A queer ‘Ōiwi poet and educator changing Pacific literature

Revilla, a queer ‘Ōiwi poet and educator, continues the tradition of literary excellence among Hawaiian writers.
35 years old, poet and assistant professor, UH Mānoa. Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino

There is no shortage of incredible women in Hawai’i, wāhine who work tirelessly on behalf of others, lead the way for women and lead by example, even when it means standing up against deep-rooted injustices. Meet 15 people who inspire and move Honolulu forward in everything from arts to government and restaurants to sports. This is No’u Revilla, 35, a poet and assistant professor at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa.

Ahis first year, No’u Revilla was browsing the stacks of the New York University library when she came across a book by Hawaiian writer Haunani-Kay Trask. She was hypnotized. “I found myself sitting cross-legged on the floor of the library reading Of a native girl, and that was it,” Revilla recalls. “It was a hō’ailonaa sign that I needed to come home and that Hawai’i is my place.

Revilla enrolled in Trask’s class at UH Mānoa and pursued writing. In 2021, she won a National Poetry Series award, becoming the first queer ‘Ōiwi writer (Native Hawaiian) to claim the prize. His first complete collection of poetry, Ask the Brindled – Indigiqueer Poetry from Hawai’i, which explores what aloha means in the face of colonization and sexual violence, will be released in August. “This award is an incredible opportunity to be recognized for my work,” says Revilla, assistant professor of creative writing at UH Mānoa. “But this is only a moment in a long tradition of literary excellence by Hawaiian writers.”

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Revilla grew up in Waiehu, Maui, in a family that valued the imagination. Her father was an avid storyteller; her mother took her to libraries and left her to read for hours. Her mother, she says, often challenged her and her sister to turn “a blank page into a place of wonder.” The couple would fill this page with a story the moment they got home from work. For Revilla, writing is a way to activate and honor his legacy. “I want to write books that allow other Indigenous women to feel seen. I want to help them stand in their bodies, stand in their lands, and stand in their love, knowing that they have connected to a long and resilient tradition of love like theirs.

Bryan Kamaoli Kuwada, assistant professor at the Kamakakūokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies, describes Revilla as “a new branch on the vast trunk that is our literature“. She has led poetry workshops in Hawai’i, Canada and Papua New Guinea, and presented at the United Nations. His poems have been adapted for the stage in New Zealand, Hawaii and New Mexico. In 2019, she co-hosted a poetry workshop for Guardians gathered in Maunakea.

“I want to write books that allow other Indigenous women to feel seen.

For Revilla, poetry is a powerful antidote to the crippling sense of isolation that many students have experienced during the pandemic. “Poetry requires you to slow down, to recalibrate your attention to something that lasts longer than a TikTok video,” she says. It also requires reciprocity, forging a resilient writing community based on trust. “It’s the easiest thing to be able to connect with another person through our stories and to show up for each other and say, ‘I hear you, I see you, I believe you. “”

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Revilla continues to write and teach, and to honor his own sources of inspiration. At home, she keeps a framed black-and-white photo of Trask on the wall. “When I found out I had won the National Poetry Series,” Revilla recalls, “I looked at her and said, ‘This is
for you.'”



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