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Vista resident honors Hawaiian grandmother by publishing her story

VVISTA — Kirby Michael Wright was celebrating more than football on Super Bowl Sunday — the release of his new work of creative nonfiction of“The Queen of Moloka’I”was also cause for celebration.

“This book is based on the life and times of my part-Hawaiian grandmother. It traces her wild teen years in Waikiki and follows her over to rural Moloka’i as she pursues love and marriage with her girlhood crush,” the Vista resident said.

Sue strikes gold, receiving a marriage proposal from her overseas beau. Sixteen-year-old Julia has a passionate affair with the younger brother but must fend for herself after he leaves her pregnant. Courtesy Photo

Here’s an excerpt:

“We are on the verge of the Roaring Twenties in Honolulu. Julia Wright and Sue, her big sister, have met a pair of dashing English brothers sent to Hawaii by a wealthy father to avoid the draft in their home country. Sue strikes gold, receiving a marriage proposal from her overseas beau. Sixteen-year-old Julia has a passionate affair with the younger brother but must fend for herself after he leaves her pregnant. Julia’s rebound affair with a Portuguese sea merchant gets her pregnant again and she now has two infant sons to raise. Luckily, her mother allows her to live at the family home and they raise the half-brothers as best as they can. Then local boy Chipper Gilman returns a hero from the Great War. He’s seven years Julia’s senior and has admired her since her girlhood days. He secures a job at a ranch on the island of Moloka’i and invites Julia to join him, but without her sons. He says they will get married and she can send for her boys if she adapts to the rural lifestyle. Julia leaves her sons behind for her mother to take care of, convinced she can become a country girl. She’s tested every step of the way on the rural island and begins doubting Chipper ever intended to marry her at all.”

Who he is

Kirby himself is one-sixteenth Hawaiian and Kulia Naoho, his great great grandmother, was piha kanaka maoli (pure Hawaiian) from Waihee town on Maui.

“I spent every summer with my grandmother on her horse ranch on the east end of Moloka’i. She gave me my first horse when I was 4. That mare dropped a foal the morning after I ‘rode her to death,’” he said. “My father told his mother to never mention I had Hawaiian blood because of the discrimination he experienced as a boy growing up in Honolulu.” 

Kirby self-published the 300-plus page book and proudly said: “My work has been compared to Pat Conroy (“The Prince of Tides”) for family struggles and to Frank McCourt (“Angela’s Ashes”) for women overcoming great hardship.”

The former car salesman at Rancho Olds and PR director at the Carlsbad Inn took seven months to write the book and is excited it has finally been published. He stressed the importance of writing down family histories before our elders pass, because without that books like his would never have come to fruition. 

 “Some of that time was spent researching online, looking through old photos, remembering my grandmother’s stories about her teenage years and picking the brains of relatives,” he said. “I had to be selective synthesizing all the information in order to keep my grandmother as the focal character.”

Kirby said he writes full time but is also a part-time accountant which helps pay the bills. Courtesy Photo

Before writing

Kirby said he writes full time but is also a part-time accountant which helps pay the bills. He’s had a variety of jobs and said there have been times when opportunities opened overseas.

“I lectured with the poet Gary Snyder at the Hong Kong International Writers Conference and they paid me the equivalent of what a Hong Kong bank VP makes,” he said. “My latest journey was to Finland as an artist-in-residence, where I explored Helsinki, Stockholm, and the Finnish Archipelago.”

He is also a current writer at the San Diego Reader and is best known for his “gonzo” journalism, particularly his take on the Opening Day of the Del Mar Races.

Wright has also written for Writer’s Digest, Green Magazine, and Ireland’s Southword Journal.  

He said writing is certainly more rewarding than most of the other roles he’s had.

“Writing helps you document your life and allows you to go back in time and express how you felt in the past,” he said. “I think that’s important because it helps you understand who you are today.”

“When the founder of Walmart died, he left hundreds of millions to his family but never left any record of himself behind through a story or even a poem,” he continued. “What do we know about his interior world?

“Writing also allows you get down the stories of your elders. For example, my book focuses on my paternal grandmother’s life in the islands and begins two generations before I was born,” he said. “Julia Wright deserves to be remembered because of all the hardships she overcame. Now this isn’t a praise book. Far from it. It’s Julia’s story, warts and all.”

Thanks to his wife

Wright said truth be told the idea for this book began with a suggestion from his wife, Darcy Wright.

“She suggested I write about Julia because she was such a compelling force in my published stories,” he said. “I was also compelled to connect the dots and create a saga-like feel by reaching back to my Hawaiian ancestors living four generations ago on Maui.”

To date, Kirby has written 13 books in various genres, including flash (micro stories), poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. He is currently brainstorming Book 2 of “The Queen of Moloka’I” and on a novel about a Sausalito woman married to a wild and crazy artist from Paris. The book includes the stories of her three best friends from Marin High.

“Although I have never been to Paris, I think going soon would help me finish the book,” he said.

He said he has enjoyed being an accomplished writer and “having strangers tell you that your writing made a difference in their lives. One of my books led to a marriage proposal, I kid you not. Another good part is capturing the lives of people who made a difference to me in my life, such as classmates back in high school, my immediate family, and of course my grandmother.”

The book is available on Amazon in hard copy and on Kindle. Wright will also host his first California book signing from 3 to 5 p.m. June 22 at Iron Fist Brewing Co., 1305 Hot Spring Way in Vista.