We stuck posters up in Kuykendahl Hall and I don’t—maybe it was later that we made flyers and put it in the English Department faculty boxes of the faculty that taught writing classes. At the time, there was HLAC and there were readings from some local writers, and so you know, we’d go to readings and try to encourage them to submit stuff to us. Although the test was always that we would listen to them read first. [laughs] Because I would tell Eric, “Well, we cannot just ask any kine, you know, because what if they junk?” [laughs]
If I recall, at the local readings there were sometimes about a dozen readers. And so there were lots of individuals participating. I think in some cases it was, you know, tied to the creative writing course, so students were kind of forced to participate. I think it was at one of those readings where Lois-Ann famously fainted—twice.
She was so nervous and anxious that when it was her turn, she got up, and then she promptly fainted, and then revived herself and said, “I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine.” And then she stood behind the microphone, and promptly fainted again. So, we’ll never let her forget that.
MS: Oh no! Poor Lois. Well, I still want to go back to the first year—the first couple issues. The legend is that you guys created the issue in your kitchen, right? That’s when you were putting it all together. And then you went out and tried to sell the issue from your cars or somebody’s van. Talk about that a little bit, from your perspective.
DL: Eric was the distribution agent. At the time there were more bookstores than now. I forget, one on Fort Street Mall and Kailua and North Shore someplace. A couple of the Longs, and so we got books in some places. Gary Tachiyama, who is one of the authors, was the parking lot boy for Columbia Inn and so that’s how we got in Columbia Inn.
So, it was a very primitive distribution system. I don’t think we imagined ever getting carried by the, I forget the name of the distributor, the magazine distributor. Because there wasn’t enough volume, and at the handsome price of $1.25 if you took off the forty percent commission and then the distributor’s twenty percent, [laughs] we would lose money with every issue sold.
MS: How did you guys decide what to publish, and what were you looking for in these earlier submissions, if anything at all?
DL: I don’t know if we were looking specifically for anything. We really did try to go with what we liked. And because I’m not that familiar with poetry, often Eric would have to explain to me why he liked a particular poem. You know, which is good. This is how I learned to become a better reader of poetry. It didn’t mean we always agreed, but you know, we always came to some kind of consensus. There were no great arguments or anything or horse-trading, you know. Kind of in the end we both got to a point where we could agree that “Okay, this is pretty good.”
I don’t know if we were looking specifically for anything. We really did try to go with what we liked. And because I’m not that familiar with poetry, often Eric would have to explain to me why he liked a particular poem. You know, which is good. This is how I learned how to become a better reader of poetry.
MS: I think that having you both be editors made for a greater product than having just one of you. That’s something I think is carried forward in Bamboo Ridge now, in terms of having more than one editor for issues.
DL: Yeah. And we didn’t delineate that Eric was the poetry editor and I’m the story editor. We did really come to a consensus about what we wanted to publish.
MS: After already having a few issues out, what were some of your early hopes for what the journal would grow to be?
DL: Money! [laughs]
No. I mean, once we had something to show, I think that really helped us get funding from The State Foundation and I think that made it legitimate. I mean if somebody is willing to give you money for what you’re doing, then it’s a validation. You know?
And speaking of money, a friend of mine used to run a computer software store called Software Library. He was another McKinley guy a couple years older than me, and I used to buy stuff from him all the time, right? And he would always critique our issues. He says, “Well, you know this stapling doesn’t look professional,” and “You should have a perfect binding and a color cover.” And so, I said, “What, going pay for it?” And he said, “How much?” and I had no idea. I said, “$500.” He wrote me a check. [laughs] It was like, “Wow.”
In many ways, I think that was the next step to making it look a little more professional, a little more finished. So, that was nice, being prodded to kind of push the envelope and not fall back on the, “Oh. No more money, so too bad. We can’t do it that way.”
MS: Is that right about when you guys decided to stop with the quarterly issues?
DL: Yeah. Because the production and the printing part, it made more sense to do it only twice a year. Even if ultimately, it was the same number of pages, you’re cutting down on some of the other costs.
MS: And then, as you said, you could do maybe a little bit more with the covers if you’re doing less books.
MS: This might be a good place to stop if you’d like for today.
DL: Yeah, that’s fine. I don’t know how much more [laughs] there is to say.
MS: There’s tons more to say.
MS: We could talk about early challenges. When you guys first started to do special issues and why? What are some of your favorite Bamboo Ridge publications and events? How has the reception of Bamboo Ridge changed over time? Talking about different people that you’ve worked with, there’s so much to go over still.
DL: Well, I’m glad that you’re doing this because it forces me to try to remember.
MS: I’m learning a lot. I like your stories.
DL: Thank you. Like I said, who knows how much is truth and how much is fiction though.
MS: This is your truth. This is the story from your perspective, and that’s what we’re interested in. That’s what I’m interested in.
DL: Okay, fair enough.
MS: You mentioned, the hope for the journal is getting more money, and I was like, “Oh man, too bad.” But you know what? It’s not about money all the time, and the legacy that you leave is richer than the money that you’ve gotten, I think.
DL: [laughs] Oh boy.
You know we’ve always resisted how some journals have gone to having a reading fee when you submit your work. Or instead of payment, they give you a subscription. And I always thought, thanks to Wing Tek Lum, I always thought that it was important to pay for work that we published, even if it’s just a token amount. Because to me, that’s what made it like you’re a real writer. You know, we’re not stealing your work. As best as we can, we’re gonna pay you a little bit for it.
MS: And you guys always have.
DL: Yeah, and I remember times when Wing Tek Lum would send out checks for $22.17. Because that was the honorarium budget, and he would just divide it out exactly by how many people, so it’s like [laughs].
MS: You’re right, a lot of journals do charge a fee to read or for you to submit and then you’ll get maybe a free issue or book, or like you said, a subscription, and that’s like your participation trophy. [laughs] That Bamboo Ridge has and still does pay its writers and contributors is a pretty big deal.
DL: Yeah, that’s one aspect that I think is important, you know? Because no matter how small the check is, we’re paying for the right to use your work, and we think it’s important.
MS: As you said earlier, you’re fostering writers, and these are good writers. They’re writing things that we want to share with the world, so why shouldn’t they get paid for it?
DL: Even if it’s a small amount, $25. It’s the right thing to compensate the writer for their work.
Darrell H. Y. Lum is a fiction writer and playwright. He, along with Eric Chock, founded Bamboo Ridge Press in 1978 and both served as editors for 37 years. He is a retired academic advisor from UH-Mānoa. He has published several works for children and two short story collections, Sun: Short Stories (1980) and Pass On, No Pass Back (which received the 1992 Association for Asian American Studies National Book Award and the 1991 Elliot Cades Award for Literature).
Misty-Lynn Sanico writes any ‘kine in Honolulu. She was a regular book reviewer for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and Hawaiʻi Reads. Her work has been published in Bamboo Ridge, Nonwhite and Woman, Abstract Magazine, and more.