ʻŌiwi poet-professor lands national award, publishing deal
A University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa assistant professor is making literary history this month, becoming the first ʻŌiwi (Native Hawaiian) poet to win the National Poetry Series competition.
“In fall 2022, Noʻu Revilla will most likely become the first openly queer ʻŌiwi woman to have a full-length collection of poetry published by a leader in the industry,” according to a University press release. Milkweed Editions, an independent publisher, offered Revilla a book deal after she topped more than 1,600 other poets in the 2021 NPS open competition.
“I feel very lucky that my work gets to be recognized like this,” Revilla said. “When I was young, I didn’t have access to poetry written by Hawaiians, and there were definitely no books being published by openly gay Hawaiian women. It is a dream come true.”
Revilla submitted a poetry manuscript entitled “Ask the Brindled,” which explores how aloha is possible in the face of colonization and sexual violence. The collection delves into themes of desire and intergenerational healing through the cultural figure of moʻo, or shapeshifting water protectors. The Maui native hopes her first book of poetry will respond to the lack of representation of queer Indigenous women in Pacific Literature.
“If another queer Hawaiian woman reads my book and is able to see herself in at least one poem and feel less alone, less afraid…if people read this book and feel how proud I am of my ‘ohana, of the women in my life, of my culture, and start to ask better questions about what aloha and aloha ʻāina (love of the land) can look like, I would feel like I fulfilled a kuleana (responsibility),” Revilla explained.
Indeed Revilla is proud of her lineage and familial roots nourished in the Līlīlehua rains of Waiʻehu on the island of Maui. She comes from a line of storytellers and traces her passion for writing back to childhood when her mom would leave blank pieces of paper behind for Revilla and her sister to fill with a story by the time she got home from work.
In college, Revilla crossed paths with late UH Mānoa Professor Emerita Haunani-Kay Trask, a celebrated Indigenous author and poet, who took the budding ʻŌiwi writer under her wing.
“I am here because of her…She wrote about being the kind of woman who was ‘slyly reproductive,’ a woman whose legacy was built not on sexist notions of a woman’s duty to grow a nation through her womb alone but rather on the knowledge she earned, the questions she asked and the communities she cared for,” Revilla said. “Haunani taught us how to weave ropes of resistance.”
In 2019, Revilla earned a Ph.D. from the UH Mānoa English department and went on to teach creative writing with an emphasis on Native Hawaiian literature. “One of the best things about teaching at UH Mānoa is being able to work with young ʻŌiwi writers as they read more poetry by Hawaiians and get inspired to contribute to our literary traditions.”