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Hawaii Women’s Journal

July 15, 2011

After eighteen months of work producing five issues spread across a year, Hawaii Women’s Journal, the project, ended in June with publication of its final issue. The reasons derive from various realities: the reality of an all-volunteer staff consisting of powerful thinkers, the reality of a staff dispersed across time zones, the reality of powerful volunteer thinkers applying themselves to so many causes in so many time zones they quickly become exhausted. Probably the biggest: the reality of a non-profit publishing project—a project that climbed two slippery hills simultaneously, and relied on already exhausted volunteers for the brute force.

Why Hawaii Women’s Journal existed in the first place: the reality of an all-volunteer staff consisting of powerful thinkers determined to offer their time toward a project that fit with their vision of a better society, the reality of a staff diverse (but, you know, all women still) and widespread and therefore able to tap into different circles of authors and markets of readers, the reality of a staff whose members seemed to come up with their best ideas while in states of utter exhaustion. Probably the biggest: the reality of a non-profit publishing project—a project that climbed two slippery hills simultaneously thanks to the brute force of its bloodbound volunteers.

I put off writing about this until I knew that the five issues would still be available, and they will be. Hawaii Women’s Journal and Girl Fest Hawaii (which has not ended) are both projects of the Safe Zone Foundation (est. 1996), a nonprofit that creates educational programs for the public good, especially in regards to girls and women. Since HWJ will live on as part of the Safe Zone Foundation, I don’t have to write about its ending anymore. I’ve saved that for private conversations with J, and with my HWJ friends.

Instead, I’ll highlight just some of the Hawaii Women’s Journal pieces that I’m grateful to have read and eager to re-share. I hope it goes without saying this is not an exhaustive list. Just a few I want to highlight:

* The Quiet Visionary: An Interview with Maya Soetoro-Ng, by Kathryn Xian, Publisher. (Cover Story / Issue 5) When Issue 5 landed in my inbox for proofreading, I realized I hadn’t known about the cover story. I was so wrapped up in the literary parts of Issue 5 that I’d missed the word about this interview. A lovely surprise. This interview knocked me out. Ms. Soetoro-Ng has long worked toward bettering Hawaii’s public schools, with particular emphasis on utilizing community resources, opening conversations with private schools, and teaching students not just the skills needed to succeed academically but the values needed to end violence and injustice. Also, Ms. Soetoro-Ng’s brother is President Barack Obama, and she has, as you can imagine, interesting things to say about how her brother’s D.C. ascendancy has affected, or sometimes not at all affected, her life back in Hawaii.

* Read To Me International’s Prison Literacy Project in Hawaii, by Deanna Espinas. (Nonprofit Corner / Issue 2) A one-page description of an innovative and tender program set in a decidedly un-tender place: women’s prison. Incarcerated women, mothers, grandmothers, aunties, read books to children at home while volunteers record them. Those volunteers then burn CDs and mail them to the kids. So simple. Noting the community benefits (family ties help women succeed when they leave prison) and the literary benefits (the women and the children develop a love for the written word shared aloud), Espinas also hones in on the personal benefits. One mother says, “My son took his book on CD to school, and the teacher let him listen and share with his classmates. Unreal, yeah!”

* Toxins and Chemicals: That’s What Pretty Girls Are Made Of?, Parts 1 & 2, by Ivy Castellanos. (The Wellness Manifesto / Issues 3 & 4) Horrifying. I knew that cosmetic companies were guilty of concocting products of unimaginable ingredients (arsenic!), but I didn’t know the extent of the problem, nor the ubiquitousness of the affected products. Castellanos, a writer whose education and background is in public health, introduces us to what we really don’t want to know, but should. One read and my shampoo bottle was transformed into a dangerous neurotoxin bomb.

* Dear Hawaii: It’s Not Me, It’s You, by Kristel Yoneda. (Creative Nonfiction / Issue 5) I admit that my role as creative nonfiction editor brought this particular piece to my heart and planted it there. Regardless of how absolutely engaging the revision process was (the writer plus the three literary editors worked this piece from all angles), I still say sincerely that the piece is a must-read for anyone who’s ever left “home.” Rather than present a neat anecdote of departing and arriving, on saying goodbye, Yoneda adds ingredient after ingredient (the definition of home, departure fantasies, loneliness, memory, panic, place, identity) and kneads the dough into a sticky mass that never gets baked but still invites nibbling. And let’s face it, when you move from a home like Hawaii to a city like Los Angeles, does that transition ever settle into a perfectly baked good?

* Ponds of Jupiter, by Zoe Matayoshi. (Young Voices / Issue 3) “There are stars above / Makaikoa Street in Waialae. / There are stars that smell / of ripe lilikoi and plumeria.” So begins this observant, whimsical poem that also feels slightly sad in that a thread of homesickness runs through it. Oh, and the poet Matayoshi? She’s eight.

* Becoming Eighty-Eight, by Frances Kakugawa. (Creative Nonfiction and Poetry / Issue 1) This mixture of prose and poetry is an excerpt from Kakugawa’s book, Breaking the Silence: A Caregiver’s Voice, a collection of pieces by writers who provide fundamental care for loved ones with Alzheimer’s. From the book’s introduction: “Perhaps the cruelest aspect of Alzheimer’s disease and other illnesses accompanied by dementia is that not only do they strip away the memories of our loved ones, they un-write the pages of their history. There is, perhaps, no job more important than to preserve these memories.”

…I will stop there. I have to. As inspiring as it is to list just these few pieces and to come to one that illuminates yet another way to honor memory, it’s also painful, since no Issue 6 is on its way. Learning from Kristel Yoneda, I’ll just sit here and knead the dough, not ever saying goodbye to HWJ.

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