Interview With Author Frances Kakugawa

Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!

This is that 6 year old who vowed to become a writer in first grade and held that dream and used it to accept and forgive hurtful and unkind people “because someday you will be waiting in line, for my book.” And it did happen. My 15th book, Echoes of Kapoho, will be released this fall. My first four poetry books published when I was in my 30’s are: Sand Grains, White Ginger Blossom, Golden Spike, and Path of Butterflies. I was sure I was destined for a very short life because why else would these books be published so early in my life. It’s good to be wrong.

My books on caregiving for someone with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are: Mosaic Moon: Caregiving through Poetry, Breaking the Silence: A Caregiver’s Voice, I Am Somebody: Bringing Dignity and Compassion to Alzheimer’s Caregiving. An illustrated book written for children on memory loss is titled: Wordsworth Dances the Waltz. I also write a monthly column called Dear Frances, an advice column for caregivers in the Hawai’i Herald.

My three memoirs are: Teacher, You Look Like a Horse, Kapoho: Memoir of a Modern Pompeii and Echoes of Kapoho. The Teacher book was also translated into Chinese, published in China.

A recent collection of generic poetry is titled: Dangerous Woman: Poetry for the Ageless

My four children’s books are a series of Wordsworth stories, of a little mouse poet who resolves human problems with his poetry. Titles are: Wordsworth the Poet ( Being different), Wordsworth Dances the Waltz ( on memory loss), Wordsworth, Stop the Bulldozer! ( can poetry save trees?) and Wordsworth, It’s in Your Pocket! ( Can poetry bring his friends back who are addicted to electronic games?) All four have won awards along with four others books.

Other poems and stories have appeared in anthologies, magazines and newspapers.

What are the real-life stories behind your books?

I grew up in a tiny village in Hawaii without electricity or indoor plumbing. I read in the outhouse to escape chores. The first book I held in my hands was in first grade when I learned to read the Dick and Jane readers. I grew up speaking Hawaiian Pidgin so was shocked to discover that people in books spoke differently. One day the lst grade teacher read a poem and I could see images of flowers with red lips and long eyelashes speaking to each other and discovered the magical power of language and knew I would someday want my name on a book.

I was introduced to racism after Pearl Harbor because “Under the rising sun, the enemy came, wearing my face.” I was a child then, and learned fear with bomb shelters, and air raids, and soldiers patrolling the village. I also learned a new word: Jap

All the poems I wrote from first grade through high school, hidden in a shoe box, were destroyed when Kapoho, our village, was in the path of a lava flow. Kapoho was completely destroyed last year. Stories of Kapoho and my exit appear in my two Kapoho memoirs.

My teachers from Grades 1 -6 were high school girls from the village so they read to us daily, not knowing how to pass time. Our music curriculum was based on one Stephen Foster’s book so we sang songs from the South: Dixie, Old Black Joe, etc. I read a lot of books on slavery to match these songs. So definitely the poor education resulted positively in the person I became which appears in all of my books.

How Do You Deal with Creative Block?

I almost never face a blank page. I work out the stories and poems in my head and when they’re ready to be written I take pen and pencil to my cave at a bakery and write. My poems and stories come to be written so there are times when I feel I have written my last word. But eventually, some idea will appear, first as a fog and gradually I work to bring form to all the vague thoughts and ideas in my head. This is the challenging and exciting part of the process.

What inspired your creativity?

1. My four books of poetry began after my first heart-broken experience. Suddenly my grief began to appear in poetic form, non-stop, as free therapy.

My books on caregiving evolved after I became a caregiver for my mother who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She is now gone and I lecture nation-wide on helping caregivers bring compassion, kindness and dignity to caregiving through poetry writing.

The first of my four children’s books began with a children’s story contest. I took a few poetry, as I remembered them from that lost shoe box destroyed in the eruption, and wrote a story around it. It won second prize and led to publication of three more books.

My memoir Kapoho: Memoir of a Modern Pompeii began after I heard my mother say to the minister before she died, “Don’t let me be forgotten.” I knew then, I needed to preserve my past.

My Teacher book is a result of what I’ve learned about teaching children, not curriculum. I began to write anecdotes about the children from the first day of my teaching career, knowing I would someday write a book.

5.What role do emotions play in creativity.

The thread that runs throughout all my poetry and stories is the human element on what it

means to be human.

How is your creation process improved over time?

It has improved with each writing. I shudder at some of my earliar works. I have learned so much from other writers. I read books awarded the Nobel, Pulitzer, National Book awards and books with good reviews. They are my mentors. From Charles Pellegrino, I learned the power of using fore-shadowing. From Mark Arax who asked me once, “Do you need that last sentence?” I learned about respecting and honoring readers by knowing we don’t lecture and teach and over-talk and tie everything in a bow; they are, children and adults, far wiser than we are and are able to figure things out for themselves.

What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?

By not letting the story tell the story. By not letting the poem tell the poem. By not taking myself out of the story or poem. And by not using language at its best.

How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?

My first bad experience came from my first published book. It received statewide attention, all positive. BUT, at my book signing, a parent of a student, looked at my book, read the following poem and walked away saying, “I didn’t know you wrote THIS kind of poems.”

Boy Into Man

I hold his hand

And softly cry

Not yet, not yet.

But even little boys

Need to be free.

I feel him slip

Away from me –

Tiny, scrubby, enormously brave.

And without a glance

To where I stand

He enters the room


A colleague, a teacher, said she would not leave my book around her house because she doesn’t want her young son to read this particular poem. I asked her why and she said, “The only room he enters alone is the bathroom, and I don’t think poems of the bathroom are appropriate for children.”

I sought a writer friend and cried, “What’s wrong with these people? One school district in California used this same poem for their Kindergarten open house.” My friend said, “Once you release your poem, it’s no longer yours.” I learned a good lesson how the source of writing differs from the source of the reader. It was such a valuable lesson to learn from my first published book; that I cannot control readers to a certain degree.

And now for the last question: Tell us some quirky facts about yourself.

I’m so perfect, there are no quirks. Can you hear the laughter?

I did a foolish thing in preserving my dream of becoming a writer.

I avoided all college courses in writing. I didn’t want any English Professor to demolish my dream by saying, “You can’t write.” Books became my mentor. I would be a better writer today had I not over-protected that dream. Now that’s a large quirk.

Frances H Kakugawa




Publisher: Watermark Publishing: 1-866-900-BOOK


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