Maui Arts & Entertainment

Hawaiʻi Youth Poet Laureate picked, but college dreams on hold due to expenses

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Hawaiʻi’s 2022 Hawaiʻi Youth Poet Laureate Kalehua Fung.

Kalehua Fung is thrilled to have been selected as the 2022 Hawaiʻi Youth Poet Laureate but she’s put her college dreams on hold until she saves enough money for her school tuition and living expenses.

Fung, 18, who’s working as a preschool assistant, said she’s been accepted to the Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts in New York City.

Fung is a 2021 graduate of Hālau Kū Mana New Century Public Charter School in Makiki on Oʻahu. The school focuses on Hawaiian cultural enrichment.

Hālau Kū Mana principal Keolani Noa said Fung’s selection as Hawaiʻi Youth Poet Laureate was “wonderful.”

“I spoke to her last night. She was ecstatic,” Noa said. “She did a lot of poetry throughout her time at the school.”

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Noa said school officials were looking at ways to financially assist Fung.

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The charter school has 125 students from fourth through 12th grade.

Fung, selected during the poetry program Saturday night at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, will go on to regional and possibly the national competition in the selection of a National Youth Poet Laureate.

Cultural Center educational direcoter Moira Pirsch said Fung’s poetry is brilliant and wise, including a poem that calls for rising above chaos as did Hawaiian Queen Liliʻuokalani, with her quilt and songs of protest, during the overthrow of the monarchy in 1893.

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“Kalehua’s poetry anchors us not only to the history of literary genius of the Hawaiian people, but also to creative practices of resilience in the example of Queen Liliʻuokalani,” Pirsch said. “We are honored to amplify her brilliance and wisdom…”

One of the national winners was Amanda Gorman who was invited to be a guest speaker at President Joe Biden’s inauguration. She recited her poem “The Hill We Climb.”

Gorman was the first National Youth Poet Laureate selected by the Urban Word, a program that supports Youth Poet Laureates in more than 60 cities.

Hawaiʻi competitors, ranging in ages from 10 to 19, represent new voices rising out of the growing popularity of poetry slam competitions.

The event’s top five finalists, in addition to Fung, were Kealoha Comcowich, Lyric Kensington Ono, Miya Peterson, and Nicole Dao – all students of Oʻahu’s Punahou School. The state 2021 poet laureate, Lua Bowman, was also a Punahou student.

Additional youth poets qualified as finalists were Anabella Charles of Haʻikū Elementary on Maui, Esther Chan, Mika Hiroi, Koren Kano, Rachel Waggoner, and Shea Noland of Oʻahu’s Punahou School, and junior laureates Mikaela Cooper of Maui’s Lokelani Middle School, Vaiva Peroff of Waikīkī Elementary and Korion Williams of Oʻahu’s Stevenson Middle School.

MACC education director Moira Pirsch said the poems and stories shared in the event showed the great diversity and power of Hawaiʻi’s youth – to tell us who they are, what is important to them, and where we all need to turn to address our community’s greatest challenges.

“We see the young poets as offering us all guiding lights as we re-establish the way of life as we know it moving forward,” Pirsch said.

The MACC along with national organizations supports the development of artistic educational programs in the schools, including poetry workshops conducted at several high schools on Maui.

Leading national literary organizations supporting the National Youth Poet Laureate program include the Library of Congress, the Academy of American Poets, Poetry Foundation, Cave Canem, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Special guests at the event were Lua Bowman, Hawaiʻi’s first Youth Poet Laureate, Meera Dasgupta, former US Youth Poet Laureate, Sara Tekula, director of programs and communications of The Merwin Conservancy, Terisa Siagatonu, award-winning poet, teaching artist, mental health educator, and community leader born and rooted in the Bay Area, and Michael Cirelli, executive director of Urban Word and the founder the National Youth Poet Laureate Program.

Emcees of the event were Travis Kaululāʻau Thompson and Ittai Wong. Born and raised in Kalihi, Oʻahu, Travis T. is a nationally ranked slam poet, spoken word artist, educator, and professional teaching artist for the MACC. Ittai Wong is a multidisciplinary artist, writer, and educator, a published poet and two-time international grand slam champion, featured on the HBO documentary series, Brave New Voices.

Tax deductible donations toward Fung’s education may be made and mailed to the school’s nonprofit organization Papakumana; 2101 Makiki Heights Drive; Honolulu, Hawaii 96822. Please write in the lower left notation line “For Kalehua Fung.”

For a weekly listing of Maui music and other events, go to Maui Entertainment, Arts, Community, April 27-May 4 and click here.

Gary Kubota
Gary Kubota, an associate writer with MauiNow.com, has worked as a staff news writer with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and The Maui News. He lives on Maui. He’s also been an editor/business manager with the Lahaina News. He’s received national and regional journalism awards — a National Press Club Citation of Merit and Walter Cronkite Best In The West, among them.
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