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University of Hawaiʻi professors collaborate on Haunani-Kay Trask biography

Haunani-Kay Trask
Kapulani Landgraf
Haunani-Kay Trask

Two University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa professors are working on a biography of Native Hawaiian leader and scholar Haunani-Kay Trask.

Noelani Goodyear-Kaʻōpua, a political science professor, and Erin Kahunawai Wright, an associate professor of educational administration, recently received a $182,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Both were students of Trask, who died last year, in the 1990s. They said the biography will focus on Trask’s genealogy, including her ʻohana and high school and college days, as well as her work as a poet and a leader in higher education.

“She's probably the most, I think, well-known, influential Hawaiian scholar in the 20th century,” Wright said. “Going back and reading a lot of her articles and books that we had read as students… we still find that there's so much resonance still 30, almost 40 years later.”

Trask began teaching at UH Mānoa in 1981 and was the founding director of the university’s Center for Hawaiian Studies.

Goodyear-Kaʻōpua said Trask’s messages resonated with many of her students.

“I distinctly remember sitting in a packed classroom of students… and when she would open the door and walk in, a hush would fall over the classroom,” Goodyear-Kaʻōpua said. “She just had a presence when she entered the room that really was captivating. And I can remember walking out of her classroom crying, walking out of her classroom laughing, walking out of her classroom angry. She just covered the range of emotions, and in that way, I feel like she captured Hawaiian life, what it's like to live as a kanaka.”

They said they are collaborating with other Native Hawaiian leaders and scholars, and hope to finish the biography in two years.

For more information, click here.

Jayna Omaye was a culture and arts reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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