Megan Kamalei Kakimoto’s short story collection, “Every Drop is a Man’s Nightmare,” is immersive. Each story is set in Kakimoto’s homeland Hawaii, where the sticky ocean breeze and the smell of smoke from pork cooking in the kālua linger thick in the air.
Kakimoto doesn’t shy away from anything: instead, she plunges into the uncomfortable.
Her storytelling exposes the subtle and overt consequences of colonialism on Native Hawaiians, examines the intersectionality of womanhood for women of color and reminds us how actions of the past haunt the present.
Kakimoto weaves in elements of her Native Hawaiian and Japanese roots throughout the collection. She uses Pidgin and Hawaiian language and incorporates the traditions and rituals of daily island life. She stretches the boundaries of reality by blending Hawaiian superstitions and mythology into each story, lore that plays a natural yet significant role in each characters’ life.
Her characters are diverse in experience, situation and age. But there is consistency in their complexity and the ways each must navigate womanhood and their indigenous identity on an island shrouded in colonization.
Ahead of her interview at Bookshop Santa Cruz, we sat down with Kakimoto to talk about her book.
Good Times: Hawaiian mythology and superstitions played such a huge role in your book. I loved how you used them to explore ideas of womanhood. Were there certain myths that you grew up being told that informed you of womanhood in some ways?
Megan Kakimoto: We call it mo’olelo, which is the stories and tales of our people in our culture. A lot of the female goddesses in our theology are incredibly powerful. They’re always feared and revered. And they have a lot of power. I think of Pelehonuamea in particular, who is constantly talked about and who is way more powerful than her male counterpart, and I always found that really fascinating. Especially when presented against or beside contemporary women and contemporary women’s stories. A lot of women in these stories and in my own personal life have had to wrestle with finding our identity, claiming our power and our place, living in our bodies that often have violence visited upon them by men, whether it be physical violence or emotional violence. And just that juxtaposition with these incredibly powerful and awe-inspiring goddesses in our history and culture really struck me.
GT: In one of your stories, your main character is a writer. She is having a conversation with her grandmother, who says, “don’t try too hard to make writing accessible to white people.” Throughout this book you chose to use a lot of Hawaiian words and landmarks, myths. What is it like, balancing that line between making your writing accessible to people without losing the natural flow and staying true to your culture, identity and what you want to write?
MK: It’s a very hard balance to strike. I think it helped that I tried really hard not to think about my audience, I kept it very private and very personal. I think my dream for the collection was always to have Hawaiian people and Hawaiian women especially, have their stories at the forefront, have them feel seen. And sometimes that means, you know, compromising on a little bit of accessibility for a different audience.
GT: I loved how you wrote about and incorporated food throughout your stories. It’s clearly such an important part of Hawaiian culture: the ritual of preparing the dishes, the way it brings people together, the types of cuisines.
In one of your stories, the main character feels a lot of tension around food: desiring it, being judged for wanting it. You used food to explore such a huge part of womanhood: having our bodies perceived and our own hyper-awareness of our bodies as a result, which starts at such a young age. What role did you want food to take on in your stories?
MK: Yeah, food and communal eating plays a huge role in history. It’s still a huge kind of touch point of how we come together now, a lot of local families and Hawaiian families. I was also just interested in food as its own form of desire. I feel like there’s a lot of different avenues of desire that I was interested in exploring in this piece. I also think that food often gets wrapped up in the perception of a woman’s body, and how a woman feels and belongs in her body. It can be really complicated to sort of navigate your own body under the best of circumstances when you don’t have any outside voices intruding, but I think a lot of the stories are interested in sort of how a woman has to be in her body, with that sort of noise and the intrusion of thoughts, opinions and feelings from outside people. It was a very natural tie-in to some of these other ideas of desire and consumption that I was interested in exploring.
GT: What does it mean to you to be an indigenous Hawaiian writing stories of Hawaiian life?
MK: Reclaiming space is something that I am really passionate about. There’s a lineage and a history here, I feel like it is important to hear from those people, from our own people. And the stories that are passed down to us, I think there’s all this richness in Hawaiian culture that people just don’t know about and aren’t really familiar with. I’m trying very much to focus on writing that is invested in Native Hawaiian representation and Native Hawaiian lives. My own single experience that sort of informs these stories will hopefully carve out space for more indigenous Hawaiian stories to be championed and platformed and published.
Megan Kakimoto will be at Bookshop Santa Cruz to discuss her new short story collection, “Every Drop Is A Man’s Nightmare,” on Monday, Sept. 11 at 7:00PM.
To learn more, visit: bookshopsantacruz.com/megan-kamalei-kakimoto