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First ʻŌiwi Poet to Win National Poetry Series Competition

nou revilla
UH News

For the first time, an ʻŌiwi (Native Hawaiian) poet has won the National Poetry Series competition.

Winner Noʻu Revilla is an assistant professor at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. The Maui native 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.

When Hawaiʻi Public Radio asked how she felt when she received the award, she replied, "On the day I got the email from NPS, I read and reread the first sentence and felt like I couldn’t trust my own eyes, so I took a screenshot of the email and sent it to my wife."

Her collection of 42 poems, Ask the Brindled, was selected for publication out of more than 1,600 entries in the 2021 NPS competition.

Her work looks into the concept of aloha in the face of colonization and sexual violence.

Revilla wrote the poems while thinking of Hawaiian women and queer families in Oceania, but she did not always write poems rooted to her heritage.

She discovered her current style from Robert Sullivan, a former instructor at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.

"He looked at the draft of a short story I wrote, and he asked why I was using so many allusions to Greek and Roman myths," Revilla explains. "'What about the stories of your culture?' he asked me. 'Where are your people? Where is your land?'"

Ask the Brindled is scheduled to be published fall of 2022 under Milkweed Editions — a national publishing company. Her poems intended for Hawaiian readers will be viewed by many people who have no ties to Hawaiʻi.

Revilla describes poetry as a type of literary art form that helps people slow their thoughts. She hopes her poems help non-Hawaiians slow down and think of the true meaning of "aloha."

"There is olelo Hawaiʻi in the book, and I am very unapologetic about not offering translations, and having the language stay there and be rooted and be strong."

"And ask better questions about aloha. Ask better questions about Hawaiʻi and their relationship to Hawaiʻi because we’re not just a playground," she says.

Revilla says her next piece of writing will be thank you letters and the acknowledgements page to her new book.

She recommends reading the acknowledgements page so readers can see how the author brought the work to life with the help of their different relationships and communities.

Ask the Brindled will be dedicated to the late Native Hawaiian activist and author, Haunani-Kay Trask.

Corrected: September 10, 2021 at 11:19 AM HST
This story incorrectly spelled Noʻu Revilla's last name as Rivella. HPR apologizes for the error.
Zoe Dym is a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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