Hawai‘i Writers Kimo Armitage and Alicia Upano Win Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award

New York, NY—May 2, 2016—Poets & Writers announced today that poet Kimo Armitage and fiction writer Alicia Upano are the winners of the 2016 Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award. The prestigious award, which aims to provide promising writers a network for professional advancement, has helped to launch the careers of Sue Monk Kidd (The Invention of Wings, The Secret Life of Bees), Elaine Beale (Another Life Altogether), Sandra Beasley (Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl), David Mura (Turning Japanese: Memoirs of a Sansei), Fae Myenne Ng (Bone), Mona Simpson (My Hollywood), and others.

Each year, Poets & Writers selects one state (or Washington, D.C.), and invites writers from that jurisdiction to apply for the Writers Exchange Award (WEX). For 2016, the state of Hawai‘i was chosen. This year’s judges were Alexander Chee in fiction and Sarah Gambito in poetry. Excerpts from the winning manuscripts can be found at at.pw.org/wexaward.

The Writers Exchange Award offers winners an unusual opportunity. Poets & Writers will ask Mr. Armitage and Ms. Upano to identify agents, editors, authors, and others in the literary field that they would like to meet. Then, over the next several months, staff will work to arrange appointments with as many of these individuals as possible. In October, the two winners will travel to New York City, all expenses paid, and representatives of Poets & Writers will accompany them on a round of visits to gain insight and advice and to establish professional contacts. As a direct result of these meetings, past WEX winners have had their books published, received fellowships, secured teaching positions, and laid the groundwork for their professional lives as writers. To date, over ninety writers from thirty-eight states have participated. 

Kimo Armitage received his doctoral degree in creative writing from the University of Hawai‘i. His poetry draws upon the rich stories of his youth spent in Hale‘iwa, Hawai‘i, where he was raised by his maternal grandparents, George Poepoe Akina and Beatrice Lau Akina. Also a fiction writer, Armitage published his first novel, The Healers, with the University of Hawai‘i Press this past February. 

Alicia Upano was born and raised in Hawai‘i. She received a BA in journalism from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and an MFA from the graduate program in creative writing at San Diego State University. She worked for newspapers in Washington, D.C. and Silicon Valley and for a nonprofit documentary film organization in Oakland, California. Her creative work has appeared in the Asian American Literary Review. She currently works for the University of Hawai‘i Press and lives on O‘ahu.

The judges also cited first runners-up Donovan Kūhiō Colleps from ‘Ewa Beach (in poetry) and Brenda Kwon from Honolulu (in fiction), and second runners-up Susan Lee St. John from Kailua (in poetry) and Emily R. Lee from ‘Aiea (in fiction).

Poets & Writers will sponsor a reading and reception for Mr. Armitage and Ms. Upano during their visit to New York. In addition, the winners will be offered a one-month residency at the Jentel Artist Residency Program in Wyoming. A complete list of past winners can be found at at.pw.org/wexaward. The Writers Exchange Award is generously supported by Maureen Mahon Egen, a member of the Poets & Writers Board of Directors.


Founded in 1970, Poets & Writers is the nation’s largest nonprofit literary organization serving poets, fiction writers, and creative nonfiction writers. Our work is rooted in the belief that literature is vital to sustaining a vibrant culture. We focus on nurturing literature’s source: creative writers. Our mission is to foster the professional development of poets and writers, to promote communication throughout the literary community, and to help create an environment in which literature can be appreciated by the widest possible public. 

We accomplish this through Poets & Writers Magazine, an award-winning bimonthly publication; pw.org, a website that provides trustworthy advice, information, and a lively online community for writers; the Readings & Workshops program, which pays writers fees for giving readings and leading workshops throughout New York and California, as well as in eight cities outside these states; Poets & Writers Live, a series of live events designed to bring writers together to strengthen their communities; and awards for writers including the $50,000 Jackson Poetry Prize, the Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award, and the Amy Award. Learn more at pw.org.