Interview with Pamela Varma Brown
by Anne E. O’Malley
It’s easy to fall in love with Kaua`i. Equally amazing are her people.
One Kaua`i writer, Pamela Varma Brown, has written a compilation of stories that highlight the spirit of the people of this island, touching base with some surviving members of the 442nd Regiment who fought in WWII, former plantation camp residents and workers, ocean lovers, hikers, foodies and – wait for it — even chicken nuggets, because what would Kaua`i be like without its chickens and chicken stories?
Kauai Stories: Life on the Garden Island told by Kauai’s People available as an e-book from Amazon and Barnes & Noble in Kindle, Nook and iPad formats, is perfect for reading at the beach. Residents and visitors alike need to pack it along with a guide book, because there’s a good chance you might run into some of these locals.
The former editor of the now-defunct Kaua`i People, Brown flipped through old issues one day.
“It was like seeing a lot of old friends, and I remembered all the stories, who wrote them, and what the writers said about them,” says Brown. “I wanted to tell a story of Kaua`i through people’s individual stories, and that’s what I’ve done.”
More than 50 short stories await readers, some about pluck, some about transformation and all about aloha and the community spirit of this island.
Brown divided her book into sections.
“One section is called “Spirit of Kaua`i, she says. “It gives people some examples of the stuff Kauai people are made of.
“Some are short stories of people showing aloha to one another. There’s the story of volunteers reopening Polihale Beach, when state said it wasn’t going to happen for a couple of years and would cost a lot of money and our folks did it in 10 days. They rocked!”
Another section is “Sweet as Sugar,” about people growing up on Kaua`i and working for plantations. Brown calls the section “awesome.”
“I contacted only three people. Six more found me by email,” says Brown. “On my book website, emails would show up out of the blue in my inbox and they’d tell a little about themselves.”
Brown says those she spoke with had many happy memories growing up in the plantations.
“I’d anticipated there would be a lot of grumbling about, for example, equal housing. There wasn’t much of that — people were wistful for the sense of community in camps.”
Read more following the gallery of photos.
A boy and his bike
Brown says she was struck by how people looked out for one another in the sugar camps. She writes about one man, Harry Yamanaka, who grew up in Rice Camp in Kipu Kai and wrote about it as a legacy project for his family.
Currently living in Hilo, Yamanaka sent her the document. One of 13 children, his father worked for the plantations, and Yamanaka says he had no ideas about how his father made ends meet.
“Only two people in camp had cars. He had a photo of himself with a bike. This was one of two bikes his family found, discarded by somebody else and he renovated them, bought a new Sears seat cover.
“I asked if he could scan this photo he had of himself with one of the bikes. A month later, this photo shows up in my mail, like business-card size.
“He’d mailed me the original photo! Seconds later, I’m scanning it and feeling so touched he trusted me with that.”
“I love Kaua`i even more because of our people,” says Brown. “I’ve been here 23 years now and there’s the beauty, of course, but there are lots of beautiful places in the world.
“It’s the people who warm your heart. And how inspiring seemingly ordinary people are.”
Read excerpts from the book by clicking here.
A must-read and great gift whether you live here or are visiting, the paperback edition with a cover by Kaua`i artist Fanny Bilodeau has just come out and is available on Amazon by clicking here.