Story by Julia Steele
Photo by Matt Mallams
Two decades ago Maile Meyer was a young mother driving around selling books out of the back of her truck “like a crazy fool,” she laughs. Eventually the self-described “survivor and enthusiast” gave up the bookmobile and opened her very own store, Native Books, which this October celebrates twenty years as the Islands’ foremost place to find books about Hawai‘i and the Pacific. Want a copy of Hawai‘i’s first constitution? A book on Island bugs? A local novel? A pocket Hawaiian-English dictionary? A handbook on living pono? It’s all here. In the twenty years she’s run Native Books, Maile has witnessed—and fostered—the transformation of the local book scene.
“When we started, there were maybe five to ten books written by Native Hawaiians. We called that shelf the ‘Dead Hawaiian Authors’ shelf,” she says, “because where were the Hawaiian authors? No more. Now,” she pauses then adds with relish, “get choke. People have gone through the Western system enough to want to write. They have the tools, the desire to share the stories, the knowledge and a sense of urgency.” And they have the publishers and the audience. Native Books has created a whole community around just that: native books. It’s put the people who make the books—Bishop Museum Press, Kamehameha Publishing, Mutual Publishing and others—in touch with the people who read them and in the process sparked the creation of a vital and varied publishing scene.
People visit the store for language books, children’s books, works on history, spirituality, healing, planting. “We hate selling people piles of books,” says Maile. “We tell them, ‘Just buy one, read it and come back for the next book.’” Since its early days, the store has moved to its current home at Ward Warehouse, renamed itself Native Books/Na Mea Hawai‘i and expanded to include locally made jewelry, crafts, artwork and foods. “It’s an extension of our philosophy of supporting community,” says the gregarious bibliophile. “We want people to know about Hawaiian things and to have accurate information. Books are a great starting point for knowledge.”