Brandy Nālani McDougall, 2023-2025 Hawaiʻi State Poet Laureate


“Brandy has contributed so much ea to our literature in Hawaiʻi. She is an educator and a creative writer herself so what she offers as poet laureate is expansive. I have been reading Brandy’s poetry and literary criticism with gratitude for years and am excited to see the paths she builds alongside other writers in Hawaiʻi as poet laureate. Brandy believes in the power of moʻolelo. Hers is an unshakeable and luminous faith. I know she will serve this kuleana with tremendous focus and aloha.”

—Noʻu Revilla
2021 National Poetry Series winner for
Ask the Brindled

Hawaiʻi State Poet Laureate, Brandy Nālani McDougall—Photo by Jakob Soto Bauwens

A word from Brandy on her term as Hawaiʻi State Poet Laureate:

There are so many important, healing and empowering stories that are unique to Hawaiʻi and our communities that havenʻt been given the visibility and reach that they deserve.  As a result, these stories have not always been able to reach the people living in Hawaiʻi that they most need to reach.  I’m a strong believer in the healing power of stories and poetry, which I would say is a way of telling a story (or stories) with the musicality of one’s voice and a depth of meaning that relies on human experience and knowledge.  I see poetry as, above all, a form of connection, of pilina, that was created to help us humans to remember, to dream, to empathize, and to hope—and all of these ways to connect are really core to healing ourselves, our ʻāina, and the planet. Poetry has the power to bring together our communities in very healing ways, but as the ʻāina of our beautiful islands in Hawaiʻi have taught us, poetry is also a way to connect and heal through (and with!) ʻāina.  I would love to see so many folks in our communities creating and writing poetry, reading poetry, reflecting, empathizing, and healing in the process of a brilliant collective creativity, but ensuring that ʻāina is always part of that creative process is really key.  

Our human communities need to know that we’re all part of our ʻāina and all the Hawaiʻi poets, whether established or emerging, are part of a long legacy of poets living in our beautiful islands. Like the poets before us, we get to live in one of the most beautiful, creative, diverse, and amazing places on Earth, and everyday we can feel loved by ‘āina, fed by ʻāina, and protected by ʻāina.  I believe that integral to being a poet in Hawaiʻi is the important kuleana of loving our ʻāina back with our poems and spreading that message to others. So, my vision for the poet laureateship centers a love for poetry, but also expressions of aloha for our ʻāina through poetry. In workshops, presentations, and readings, there would always be a recognition of the specific ʻāina we are on as well as a moʻolelo of healing connected to that ʻāina. I would emphasize that ʻāina should be included as we envision the audience for any poem, encouraging our communities to read their poems to the ʻāina and to wait for hōʻailona, how the ʻāina may show them through a light breeze or the appearance of an ʻiwa overhead perhaps, that it’s listening. Fostering this kind of pilina to ʻāina through poetry can go so far in helping people have a sense of belonging and creating a greater sense of community, especially after the past couple of years of isolation, fear, and uncertainty we are now emerging from. 


Brandy Nālani McDougall and 24th National Poet Laureate Ada Limón at The Merwin Conservancy’s Green Room—Photo by Douglas Carroll


An interview with Brandy, where she talks story with HIHumanities’ Director of Literary and Conversation programs, Lyz Soto about how poetry can save the world.

From the ahupuaʻa of Aʻapueo in Kula, Maui, Brandy Nālani McDougall (Kanaka ʻŌiwi, she/her/ʻo ia) is the author of a poetry collection, The Salt-Wind, Ka Makani Paʻakai (2008). Her critical monograph Finding Meaning: Kaona and Contemporary Hawaiian Literature (University of Arizona Press, 2016) is the first extensive study of contemporary Hawaiian literature and was the winner of the Beatrice Medicine Award. She is the director of the Mānoa Center for Humanities and Civic Engagement and an Associate Professor of American Studies (specializing in Indigenous studies) at UH Mānoa. Her second poetry collection, ʻĀina Hānau, Birth Land, is forthcoming from the University of Arizona Press in Summer 2023. She is the Hawaiʻi Poet Laureate for 2023-2025. She lives with her keiki in Kalaepōhaku in the ahupuaʻa of Waikīkī on Oʻahu.







webpage banner—photo credit: Forest and Kim Starr, poem excerpt: Nā Puʻu One a Waiheʻe by Brandy Nālani McDougall