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Maui's Celebrate Reading Marathon

Posted by JEAN TOYAMA
Tuesday, April 19, 2011 5:11 AM


Our day on Maui for “Celebrate Reading” was exhausting but thoroughly rewarding. We met some truly nice people like organizer Laura Lees and our driver, Marnie (sorry, Marnie, don’t know your last name), who drove us to a local store for a manju run on our way back to the airport. But I’m getting ahead of my story.

After a rousing few minutes led by Kealoha, who continued with the students, we were lead to our wonderfully equipped and modern classrooms on the Maui CC campus. The writers were divided into 5 groups. So Matt de la Peña of Mexican White Boy, Kate Elliot of Cold Magic, Gene Luen Yang of American Born Chinese, Wayne Moniz of Under Maui Skies and Eric Paul Shaffer of Learn and Burn (the last two were in the same section) and we, the NCbtF poets, led different sections. The 150 students ranging from middle school of college were divided into five groups. For the next four hours they rotated from writer(s) to writer(s) for 30 minute sessions. The reason I go into such detail is because the set-up allowed each student to benefit from all the writers.

Thirty minutes didn’t allow us to do our usual “full show”, so we decided to read two different months for each rotation. Because one section asked to hear another month we ended up doing 11 months. The first time we almost did the full year. It was fun and not boring for us. Each group did not always ask the same questions, but most were interested in similar things. One student in the first group was very aware of the rhythm of our poems and asked whether we had collaborated on that or tried to imitate each others’ poem. Our answer was no. We just wanted to get a poem done in a week. They wanted to know whether we had decided on themes. The answer was no (except for the “mysterious”emergence of the Obama poems). They were surprised to learn that we did not know each other before the project, meeting face to face only half way into the year.

They wanted to know how we started writing and what we had already written. They were interested in knowing where our ideas came from. Our answers varied only slightly, that our thoughts and feelings came from our lives, our different worlds. We write about what’s happening, what we remember, what we feel, what we imagine. Also we write for the love of language.

Some students were quiet, others not so. Some listened with wide-eyed wonder, others with closed-eyed concentration (not sleep). All were ever so polite. Some came from other parts of the world: the Marshall Islands, Switzerland, Korea, Japan, the mainland. They were bussed in from different schools on Maui. We thank them for their attention and interest. I hope they got as good as we did.

My day started at 5:00 am, probably the same time everyone else got up to make the 7:34 plane. We returned around 4:00 pm. Yes, it was tiring, but it was a sweet exhaustion.

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