‘The Best of Aloha Shorts — Live!’ coming to Hilo

Hawaii Public Radio will bring literature to life — and the Big Island — next week.

Honoring the Bamboo Ridge anthology of the same name with live performances of local literature, HPR will host a Hilo production of “The Best of Aloha Shorts — Live!” at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 8, at the University of Hawaii at Hilo Performing Arts Center.

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“What’s really cool about this show (is) it started as a radio show which became a book which now goes back to the stage to become a radio show,” said Phyllis Look, director of marketing for the Oahu-based Hawaii Public Radio and a co-producer of the original “Aloha Shorts” radio program.

“Aloha Shorts” ran on HPR from 2004-2012 and featured “readings of literature by actors,” Look said. “They bring the literature, the poems to life in a way that writers do not.”

The show was taped in front of a live studio audience and aired weekly.

“It became quite the phenomenon during its final years,” and was “sort of a thing for local audiences,” said Look.

Pieces that were read were largely taken from works published by Bamboo Ridge Press.

According to its website, Bamboo Ridge was founded in 1978 to publish literature “by and about Hawaii’s people.”

Several years after the show ended, Look said Bamboo Ridge collected the best of those performances in an anthology, “The Best of Aloha Shorts,” which was published last year.

HPR is now “taking those best pieces and taking those around the islands.”

When “Aloha Shorts” originally aired, Look said the HPR streams were not available to East Hawaii.

It “wasn’t until relatively recently that both our programming streams were heard throughout the state,” she said. And while it would have been a fairly familiar program to people on Oahu, many on Big Island wouldn’t have been familiar.

For residents here, Look said it will be a “fresh new experience,” and not a reprise.

According to HPR, poems and stories selected for this event include those by authors with Big Island roots — including Darlene M. Javar, Juliet S. Kono and Lois-Ann Yamanaka — as well as others.

“So this is a great story-telling event that really reflects back to the culture of story telling from Hawaii,” Jose Fajardo, president and general manager of HPR, adding, “I think a lot of people from the community will have interest in these stories from and of Hawaii,” which reflects the personality of the state.

For new residents, “old timers” and visitors, “this is a really unique way of discovering island culture, both as it’s lived today and (as) it was remembered,” Look said.

Pieces cover a wide spectrum of topics, she said, “all of it very specific to what we know as Hawaii, not from visitors perspective, but from the people who really live here.”

Born and raised in Hilo, Kono has a piece about the 1946 tsunami, from her book, “Hilo Rains.”

While the piece was performed before in Honolulu, “I haven’t been able to go see it before, so it’s quite an honor and a privilege to be a part of this program,” she said. “… I have seen them do other people’s work and perform in Honolulu, but I have never seen them do my work.”

Yamanaka’s piece, “Kid,” is set in Hilo and talks about raising a baby goat orphaned during a hunting trip, which was eventually given to the zoo.

Yamanaka said everything she writes has a kernel of truth.

“For me, the kernel of truth is my father was a taxidermist in Hilo and he used to be a hunter,” she said. He had killed a goat for meat and discovered she had just given birth.

“It was a very interesting juxtaposition to see the violence and the beauty in the same moment.”

Yamanaka said she couldn’t have told the story in any other way than Pidgin “because language and emotion are one … I wouldn’t have been able to bring across the kind of pain I felt because of the connection of language and emotion.”

Hunting is such a part of the culture, and Yamanaka said she’s glad that children in the audience will be able to see themselves reflected in literature “because I was told by my friend … ‘until you see yourself in the written word, you don’t exist,’ and that blew me away. I said ‘that’s right.’ … In that way it makes me proud, because I made somebody feel themselves in writing. I made somebody exist in literature.”

Long-time Hilo resident and award-winning slack-key artist Mark Yamanaka will also perform some original work at the Feb. 8 program in Hilo. The two-hour event will be taped for future broadcast on HPR’s “Applause in a Small Room.”

Additional neighbor-island performances are planned for 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 9 at Kamehameha Schools Maui Keopuolani Hale Auditorium, Makawao, Maui, and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16 at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church, Lihue, Kauai.

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Tickets are $15-$35 and include both general admission and VIP seating with a pre-show reception. Purchase tickets online at hprtickets.org or by calling 955-8821.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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