Samoan Author Lani Wendt Young on Hawai'i, books, motherhood and literacy

Photo Credit: 
[Headshot: Courtesy Lani Wendt Young] [Poster: Seta "Mr. Setts" Aiolupotea for the Telesa Komiti i Hawai'i]

(Honolulu, HAWAI'I)--The first time she visited Hawai'i, Samoan Author Lani Wendt Young was just a little girl on vacation with her parents and siblings. She was nine and the family spent several days on O'ahu, enroute to Los Angeles, Calif., a trip she remembers fondly.

One Hot Man (what Lani calls her husband Darren Young), five children, a highly successful blog and a super popular book trilogy later – she arrived last night in Honolulu – where a growing fan base of tweens, teens, parents and grandparents are eager to meet the author of the Young Adult fiction Telesa Series set in Samoa.

“I’ve only been to Hawai'i once. When I was nine, my family went on holiday to LA and we spent a few days in Hawaii. It was my first taste of America, first time to a McDonalds. I remember Waikiki,” she told tautalatala.com from Philadelphia early this week. “My fave memory is of Ala Moana Mall – my first time at a real mall and for a girl from Samoa, it was very WOW! Especially the Koi fish. My family didn’t go on lots of trips because there were a lot of us and it was very expensive, so I’ve never forgotten the memories of just being together with all my siblings and discovering new places with them.”

When Young quit her teaching job in Samoa in 2003, to become a full-time parent (to her then three children) she had no plan to write a book. While she loved her new role, she said “it was also driving me nuts.” She'd find catharsis online via Sleepless in Samoa, a blog she started in 2003.

“I discovered the online community of ‘mommy-bloggers’ and in particular, the smaller group of Pasifika women bloggers. So I got into blogging as a way to vent, rage, rant, and laugh. I had no plans to write a book then,” Young explained. “When I started, it was just me talking to myself, and now Sleepless in Samoa gets thousands of visits a month. Blogging remains my first love when it comes to writing. The difficult thing now is reconciling my in-your-face honest style of writing with the fact that so many people are reading it. It kinda ruins the fun sometimes, because I have to be conscious of the audience all the time.”

In 2009, Young, who has won awards for her short fiction, was commissioned to research and pen her first book, stories from survivors and emergency responders of the Sept. 29, 2009 tsunami that devastated Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga. The Australian Government provided funding to publish 5,000 copies of Pacific Tsunami: Galu Afi, a title that can be found in Hawai'i's public libraries.

Getting her second book published, however, Telesa: The Covenant Keeper (first book in the Telesa Series), was tough. Young's trilogy derives its title from the Telesa, the feared spirit women of Samoa, said to have the ability to slap, possess and even 'take' mortals alive. This book can also be found in local libraries.

“Many publishing companies and agents rejected the Telesa manuscript and that was discouraging. My husband Darren and my children were my rock of support each time I got another rejection letter. They’re the best cheerleading team any writer could ask for and their encouragement kept me writing and rewriting through the challenges,” said Young. “I’m grateful for digital publishing which makes it possible for a Samoan writer, writing a story that’s very entrenched ‘in Samoa’ – to take her writing to a global audience.”

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