By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Darrell H.Y. Lum, left, and Eric Chock, founders of 'Bamboo Ridge.'

'Bamboo' thriving

'Bamboo Ridge' editors win a state award

By Burl Burlingame

IN the beginning, it was a student's excitement about a fishing technique that led to the title "Bamboo Ridge."

"Bamboo Ridge is a fishing spot, yeah?" explains Bamboo Ridge (the journal) co-founder Darrell H.Y. Lum. "Very rocky, dangerous waves, but good ulua. This student was explaining to me how the old guys that fish there use a slide-bait method. Throw the line out, get the hook snagged on a rock, and slide a whole tako down the line as bait. A lot of work, and you probably won't catch anything, but that's not the point. So -- Bamboo Ridge seemed like an appropriate title for a literary journal."

This was two decades ago. Since then, Lum and Eric Chock (the other co-founder) have kept Bamboo Ridge alive and growing, to the point where it is one of the longest-lived literary journals in the United States. Writers who appeared within its pages have since become the literary voices of Hawaii -- Lois-Ann Yamanaka, Rodney Morales, Gary Pak, Nora Okja Keller, Dana Naone Hall, Wing Tek Lum, Michael McPherson, Mari Kubo, Cathy Song -- a whole library shelf full.

Tomorrow, Lum And Chock are being awarded the 1996 Hawai'i Award for Literature by Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono for their work on Bamboo Ridge. The award comes from the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts and the Hawaii Literary Arts Council.

Individually, Chock and Lum aren't literary slouches. Chock is a poet and teacher who has earned a Cades Award for Literature and is a Visiting Distinguished Writer at the University of Hawaii Manoa. Lum is a fiction writer and playwright who also has a Cades on the mantle and has a Fellowship in Literature from the National Endowment for the Arts.

But it's Bamboo Ridge that is getting the spotlight this time.

"Oh, I can't remember that far back," protests Lum. "I'm sure we were just sitting around and and we said, 'Hey! Let's put out a literary magazine!' We didn't know anything. All we knew is that we were writers, we were getting out of school, and we weren't getting published. As editors, all we knew is that we wanted to treat writers the way we wanted ourselves to be treated."

"Not just to publish, but to help define 'local' literature," said Chock. "We wanted it to be both a showcase and a vehicle. In a way, we were riding on the coattails of other ethnic movements around the United States. We were trying to help create a sense of community, at least a sense of literary community."

Chock and Lum are Mutt and Jeff: Chock is reserved and spartan and tall and craggy, his vision seems focused on inner horizons, while Lum is bubbly and affable, round-faced as a cookie, and delights in the simple pleasure of chit-chat. They are a nearly perfect team.

Lum had some background in design and was able to make Bamboo Ridge an attractive magazine. But that was nearly the extent of their resources.

"We put our money together, and the printers just laughed," said Lum. "It was like, $300. We were going to charge five dollars a year for four issues. We didn't even know that postage would cost more than that."

Dennis Watanuki of Pioneer Printers took a shine to the project though, and the early issues were printed at cost. Watanuki told Lum and Chock that he could tell when it was a good edition, because the guys on the collating table were working slowly, reading instead of collating.

Bamboo Ridge now comes out twice a year instead of four, but each issue is twice as thick. Subscriptions are $16 ("Get it while it's hot!" says Lum. "It'll probably have to go up next year.")

The learning process didn't end when it came off the press. "Oh, the begging to get Longs to carry it," said Chock. "The driving around all over the island trying to get bookstores to carry at least 10 copies. Trying to get you (newspaper) guys to write about it. So hard.

"We hoped and dreamed it would continue, but it turned out to be like a marathon, in for the long haul."

"The editing hasn't changed much. You'll slog through a whole stack of stuff and then something wonderful will turn up," said Lum. "That's what's exciting -- finding good writing, writing that's so good it makes me jealous! Finding a Gary Pak, or a Rodney Morales, or a Lois-Ann Yamanaka or a Nora Cobb (Keller). Juliet Kono used to submit practically every issue.

"My only disappointment so far is that we were going to publish a couple of chapters from Nora's 'Comfort Woman,' but it got accepted by a big publisher, who made us withdraw it.

"We're certainly not responsible for their careers, but we're certainly happy to publicize them," said Lum.

The writers disagree.

Without Bamboo Ridge, said Yamanaka, she would not have started writing. "It was Eric Chock and the poet-in-the-schools program that got me writing," she said. "Bamboo Ridge is like a really big family -- OK, a dysfunctional family! -- that meant a lot of nurturing to young writers. The genealogy of 'local' literature starts with those guys, Darrell and Eric, making space for us."

Without Bamboo Ridge, said Gary Pak, "I wouldn't be a published writer. Simple as that. Bamboo Ridge is the primary literary force in Hawaii today. It took friendship and commitment and vision on Darrell and Eric's part, as well as their sacrifice."

Bamboo Ridge has also made a contribution to the theater community, with several works being converted to stage pieces by Kumu Kahua, including, next season, Keller's "Comfort Woman."

"Every year, there's been a dramatic rise in the quality and quantity of local literature, and Bamboo Ridge is largely responsible for that," said Dennis Carroll of Kumu Kahua. "The editors -- the mentors -- at that magazine have become a very important source of local writers."

"The Hawaii 'voice' of modern literature -- we probably had a little to do with that," said Lum. "Making sure, at least, it's rings true to the experience of living here."

"It's helped that we're regular and on time with every issue. We try to be efficient, which aids in in getting the notion of literature out into the community," said Chock.

Is all this back-patting going to their heads?

"I still threaten to quit every month, just to keep my sanity," said Lum.

"Boy, the money part is still hard. That's just the way it is in literary publishing," said Chock.

"These are austere times for artists," Lus said. "We spend as much time fund-raising as editing. Doing things like a garage sale. There's helpers like Gary and Lois-Ann and Nora trucking their stuff from the bottom of their closets out to a garage sale -- yeah, OK, so it's pathetic. But it kept us alive."

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