Kirby Wright

Ivor Griffiths, Poet, Novelist & Short Story Writer

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Kirby Wright is an American writer best known for his coming of age island novel Punahou Blues and the epic novel "Moloka'i Nui Ahina", which is based on the life and times of Wright's paniolo grandmother. Both novels deal with the racial tensions between haoles (whites) and the indigenous Hawaiians, and illustrate the challenge for characters who, as the product of mixed-race marriages, must try to bridge the two cultures and overcome prejudice from both camps.

Wright's work is primarily concerned with the complexities of multicultural Hawaii, Killahaole Day, prejudices against (and within) island high schools, and the tricky matter of interracial dating. He incorporates the local creole language into his novels and was the first author to document the pidgin English spoken by the paniolo cowboys on the east end of Molokai.


  • 1 Biography
    • 1.1 Early Years
    • 1.2 University Years
  • 2 Punahou Blues
  • 3 Awards and recognition
  • 4 External links


Early Years

Wright was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. His father, Harold S. Wright, was a corporate attorney for the firm Smith Wild BeeBe & Cades. His mother, the former June McCormack of Boston, was a secretary at MIT. Starting at the age of 4, Wright spent summers with his part-Hawaiian grandmother Julia Gilman on her ranch on the east end of Molokai. It was here Wright met Sophie Cooke, a cattle rancher who wrote the memoir Sincerely, Sophie about her life and times in the islands. This meeting proved influential to the young Wright because Cooke wrote about his grandmother. Evidence of Wright's love for the written word surfaced at Star of the Sea Elementary School in Honolulu, where he crafted and performed plays about vampires, pro wrestlers, and secret agents. He won first place in a recital competition for his reading of "Trees" by Joyce Kilmer and also won awards for his original poems.

He transferred to Punahou School in the 7th Grade and won the short story competition. Despite winning the competition, Wright felt like an outsider at Punahou School and his experiences at this private institution will become fertile material for his coming of age novel Punahou Blues.

University Years

Wright attended the University of Colorado for a semester and transferred to the University of Hawaii at Manoa. At UH he studied under the tutelage of Maxine Hong Kingston and met Kurt Vonnegut and Allen Ginsberg. He transferred to UC-San Diego, where he took classes taught by poets Bobbie Louise Hawkins and Jerome Rothenberg. He received a B.A. in English and American literature at UCSD. After graduation, he sold cars for a living at Rancho Olds in Kearny Mesa, then became public relations director for the Carlsbad Inn and San Clemente Cove. Rich and unhappy, he applied to San Francisco State University and was accepted into the Masters Program in Creative Writing by Anne Rice. While at SFSU, he took classes taught by Frances Mayes, Daniel J. Langton, Molly Giles, and Harry Petrakis. He earned an MFA in creative writing and was the first student in the history of SFSU to sweep the poetry awards (Academy of American Poets Award, Browning Society Award for Dramatic Monologue, Ann Fields Poetry Prize).

Punahou Blues

The setting for the book (ISBN 0-9741067-1-2) is his high school alma mater Punahou School. The novel provides a window into the tumultuous 60s and 70s in multicultural Honolulu, from the viewpoint of a white (haole) boy narrator searching for identity in a private school. His rite of passage includes losing the girl of his dreams, not living up to his father's great expectations, surviving Killahaole Day, being suspended, sibling rivalry, fighting the school bully, and navigating the tricky waters of interracial dating.

A parallel novel entitled Moloka'i Nui Ahina is forthcoming in August 2007. The book (ISBN 978-0-9741067-2-4) features the life and times of Julia Daniels, a Moloka'i pioneer woman of mixed blood, who invites her grandsons Jeff and Ben to spend summers with her at her ranch. She shares the land with ex-husband Chipper, an alcoholic war hero with a life estate bordering the swamp. The boys roam a paradise of fishponds, waterfalls, and mountains with herds of deer. Jeff meets the kahuna woman who freezes pictures of her enemies, the transsexual who seduces the Chief of Police, the man who referees cock fights in Kaunakakai, the beautiful divorcee who lives in the saddle room, and the prodigal grandfather who returns to woo Julia. These characters shape Jeff's sensibilities as he learns the secrets of his grandmother's wild past in Honolulu and the intensity of her struggles on the Lonely Isle.

Awards and recognition

Wright has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes and is a past recipient of the Ann Fields Poetry Prize, the Academy of American Poets Award, the Browning Society Award for Dramatic Monologue, the San Diego Book Award, and Arts Council Silicon Valley Fellowships in Poetry and The Novel. Before the City, ((ISBN 0-9741067-0-4]], his first book of poetry, took First Place at the San Diego Book Awards. Punahou Blues was a Finalist at the San Diego Book Awards and Honorable Mention at the Hawai'i Book Awards. He was recently interviewed on Fox Morning News, Art Rocks internet radio in San Diego, and Hawaiian Kine News out of Las Vegas. He is a frequent guest on 50th State Radio, hosted by Uncle Paul Natto and broadcast live over the Internet from Las Vegas. Wright will appear in the 2007 editions of Who's Who in America and Who's Who in the World.

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