Some Notes on Chamoru Literature

Albert Wendt’s famous essay “Towards a New Oceania” (1976) ends: “This artistic renaissance is enriching our cultures further, reinforcing our identities/self-respect/and pride, and taking us through a genuine decolonisation; it is also acting as a unifying force in our region. In their individual journeys into the Void, these artists, through their work, are explaining us to ourselves and creating a new Oceania.” The end of Wendt’s essay spirals into a new beginning, as Pacific writers have continued writing towards a new Oceania.

Chamoru Literature is one of the lesser known literatures of this new Oceania. There are no Chamoru writers included in either of the first two anthologies of Pacific creative writing, nor will you find any mention of Chamoru literature in any of the first several anthologies of Pacific literary criticism. In The Pacific Islands: An Encyclopedia (2000), Chamoru scholar (and poet) Keith Camacho noted in the “Chamorro Literature” section: “To date there are no established Chamorro creative writers.”

There have been many Chamoru creative writers who have published work in the twentieth century; unfortunately, many of them have not received the credit or notice that they deserve, nor have they received the publication opportunities that many other Pacific writers have enjoyed. It’s difficult to become established as a creative writer without support. Plus, those who have published more regularly have not been able to circulate “beyond the reef” because the Chamoru archipelago has been separated for too long from the centers of Pacific literary production.

The situation of Chamoru literature has dramatically changed in the first dozen years of the twenty-first century. Chamoru writers have appeared in various anthologies, a section on Chamoru literature appeared in Michelle Keown’s Pacific Islands Writing (2007), the spoken word scene has blossomed on Guahan (biba Sinangan-ta!), creative writing and Pacific literature courses are being taught at the high school and college levels on Guahan, the University of Guam’s literary journal (biba Storyboard!) has been very active, a few critical essays on Chamoru literature have also appeared in academic journals (the most recent being Paul Lai’s essay, “Discontiguous States of America: The Paradox of Unincorporation in Craig Santos Perez’s Poetics of Chamorro Guam” in The Journal of Transnational American Studies), and several books have been published by several Chamoru writers (including Peter Onedera, Tanya Chargualaf Taimanglo, and Lehua Taitano).

I have been fortunate enough to be a small part of this movement as a writer, editor, publisher, and scholar. I wrote one of the few essays you can find on Chamoru literature (“Signs of Being: Chamoru poetry and the work of Cecilia C.T. Perez”) in a widely read U.S. literary journal. I am working on several other critical essays on Chamoru literature, as well as on Micronesian literature (another under-appreciated geo-literary sub-category of Pacific literature).

I don’t know if two books qualifies as “established,” but I’m happy that my work has contributed in a small way to the visibility of Chamoru literature. My first book, from unincorporated territory [hacha], was published by Tinfish Press in 2008; my second book, from unincorporated territory [saina] was published by Omnidawn Publishing in 2010. My second book, as many of you know, was a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize in Poetry and winner of the PEN Center USA Literary Prize for Poetry. This kind of recognition for a Pacific writer within the U.S. literary mainstream is–sadly–very rare.

So besides writing both creatively and critically, I’ve tried to contribute in small ways as an editor and publisher. I had the pleasure of co-editing (with Michael Lujan Bevacqua and Victoria Leon Guerrero) the anthology: Chamoru Childhood (2009) (I also published it). This anthology features some of our most talented writers:  Florence Blas, Peter R. Onedera, Evelyn San Miguel Flores, Helen Perez, Rebecca Leon Guerrero, Tanya M. Champaco Mendiola, Keith L. Camacho, Charissa Lynn Manibusan Aguon, Jovan A. Taitague Tamayo, Melvin B. Won Pat-Borja, Julian Aguon, Josette Marie Lujan Quinata, Destiny Tedtaotao, Joseph Borja, Celia Chavez, Jessie Rae Camacho Tedtaotao, and Samantha Marley Barnett.

In 2010, I edited a special feature titled “Nånan Tåno` is calling for you”: Four Contemporary Chamoru Poets” for The Offending Literary Journal. You can read amazing work by Lehua Taitano, Clarissa Mendiola, Kisha Borja-Kicho’cho’, and Anghet Hoppe-Cruz.

In 2011, I edited a Chamoru Poetry feature for the Platte Valley Review, featuring Jay Baza Pascua, Evelyn Flores, Michael Lujan Bevacqua, Charissa Manibusan Aguon, Lehua Taitano, and Clarissa Mendiola.

I am working on several other editing projects featuring Chamoru writers this year. And I recently learned that another Chamoru writer and scholar is working on what will be the first comprehensive attempt at a Chamoru Literature anthology.

And, of course, I see blogging as a valuable way to publicize Chamoru literature. Indeed, it’s an exciting time to be a Chamoru writer.

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One thought on “Some Notes on Chamoru Literature

  1. Great to read your page Craig! I must chase up some of those publications you mention…
    all best, Michelle Keown

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