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Storyfort Interview: Idaho’s New Writer in Residence Malia Collins

Throughout the years, writer Malia Collins has been involved with Storyfort in so many wonderful ways.

From bringing us fantastic visiting writers through the College of Western Idaho to telling bone-chilling stories set in Hawaii at Scaryfort, to bringing the community events like Refugee Artisans: Quilting a Narrative (2019), Malia has been one of our greatest supporters and friends.

Malia is a writer who grew up in Hawaii and has lived, worked, and traveled around the world. She now lives in Boise with her husband and two children, and just recently became Idaho’s Writer in Residence. She is an Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at the College of Western Idaho, and a teaching artist with the Idaho Commission on the Arts.

She was able to take some time away from her summer travels to be interviewed by Storyfort director and outgoing Writer in Residence, Christian Winn.

First of all, big congratulations from all of us at Storyfort on being named the newest Idaho Writer in Residence! It’s so very well deserved. I’m curious what your initial reaction to hearing the news was like. I know that I kind of freaked out when I got the news via a Friday evening phone call from the Commission on the Arts. How did it feel for you, and how was the news delivered?

Thank you! Jocelyn called with the big news on a Friday afternoon and I couldn’t believe it. I kept making her tell it to me again. And then I said—Jocelyn, I’m going to say it and you tell me it’s true. I was thrilled and honored and delighted. It was such a joyful phone call to get. I think it really hit me the next day when I was in the grocery store and I found myself humming—humming! —and I called Josh and said—I’m walking through the aisles here humming because I feel bliss. And then I thought—ok—I need to finish this book.

As the Idaho Writer in Residence, there are a number of really cool outreach opportunities. I’m curious, what do you most look forward to?

I’d love the chance to teach a creative writing workshop in the Sentences writing program at the Idaho State Correctional Center in Kuna. When I was in the Writers in the Schools program, I was the teaching writer at the Southwest Idaho Juvenile Detention Center. I looked forward to it every week. The work that came out of those folks was deeply moving. It was a transformative teaching experience for me.

It was a real honor and really enlightening to travel the state and work with readers, writers, students, and libraries in communities I’d never been before – Harrison, St. Maries, Driggs, the Monastery at St. Gertrude to name a few. Are there particular cities, communities, or parts of Idaho you’re really wanting to connect with?

There are so many places in Idaho where I’d love to read and write and work with other writers and students. The Monastery of St. Gertrude’s in Cottonwood is the first place that comes to mind. I’d love to go back to Cataldo, Idaho and do an intergenerational drop in writing workshop at The Snake Pit. I’ve never been to Driggs and keep hearing about it, so I’d love to go there. I think the Enders Hotel in Soda Springs would be a great place to have a workshop and reading. I have this dream of doing a pop up reading/drop in writing workshop series called Stories from Unexpected Places and set up chairs and a table and a podium for a reading/workshop somewhere totally unexpected and see what happens. There are so many cool opportunities for that across Idaho and I feel lucky to have the chance to spend the next two years finding them. I teach in the Writers@Harriman program at Harriman State Park and it’s one of the dreamiest weeks of the year. It’s a part of the state I hadn’t seen until I started teaching there and it always makes me wonder what else I’m missing.

What do you see as your biggest goals as the Writer in Residence these next two years?

I’ve been working on a collection of Hawaii essays and I want to finish them. I want to travel the state and work with folks who want to write and hear the stories people from all of these different places have to tell. I think stories are the quickest way to connect to other people.

The Storyfort team is looking forward to working with you, College of Western Idaho, and the Idaho Commission on the Arts once again in 2020.You’ve been a great friend and partner of Storyfort since our inception in 2014. What are a couple of your favorite Storyfort memories and programming opportunities?

Oh there have been so many! My most vivid Storyfort memory is when the novelist Val Brelinski came to town in 2017. I held class that day in the lobby of the Owyhee and my literature students and I were discussing whatever piece it was we were reading and Val stopped by on her way to the reading she was giving and that we were going to and said hello. She told them she loved what we were discussing and pointed out her favorite line and there was something about that moment—my students, a number of whom were outstanding writers, and this woman who had grown up in Nampa, Idaho and had made it big with her first novel and it was almost like they could see the possibility of what their lives could be. After her reading, in the 30 minutes we had before I dropped her back at the airport, we caught the last part of Thunderpussy playing on the Main Stage and it was raining and the sky was dark and people were huddled under their jackets and the two of us stood there, soaked, so happy with how everything had turned out, and we looked up at the sky, the stage, and then each other and just laughed. She was wonderful.

Finally, I know you’re working on a book of fascinating and rather haunting personal essays set in your native Hawaii. Can you tell us a bit about that project and your overall plans for the book?

My hope for this fellowship is to have more time and space to work on a collection of essays I’m writing about Hawaii. The essays are focused on the themes of connection to place, love, fear, and grief. I grew up in Hawaii with a superstitious, indigenous Hawaiian mother who filled my childhood with both stories and fears. This is what I’m exploring in my collection. I’m interested in the idea of the stories we carry as we’re making our way through the world and how I, now that I’m a mother, pass those stories and superstitions onto my own children. Two summers ago I started with an essay called “Waimanu” about a hike I took on the island of Hawaii, the place where my mother is from, the place my son is named after, and a place that I find myself going back to again and again when I write.

Check out Malia Collins’Hawaiian children’s books: Pele And Poli’ahu: A Tale of Fire And Ice (2005) and Santa’s Hawaiian Holiday (2007).