Presenter Bios


Be sure to also check out the conference schedule and session descriptions.

2024 Featured Conference Guests

Shar Tui'asoa is a freelance illustrator based in Kailua, Oahu and the author/illustrator of the children’s book Punky Aloha. After studying Fine Art at her local community college for 6 years, Shar moved to California to earn her BFA in Illustration. She moved back to Hawaii shortly after and started Punky Aloha Studio in the summer of 2018. When she is not creating illustrations for books, magazines, and product packaging, Shar also sells a wide range of art prints and products in her online shop, in retailers throughout Hawai’i, Japan, and in the Mainland of the US. You can find her online using her Instagram handle, @punkyaloha. 

Malia Maunakea is a Kānaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) writer who grew up on Hawaiʻi Island and Oʻahu before relocating to the continent for college. She writes both middle-grade fiction and nonfiction and is the author of middle-grade novels Lei and the Fire Goddess, Lei and the Invisible Island, and nonfiction book Lightweight Backpacking for Families. When not at her computer, she can often be found roaming the Rocky Mountains with her husband, their two children, and a rescue mutt named Peggy. Malia is online at and @MaliaMaunakea on Twitter and Instagram.

2024 Session Presenters

Kristiana Kahakauwila is a writer of Kanaka Maoli, German, and Norwegian descent. She is the author of This is Paradise: Stories (Hogarth 2013), a collection of literary fiction, and Clairboyance (HarperCollins 2024), a middle grade novel. At the heart of both books are the people and landscapes of contemporary Hawai'i. Kristiana earned a BA in Comparative Literature from Princeton University and an MFA in Creative Writing from University of Michigan. As a magazine editor, she worked for Highlights for Children and Wine Spectator. Since then, she has served as faculty at Western Washington University, the Low-Residency MFA at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA), and Kundiman. Her prizes include the Jane Tinkham Broughton Fellowship in Fiction at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference as well as national and international artist residencies at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program, Hedgebrook, Kimmel Harding Nelson Center, Ledig House/ Art Omi, and the BAU Institute at the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France. In 2015-16 she was the Lisa Goldberg Fellow at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study. Today, she teaches in the Department of English at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa where she is the Director of the Creative Writing Program. Find her at


Born and raised in Hawaiʻi, Kelly Murashige (she/her) primarily writes contemporary fiction with fantastical twists rooted in Japanese mythology and culture. Though she can be shy, she loves obsessing over books and video games. Her debut YA contemporary fantasy novel, The Lost Souls of Benzaiten, comes out with Soho Teen on July 23, 2024. You can learn more at


Maiya Kaulana Mendonca is a student at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.

Todd H. Sammons has been involved with the Biennial Conferences on Literature and Hawai`i's Children since he presented at the second such conference way back in 1984, just a few years after joining the UH-Mānoa English Department in 1980, where he is now a tenured Associate Professor and one of the two oldest members of the Department. He first got on the conference steering committee in the late 80s/early 90s; he was the facilities czar for the 1992 conference; and, in the mid-1990s, he became President of the newly incorporated non-profit Children's Literature Hawai`i. Over the decades, he has facilitated innumerable steering committee meetings, written for and edited the conference proceedings and Humanities Guide, done many "Let's Talk about" the featured author presentations, and presented at just about all of the 21st-century conferences.


Sue Cowing of Honolulu is a long-time poet and writer whose poems have appeared widely in local and national journals. Both her anthology of poetry and art, Fire in the Sea, and her book of poems My Dog Has Flies: Poetry for Hawai'i's Kids have aimed to show that Hawai'i and the Pacific is a home for poetry and to overcome the idea that real poetry is written about someplace else by people from somewhere else. She is a great admirer of the late Hawai'i poets Reuben Tam and W.S. Merwin. Helping the Highlands Intermediate students find their voices and discover the language of poetry has been one of the most rewarding experiences of her writing life. Her website is:


Kimberly Dingal has been teaching multilingual learners for 10 years. As a child of immigrants, she can relate to the generational gap and struggles of being a child of parents who were uprooted from their native countries to seek a better life in America. With the monies made possible from a literacy grant, Kim hopes to shine a light on multicultural student voices.


Caryn Lesuma is an Assistant Professor of English and Director of the Edward D. Smith Center for Learning and Teaching at Brigham Young University-Hawaii. She teaches courses in composition and contemporary American literature, including Young Adult literature. Her research explores the purpose and function of Young Adult literatures of Oceania (YALO), with additional interests including folklore, Pacific literature, and place-based pedagogy and rhetoric.


Gabrielle Ahuliʻi Ferreira Holt is the librarian at Hanahauʻoli School in Honolulu, Hawaiʻi. She has a MLIS from the University of Hawaiʻi and a BFA from the University of British Columbia (situated on the unceded territories of the xwməθkwəy̓əm [Musqueam], Skwxwú7mesh [Squamish], Stó:lō and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh [Tsleil- Waututh] nations.) She is the author of the series Hawaiian Legends for Little Ones (BeachHouse Publishing), Hiʻiaka and Panaʻewa: A Graphic Legend (Capstone), and an upcoming Pele book (McGraw Hill/Literary Safari).


James B McCarthy is a Master Teaching Artist through the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts. He has done this joyous work for over 25 years. He is also a talented storyteller and professional musician. His workshop sessions receive high marks for being light-hearted while conveying important and useful skills.

Japanese-Korean storyteller Alton Takiyama-Chung, grew up with the superstitions and the magic of the Hawaiian Islands. He tells stories from Hawaii, Asian folktales, ghost stories, stories from the Japanese-Americans experience of WWII, the Plantation Days in Hawaii, and the immigration of the Chinese into the US. He has performed at the Timpanogas and the National Storytelling Festivals, and at international storytelling festivals in the Cayman Islands, Singapore, Vietnam, India, and Thailand. He also is the editor-in-chief of The Story Beast, a storytelling e-Publication ( and is a former Chairman of the Board of Directors of the National Storytelling Network. (