Pioneers in Poetry: Hawaii’s Poet Laureate


Hawaii's Poet Laureate accomplishments.

Learn about Hawaii’s first poet laureate.

Who is Hawaii’s first poet laureate? The answer is Kealoha, a world renown poet and storyteller, performing in some of the most prestigious places in the world, including the White House and Iolani Palace. Kealoha is also Hawaii’s first poet to perform during a governor’s inauguration and he is known as the master artist by the National Endowment for the Arts program. If you are not familiar with the poet laureate tradition of Hawaii, it goes all the way back to the ancient and classic laurel of arts and poetry proficiency. The duties of a Hawaii Poet Laureate include reading, writing and spreading awareness about poetry appreciation. As a poet laureate, one leads poetry workshops, organizes reading series, attends poetry conferences and writes poems for state special events.

To put it short, Kealoha represents the pride of Hawaii, with rankings as one of the top ten best poets of the nations, winning the ‘National Slam Legend’ in 2010, but his talents go beyond being Hawaii’s Poet Laureate. Kealoha founded HawaiiSlam, the Youth Speaks Hawaii and the most popular slam poetry competition in the world called First Thursdays. New York City, Chicago, Zurich, Switzerland, Amsterdam and San Paulo, Brazil are all places Kealoha has travelled to perform at live venues like the Nuyorican Poets Care, the Green Mill and Bienal Do Ibriapuera. You may even recall Kealoha performing at the NFL Pro Bowl halftime show.

People from all over the world enjoy seeing Kealoha perform his poetry because he is a great storyteller. The way he tells the stories are powerful, no matter if he is showcasing at high-profile events like the Honolulu Storytelling Festival or the Bay Area Storytelling Festival, people feel as if they are experiencing something unique and inspiring.The rave reviews about Kealoha as Hawaii’s Poet Laureate has given him the opportunity to appear on HBO’s Brave New Voices as well as becoming the poetic vocalist for the “Wild Hawaiian Experience,” a performance worthy of a Grammy.

If you are interested in reading some of Kealoha’s poetry, consider looking up ‘Real Word Magazine’ and the Auckland University Press for samples. You may also hear his poetry on recorded albums like the Henry Kapono’s “Henry,” or his full-length spoken word album self-titled Kealoha. And if you want to see him on film, watch “Get a Job”, starring actors like Eric Gilliom and Willie K. You may also want to watch Kealoha on PBS ‘Long Story Short and his co-directed film “Can’t Fool the Youth”, which serves as an anti-smoking campaign. It is amazing how much the MIT graduate of Nuclear Physics has accomplished. Yes, he has a minor in writing and it’s truly remarkable to see what he has done with his love of poetry. 

If you want to become a poet laureate, take a stab at writing your own poems about something you care about! If you like what you write, consider submitting it to our poetry contest and show your work to the world! Visit our Facebook and Twitter pages for updates and more information.

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