Interview with Albert Wendt: 8
Brandy Nālani McDougall
Six years after Brandy's initial interview with Albert – and following his four years in Honolulu as Citizens' Chair at
the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa, and his return to Aotearoa – the dialogue continued. This second part of the
interview was conducted by email in September 2008.
B: So, much has happened since our first interview in Aotearoa in 2002. Whetu Moana was released and
immediately became very successful. You also published The Mango's Kiss, a novel you had worked on for several years. Then
you and Reina came to Hawai'i to teach Pacific Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa, where
you held the Citizen's Chair for four years. During that time, your play, The Songmaker's Chair, was staged by Kumu Kahua Theater,
you held an art gallery exhibit of your paintings at the Louis Pohl Gallery in Honolulu, finished your latest novel, Vela,
which is written in verse, and now there are plans for Whetu Moana Rua. This is really an amazing, flourishing period of
creativity, in addition to your teaching. To what do you attribute your creative success?
A: Yes, my four years in Hawai'i were some of the happiest and most productive years of my life! The first three
months of trying to settle into another country was very stressful but after that, it was healing for me in every way. The perpetual
warmth of the climate, our network of generous friends and students, the food, the sea and landscape, everything worked for me.
Being away from my old job and Aotearoa, away from the problems and concerns of those, and being in a “new” place allowed
me to explore again, freely. The help and freedom I got from my colleagues at work and in the University also allowed me to do my own thing.
I'd been going to Hawai'i since 1969, so I came to it in 2004 knowing much about it, and most important of all, having
lots of friends, especially Kanaka Maoli friends, there. I’ve lived in many places, but Hawai'i is the one I feel most profoundly
close to. And, after writing and painting and living there for four years, I feel even closer to it now. You can never explain what
holds you to a particular location and people and time. But I'm so, so grateful I lived in Hawai'i for four years. I produced a
lot but I also grew and healed as a whole person.
B: Many of your paintings contain poetic lines or entire poems. Do you begin with a visual image and then receive the poetry? Or does
it work the other way, with the poetry first? Or both?
A: It works both ways. Sometimes I use some of my published poems, other times, I make up the poem as I do the painting. Sometimes an
image rises and I catch it and start from there. Whatever way it happens, the act of painting takes me to the poem. And then it's a
matter of balancing all the elements.
B: How do you choose a creative medium with which to work? In Hawaiian we have an ‘ōlelo no‘eau which goes: “Me ka hana ka ‘ike,”
or “With the work comes the knowledge”. Do you get a sense of the pathway before you when you pick up the paintbrush or begin writing? Or does it come while you're
writing or painting?
A: It comes while I'm working. I find the novel, the poem, the painting as I ‘make’ them. Sometimes I have an idea, or an image, or a sound, or a line,
then I work from there. It is the ‘mystery’ of the journey that propels me. I am surprised usually by what I end up with!