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Kawai Strong Washburn Books In Order

Publication Order of Standalone Novels

Sharks in the Time of Saviors (2020)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle

Kawai Strong Washburn is a literary fiction author from Hawaii whose work has been featured in “Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading,” “McSweeney’s,” and “Best American Nonrequired Reading” among many other outlets. Washburn was born on the Hamakua Coast on Hawaii’s Big Island and was the Bread Loaf Work-Study scholar in 2015 and a Tin House Summer Scholar in 2015. He was born on the Hamakua Coast, in the small town of Honoka’a and lived there until his teenage years when he moved to Portland on the mainland. Washburn has asserted that life in Hawaii was incredibly formative and enriching, as it was so much different from anything he has ever experienced since then. With its hundreds of nationalities and ethnicities, and a strong mix of traditions and cultural references, it has been a significant influence in his writing. Growing up, he was exposed to all manner of folklore and myths from many sources whether it was the things they learned in Hawaiian studies in school or the stories they would tell each other as kids on the playing ground. These influences would provide a mishmash of superstitions, legends, and stories that he would incorporate in his debut novel “Sharks in the Time of Saviors.”

Washburn took quite the non-conventional path to become an author. As an undergraduate student, he studied technology but he graduated from college in 2002 just at the tail end of the bursting of the dot com bubble. He had spent much time in his community and knew that there were a lot of inequalities, which did not sit well with him. He believed that it was critical that he makes an impact in his community or something worthwhile rather than write code for printer drivers for the likes of Tektronix. He went overseas and for a time worked in Guatemala for a social service agency and volunteer teacher. He then moved to Portland where he got involved teaching alternative high school. Kawai Strong Washburn then moved to New York to pursue his graduate studies in policy work. As such, most of his early thirties and twenties were spent doing policy work and volunteer work which finally ended with him working in Washington DC. It was in Washington while he was working for an NGO that he met his wife with whom he was sharing an office. It was during this time that he started working on his debut novel. He would move several times while he was writing the novel, incorporating his experiences in it. He finally finished it while he was living in the Bay Area.

The inspiration for the novel came when Kawai Washburn had an image show up in his head one day. He was working on several short stories when the opening image wafted in and he never thought much of it. But it kept showing up for more than a year and he began paying more attention to the image of a child being rescued from the water by sharks. He started thinking of its family, and where the parents, and siblings of the child were. Why did the sharks have the child and did the family know about it? It was from these that he began writing his story, constructing the family while combining mythology to explain why a shark might be involved in saving a drowning child. It was a decade since he started writing the manuscript to the time it was finally published since he was involved in many other things in his life other than being an author. Washburn would often write his novels in small chunks usually very early in the morning when he would grab an hour before leaving for work. His early drafts were all about characters, delving into their psyches and getting their voices right while the latter ones were all about refining his plot. While he is not native to Hawaii given that his parents came from Kansas and Oklahoma and met in Hawaii, he draws much of his experience from his time growing up on Hawaii’s Big Island.

Kawai Strong Washburn’s “Sharks in the Time of Saviors” is a surreal family drama that argues that art is a necessary part of life. The novel is all about a family of five named the Floreses whose lives and times are woven into the larger folktales that characterize Hawaii their homeland. The novel is set in Honaka’a in 1995, where the youngest of the Flores sons named Nainoa unceremoniously falls off a cruise ship and into the sea. What happens next is astonishing as he is returned to his mother after being rescued by a school of sharks that were in the area. The incident throws the Floreses into the spotlight and their exposure on national media temporarily solves their financial problems. It also marks Nainoa as a special child with the favor of the gods. As he enters adulthood, he carries that burden of being special which unfolds alongside that of his relatively normal siblings. There is Kaui, a brilliant girl who excels in school but still feels that is inferior given her brother’s specialness. Nainoa’s brother Dean is a top basketball talent who believes that he can help pull up his family from the lower classes through his athletic career. The siblings eventually leave the island and head to the mainland United States to try to achieve their dreams even though Hawaii will always be on their mind.

“On the Swish and Roar” by Kawai Strong Washburn tells the story of two brothers that have always been blood rivals while jockeying for position in the family. On the other hand, is a high school basketball talent Dean who is struggling to understand who he is. The comparison between storytelling and sport is not a unique one in the literary genre. There are heroes and villains, disappointments and loyalties, a host of characters, and a game that is happening in real-time. In this novel, the context is ripe for melodrama as the story is set during high school basketball season, which promises a thrilling and fascinating plot full of great characterization.

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