Students received some very honest advice last week from Lois-Ann Yamanaka, prominent contemporary Hawaiian author. As a former English teacher (although I am guessing that Lois-Ann will always be a teacher at heart), she is well positioned to help our aspiring young writers and also those who do not yet know that they are aspiring – because that’s what school’s about. Lois-Ann told our students to write from their heart, not their head. Heart to Hand. The consequence of not writing from the heart, Lois-Ann explained, is poor writing, this being expressed by the author with greater clarity, of course. It is our own stories and emotions (the fears, the hope, the anger, the love) that should provide our inspiration to move the reader with our writing. Successful writing is measured in laughter and tears.
This powerful piece of advice resonated with the audience, students and teachers alike. We enjoyed the stories and were confronted with the insidious reality of institutionalized racism and the marginalization of minority groups in Hawaii. With a wonderfully vivid character like Lovey to place these complex ideas in context, I think we all left with a deeper understanding of this world in which we live and an awareness of issues to confront as we move through our lives. Afterwards, one of my students remarked that she had never considered how powerful words could be – to empower and also to repress. It was a new thought, a new idea in her mind, a new kernel of truth in her heart – and who knows where this will lead. Thank you Lois-Ann Yamanaka for sharing your stories.