5 Pacific Islander Poets You Should Know
Above image of William Nu‘utupu Giles courtesy of Thomas Antonio Garcia
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are among the fastest-growing populations in the United States, and their contributions to American literature and poetry continue to grow alongside them. Today, there are several Pacific Islander writers who have reached global acclaim. Between these authors, book festivals, conferences, and more, studies of Pacific Literature are becoming more widespread. In honor of AAPI heritage month, we’ve highlighted five outstanding Pacific Islander poets you should know.
San Francisco-based poet Clarissa Mendiola examines her Chamoru roots through her work. With a BA from the University of San Francisco and an MFA from the California College of Arts, Mendiola considers cultural identity and multicultural backgrounds through her poetry, which has been published in As/Us Journal and Platte Valley Review, among others.
Poet Craig Santos Perez is a native Chamorro originally from Guam. After living in California with his family for fifteen years, he moved to Hawaii, where he now teaches Pacific literature and creative writing in the English department of the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. He has authored two poetry collections: from unincorporated territory [guma’] and from unincorporated territory [saina]. Perez has been a finalist for the LA Times 2010 Book Prize for Poetry and a winner of the 2011 PEN Center USA Literary Award for Poetry.
Born and raised in Hawaii—but currently based in Ohio—Joe Balaz writes in American English and Pidgin (Hawaiian Creole English). Drawing on his Hawaiian, Slovakian, and Irish heritage, Balaz often combines visual art with his poetry and emphasizes the importance of oral tradition. His album of pidgin poetry, titled Electric Laulau, has become a foundational text in native Hawaiian literature.
Contemporary novelist, poet, and painter Sia Figiel creates work that is heavily influenced by her Samoan background. Figiel won the Polynesian Literary Competition in 1994 and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for fiction in 1997. Among her many published novels, Figiel has written two collections of prose poetry: 1996 collection The Girl in the Moon Circle—which depicts life in Samoan society through the eyes of a ten-year-old girl—and 1998 collection To a Young Artist in Contemplation.
In 2015, William Nu‘utupu Giles (Will) was the first Pacific Islander to win the National Underground Poetry Individual Competition. They have performed their poetry across the U.S. and facilitated workshops in Papua New Guinea, Guam, and New Zealand. They were also featured in the HBO documentary Russell Simmons Presents: Brave New Voices. Giles’s work connects contemporary poetry with the oral traditions of Polynesian genealogy, taking on themes of immigrant identity, colonization, representation, and masculinity.