Kara asked Alan Brennert:
When you researched Moloka'i were you able to meet with any residents or their decedents of Kalaupapa? If so did it change the story for you as you initially imagined it?
Alan Brennert I visited Kalaupapa as part of the official tour, which is very closely escorted and is designed, rightly, to protect the privacy of the residents; I met one or two people in passing, but there was no opportunity for a long exchange. Later I contacted the authorities at Kalaupapa about returning for a visit on my own, but I was told that any visitor outside the tour had to have a sponsor who could escort him/her, and they didn't have anyone to sponsor me. So I had to make do with what was in the public record. This turned out to be quite a lot: aside from fine biographies like Mel White's MARGARET OF MOLOKAI and Olivia Breitha's OLIVIA: MY LIFE OF EXILE IN KALAUPAPA, I read dozens of oral histories of patients as well as every file about the settlement in the Hawai'i State Archives. The latter went all the way back to 1866, and included letters sent by some of the very first exiles sent to (at that time) Kalawao. The archives held letters, journals, logs of incoming patients--a staggering amount of information that in toto presented a vivid picture of the history of the settlement. What I found in my research did inevitably change the story from my original conception, but always for the better; if a fact or incident surprised me, I figured it would surprise readers too, and I wove it into the story. But my biggest takeaway from the research were the people themselves, some of whom, like Ambrose Hutchison, became characters in the story...and some inspired fictional characters (there is more than a little of the amazing Margaret Kapuni in my protagonist Rachel). And even though I didn't get that personal visit to Kalaupapa, I'm moved and humbled to be told that today, in the Kalaupapa museum and gift shop, there's a big stack of MOLOKA'I for sale...the best kind of validation I can imagine.
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