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Emerging Writers to Read and Watch in the Pacific Islander Poetry Community

Topics touched on by Pacific Islander poets include climate change, colonialism, language, identity, sexuality, and sovereignty. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Although by no means a comprehensive list, here are several emerging Pacific Islander poets — powerful young voices writing and speaking on issues such as climate change, colonialism, language, identity, sexuality, and sovereignty — to look out for.

“I moved out to Hawai'i to study with Craig Santos Perez because I knew that he wrote in and out of several languages and I wanted to work with someone who understood the complexities of colonization,” poet Rajiv Mohabir, author of “The Taxidermist's Cut,” told NBC News. “When I got here I was immersed in a community of Pacific Island poets and writers who showed me what it means to be a part of a Pacific community: That we can all be strings that bind into a net, a web of support if we look to see our similarities as displaced peoples. Since Pacific Islanders are often invisible in the American Academy of Letters, their voices must be heard as they add to the conversations of imperialism, colonization, and occupation in our globalized world.”

Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner

Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner is a Marshallese poet, writer, performance artist, and journalist. In 2014, she addressed the opening ceremony of the UN Climate Summit, performing “Dear Matafele Peinem.” She writes on her blog that her poetry “mainly focuses on raising awareness surrounding the issues and threats faced by my people. Nuclear testing conducted in our islands, militarism, the rising sea level as a result of climate change, forced migration, adaptation and racism in America — these are just a few themes my poetry touches upon. Besides these, I also use poetry as a means of understanding the people and the world around me.”

William Alfred Nu’utupu Giles

William Alfred Nu’utupu Giles is a Samoan-American poet living in Honolulu, Hawaii. He is a Kundiman Fellow, works as the workshop coordinator for Pacific Tongues — a nonprofit promoting artistic expression in the Oceanic community, is a Brave New Voices International Poetry Slam Champion, and is the 2015 National Underground Poetry Slam Champion.

Lee Kava

Lee Kava is a musician and poet of Tongan descent. She is the founder of Pacific Verse — a poetry and music writing workshop, and she is working on her Ph.D. in creative writing at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

“Lee Kava investigates labeling, punctuation, identification, race, and knowledge in her poem ‘Hafekasi.’ Kava's poetry and music bring essential doses of intricate, restorative reality. Always gifted with beautiful intellect and firm strength, Kava takes us to the deeper home, reason,” poet Allison Adelle Hedge Coke wrote when selecting Kava's poem for the Kore Press poetry journal.

Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio

Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio is a Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) performance poet, fiction and essay writer, musician, activist, and academic with a background in Hawaiian studies, ethnic studies, literature, politics, and critical race theory who is currently studying for her Ph.D. in English at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

She is a three-time national poetry champion, was showcased on HBO, and performed at the White House. She writes on her website that she “has focused on Hawaiʻi’s environmental, legal and humanitarian struggles in the past [and] is fervently interested in engraining with the way these issues in Hawaiʻi intersect on a global scale. She believes she will serve her community best by reaching out across the world to other silenced voices to help build a dialogue and conversation about identity politics and sovereignty.”

Dr. Brandy Nalani McDougall

Dr. Brandy Nalani McDougall is an award-winning poet of Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian), Chinese, and Scottish descent, originally from Maui. She is the author of a poetry collection “The Salt-Wind, Ka Makani Pa'akai,” literary criticism “Finding Meaning—Kaona and Contemporary Hawaiian Literature,” chapbook “Return to the Kula House” featured in Effigies: An Anthology of New Indigenous Writing, and poetry album “Undercurrent” with Craig Santos Perez. She is a co-founder of Ala Press and Kahuaomānoa Press and is an assistant professor of indigenous studies in the department of American studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Noʻu Revilla

Noʻukahauʻoli or Noʻu Revilla is a poet and performer of Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) and Tahitian descent, originally from Maui. She is the author of the chapbook “Say Throne” and a co-founder of Nolu ʻEhu: A Queer Nesian Creative Collective. She is also a Ph.D. candidate in English at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, where she studies queer theory, contemporary Pacific poetry, and feminist theory. She writes, “Born and raised on the island of Maui, I was surrounded by strong and resourceful women, fishermen, hula dancers, and singers. In both my critical and creative works, I am committed to thinking through and creating space for new discussions of gender, sexuality, kinship, and storytelling.”

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