An Indies Introduce Q&A with Megan Kamalei Kakimoto

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Megan Kamalei Kakimoto is the author of Every Drop is a Man’s Nightmare, a Summer/Fall 2023 Indies Introduce selection.

Kakimoto is a Japanese and Kānaka Maoli (native Hawaiian) writer from Honolulu, Hawaiʻi. Her fiction has been featured in Granta, Conjunctions, Joyland, and elsewhere. She has been a finalist for the Keene Prize for Literature and has received support from the Rona Jaffe Foundation and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. She received her MFA from the Michener Center for Writers, where she was a Fiction Fellow. She lives in Honolulu.

Christine Bollow of Loyalty Bookstores in Washington, DC, and Silver Spring, Maryland, served on the panel that selected Kakimoto’s debut for Indies Introduce. Bollow said of the experience, “Every Drop is a Man’s Nightmare is a wholly immersive collection of short stories — the smell of the ocean and plumeria, with an undercurrent of loneliness and anger, lingers in the air. Cut away the colonialist, haole lens, and embrace the haunting brutality and beauty of contemporary Hawaiian life; this is for the Kānaka Maoli and the hapas. I especially loved how much Pidgin and Hawaiian were in the stories, and how superstitions and mythology were woven throughout. Reading this felt like coming home. For fans of Sabrina & Corina, Milk Blood Heat, and Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls, Megan Kamalei Kakimoto is a searing and bold new voice. I will be recommending this collection to everyone!”

Here, Kakimoto and Bollow discuss Every Drop is a Man's Nightmare.

Christine Bollow: I’m always fascinated by the order of a short story collection and how the stories connect to form a cohesive collection. How did you decide on the order of the stories in Every Drop is a Man’s Nightmare? Was it always the same order or did it evolve during the editing process?

Megan Kamalei Kakimoto: So much of the collection’s ordering took place with my agent Iwalani Kim before we went out on submission. There were aspects of the order about which I was certain from the start — I sought to begin the collection with the list of don’ts that I envisioned passed from mother to daughter in “A Catalogue of Kānaka Superstitions, as Told by Your Mother,” and I wanted to end the collection with “The Love and Decline of the Corpse Flower.” For a while, the rest of the collection’s order eluded me. 

Working first with Iwalani and later with my editor Callie Garnett clarified how these stories could speak to each other and afford each other greater power in their proximity and their distance. We examined tone, narration, and story content to ensure each succeeding story built momentum and propelled the collection as a whole. In the end, the insights of both Iwalani and Callie inspired a beautiful alchemy in the collection’s resulting order of stories. 

CB: Who did you have in mind as the audience when you wrote this collection? What do you hope readers will get out of reading your book, especially readers who are also Kānaka Maoli (native Hawaiian) or hapa?

MKK: Admittedly I worked very hard to avoid thinking of audience, especially during the generative process of writing these stories. I think it’s because I knew implicitly my intended audience to be kānaka maoli readers, especially those already familiar with our ancestral stories. I wanted so badly to do right by them, that to consider them as future readers put a lot of pressure on these stories that were still in their infancy. For a while, my writing was stalled by this fear. It was only once a story fully revealed itself to me and I returned to revise it that I allowed myself to consider the question of audience and intended readers of my work.

My hope is for readers to see that kānaka ʻōiwi and hapa characters deserve to take up space in contemporary literature, and for these characters and their stories to live in readers’ minds long after the collection ends. For my kānaka maoli and hapa readers, ultimately the biggest honor I can hope for is that in the reading of these stories, they feel seen.

CB: Did you grow up being a big reader? What is your reader origin story? Is there a book or author that inspired you to become a writer?

MKK: I’ve definitely been an avid reader since childhood! I had the privilege of being raised by parents who valued creativity and encouraged me toward art making despite neither of them self-identifying as artists. No books were off-limits, and I still remember attempting to read Anna Karenina in the sixth grade despite not having the emotional or cerebral language to comprehend what was actually happening in the story. I think at that age I sensed the magnitude of this giant novel, what a feat it must have been to write it, and that I sought to do something similar one day. In this way, my passion as a reader really drove my interest in becoming a writer, and to this day I’m following this path that was forged in my keiki days (childhood).

CB: You teach a master class through Kweli Journal for AAPI writers titled “Honoring Ancestral Stories Through a Contemporary Lens,” and I think reading Every Drop is its own kind of master class as well. I loved how you weaved in Hawaiian mythology and history in such an integral and modern way to each story. What was the process like of deciding which mythologies or ancestral stories you wanted to explore and how do you strike that balance of honoring it while also putting your own perspective on the story?

MKK: That’s so kind of you to say, Christine! Thank you so much. When it came to identifying the Hawaiian mythologies, superstitions, and moʻolelo (tales) present in this collection, I gravitated toward what I had inherited. So much of what is featured in the collection, from driving over the Pali with pork to the history of the Menehune to the tale of the Night Marchers, are pulled from stories I grew up hearing from my parents and grandparents — their collective voice was prominent in my head as I was writing. In the opener “A Catalogue of Kānaka Superstitions, as Told by Your Mother,” I sought to compile superstitions not only rooted in Hawaiian culture but also local superstitions that we in Hawaiʻi inherited over time from other cultures including Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and Filipino cultures.

As for striking a balance between honoring and personalizing these mythologies, that was the ultimate challenge. So much of my relationship with these cultural mythologies resides in the oral tradition of family storytelling, and in this collection I tried to honor the nuances of these particular stories as they were passed down to me. At the same time, I took a lot of comfort in the collaborative nature of telling these ancestral tales in my own voice and language, and bringing to them a contemporary gaze and approach that encompassed my own interests in things like female sexuality, physical and emotional isolation, and the lasting damage of colonization.

CB: Every Drop is a Man’s Nightmare does not shy away from the ramifications and generational trauma of colonization, and I am so here for it. Are there other books you recommend that you think your book is in conversation with?

MKK: I’m so happy to hear this feedback. I’m inspired by so many books that wrestle with the wounds of colonization and how generational trauma courses through Indigenous and marginalized families and communities because I feel like these are stories we should all be reading. Just a few of the books I love to recommend to other readers that engage with these ideas are Nuclear Family by Joseph Han, A Tiny Upward Shove by Melissa Chadburn, Night of the Living Rez by Morgan Talty, Sabrina & Corina by Kali Fajardo-Anstine, and Savage Tongues by Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi.

Every Drop is a Man’s Nightmare by Megan Kamalei Kakimoto (Bloomsbury, 9781639731169, Hardcover Short Stories, $27.99) On Sale: 8/29/2023.

Find out more about the author on her website.

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