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Brandy Nālani McDougall

From Kula, Maui, Brandy Nālani McDougall is the author of a poetry collection, The Salt-Wind, Ka Makani Paʻakai (2008), the co-founder of Ala Press and Kahuaomānoa Press, the co-star of a poetry album, Undercurrent (2011), and the co-editor of Huihui: Navigating Art and Literature in the Pacific (2014). Her book Finding Meaning: Kaona and Contemporary Hawaiian Literature (University of Arizona Press, May 2016) is the first extensive study of contemporary Hawaiian literature and recently won the Beatrice Medicine Award for Scholarship in American Indian Studies. She is an Associate Professor of American Studies at UH Mānoa

Finding Meaning: Kaona and Contemporary Hawaiian Literature

In this first extensive study of contemporary Hawaiian literature, Brandy Nalani McDougall examines a selection of fiction, poetry and drama by emerging and established Hawaiian authors, including Haunani Kay-Trask, John Dominis Holt, Imaikalani Kalahele, and Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl. At the center of the analysis is a hallmark of Hawaiian aesthetics—kaona, the intellectual practice of hiding and finding meaning that encompasses the allegorical, the symbolic, the allusive, and the figurative. With a poet's attention to detail, McDougall interprets examples of kaona, guiding readers through olelo no'eau (proverbs), mo'olelo (literature and histories), and mooku'auhau (genealogies) alongside their contemporary literary descendants, unveiling complex layers of Hawaiian identity, culture, history, politics, and ecology. Throughout, McDougall asserts that "kaona connectivity" not only carries bright possibilities for connecting the present to the past, but it may also ignite a decolonial future. Ultimately, Finding Meaning affirms the tremendous power of Indigenous stories and genealogies to give activism and decolonization movements lasting meaning.


“A landmark publication in the field of Hawaiian literature.”

David Chang, author of The Color of the Land: Race, Nation, and the Politics of Landownership in Oklahoma, 18321930


“Finding Meaning will become a classic of Pacific literary criticism. McDougall shows the aesthetic beauty, literary complexity, and political urgency of contemporary Hawaiian writing.”

Craig Santos Perez, author of From Unincorporated Territory


“Finding Meaning is an essential breath of fresh air in literary criticism giving a Native poet’s readings of the expanse of meaning that can be found in Native literature using Native practice and knowledge. Her work authenticates the vital decolonized artery of encoded interpretation with magnificent pulse. A definitive must-read for all interested in Indigenous literature studies.”

Allison Adelle Hedge Coke, author of Streaming and editor of Sing: Poetry of the Indigenous Americas