Teaching Artists Directory

Artists in residence
         directory of teaching artists: MALIA COLLINS
  Award-winning and best-selling children's author Malia Collins was born and raised in Kailua on the Island of O'ahu. She is a writer and teacher in the Writers in the Schools program in Boise, Idaho where she lives with her husband, Josh, and two children, Max and Mehana.

Her first children's book, Pele and Poliahu, A Tale of Fire and Ice, received a 2006 Palapala Po'okela Honorable Mention Award. Her second children’s book, Santa’s Hawaiian Holiday, was a best seller. Malia is currently working on a third children’s book, as well as a novel.

Describe a transformative process that has occurred in your own practice as an artist or in a past residency as a teaching artist.
One of my biggest goals as a writer and a teaching writer is to get my students to think about themselves as writers—serious, committed writers—writers who are engaged in the habit of writing. I notice in many of my residencies that when the students start believing this, their work improves—because they take it and themselves seriously. I have seen this happen on a number of occasions, and it usually involve the students cracking a piece they’ve written open, and taking the time and space to make it even better. It’s a perceptible shift in the classroom—when the students are working hard on their pieces, when they believe in the work—it changes them. It changes their ideas of writing, and the ideas they have of themselves. It feels like suddenly they are seeing the world with a different perspective—and by teaching them how to see, when it finally happens, the writers are changed. I remember being at a school, talking about the difference between showing in the work and telling. And I was standing up at the board, trying to show this, and then suddenly, in a rush, the students started calling out details—and descriptions that made the scene I was trying to describe come to life. And they got excited—they all stood up, and it was like they couldn’t get their words out fast enough—and I wrote what they said—I built a story, just using the words they were giving me—and that story came to life—the characters took shape, the story grew—and within one class period we created something of beauty and heft together. I remember feeling like I could actually see this story form and grow, as if we had just watered it, and magically, it came alive. It was profound and beautiful to see the kids click with something, and to want to hear their story told.

When have you been able to recognize learning taking place?
I know it’s working when I give my prompt, and we unpack it, and talk about it, and the students share their ideas and then get to work. I love when they hunker down and write, and the classroom is quiet, the only sound their pencils frantically scribbling across the page. And when the writing time is over, and I have volunteers who can’t wait to share what they’ve written, and then, later, I see them continuing on that piece—I know they’re learning. When they ask to take their notebooks home so they can write some more, I know learning is taking place. When I read something out loud and they can relate it to their own life, and then they write and describe that experience with specificity and detail, I know they’re learning.

What excites your imagination and in turn how does your work excite imagination for your audience?
I know my writing is going well when I am unwilling to come away from it—not only away from the work—but come out of that space I find myself returning to again and again, where the world is charged and each thing I see—two books left on the quarter candy machines at the airport, or a small pink tennis shoe abandoned on the side of the road—feeds the story I am working on. When I’m not writing, I’m thinking about my stories and characters and trying to make them more real, hear the words they speak, imagine how they would look at one other if they passed, unexpectedly, on the street.

When I am walking through the world I try to find something that I can take home and use, something surprising, something that makes me stop and catch my breath, or look again, something that makes me feel like I am still in that good place, a little outside of it all, watching, quietly, trying to find my way in. I try and teach this to my students—that when they’re writing, they also have to be listening to the world around them. I teach them that when they live in the world as writers, the world offers up these gifts of the imagination—that paying close attention feeds the work. I share my books with them, and share my stories with them, because I know they all have stories they want to tell—they just need to be given the time and space to tell them.

What characteristics mark a successful collaboration for you?
A successful collaboration happens when everyone is excited about the work. Another characteristic that marks a successful collaboration is that my students are using writing as a way to express themselves—that it’s their chosen way of expression. I see my job as giving them the space to write—to figure things out on the page—and then for them to turn and use the medium of writing to record what it is they’re feeling, thinking, trying to figure out. When my students are writing, both inside and outside of the classroom, when there is a buzz about written expression, when they can’t wait to hear what we’re doing next, I know we’re understanding each other and working well together.

How do you foster creativity, both in your own work and as a teaching artist? I take my students on an imagination journey. I share my stories as a way to bring students into the world of the imagination. I grew up in Hawaii and love the art of talking story—of using stories as a way to teach, to bring the students into a made up world that is mysterious and inspiring—it gets them thinking about place, and the importance of place. I also use music and Hawaiian dance as another way to tell a story—my hope is that students begin to see that there are so many ways to tell a story. There are many ways to start a story, all the students have to do is choose where they want to go. My hope is to teach children that stories are an integral part of where we come from—that the world makes sense because of stories—and that stories are found everywhere. I believe in the power of the imagination. I believe children are natural storytellers and that given the chance, and the guidance, each and every one of them can come up with a story. I bring the Hawaiian piece into it because there are many ways to tell a story—through writing, through telling—and through music and dance. Learning about different cultures and traditions fosters curiosity. It’s a way of opening up the world, and letting them live in another place for a while.

Three key understandings of this discipline are:
  1. Habit
  2. Imagination
  3. Specificity

Outcomes of the three understandings are:
    When students are in the habit of writing, they are able to tell and write stories rich in detail and imagination.
List three Idaho Humanities Content Standards that correlate with each of the key understandings you have identified above.
  1. Goal 3.1: Understand concepts essential to interdisciplinary study.

    9-12.I.3.1.1 Discuss the role of diverse cultures within the arts and humanities. (966.01.a)
    9-12.I.3.1.2 Identify universal themes in the arts and humanities disciplines. (966.01.b)
    9-12.I.3.1.3 Select and exhibit works that communicate a common meaning.
  2. Goal 3.2: Communicate in the humanities disciplines through application of knowledge and skills.

    9-12.I.3.2.1 Illustrate or document the potential of the arts and humanities to enhance and expand one's worldview. (966.02.a)
    9-12.I.3.2.2 Interpret how a literary/artistic work relates to the history and/or culture from which it originated. (966.02.b)
    9-12.I.3.2.3 Replicate or imitate a literary/artistic masterpiece, composition, genre, or style through its distinguishing characteristics.
  3. Goal 3.3: Communicate in the humanities disciplines through creative expression.

    9-12.I.3.3.1 Express, through means other than expository writing, an understanding and appreciation of the arts and humanities. (966.03.a)
    9-12.I.3.3.2 Illustrate a connection between two humanities disciplines, showing how they compliment one another. (966.03.b)
    9-12.I.3.3.3 Create an artistic work that expresses the uniqueness of a historical period or cultural influence. (966.03.c)
    9-12.I.3.3.4 Create a literary work that targets a universal theme.
List vocabulary words that specifically relate to your discipline.
Creative writing
Story telling
Imagination journeys

List subject areas outside of the fine arts that relate to potential residency work ­ i.e. possible connections to the curriculum might include:

A poet friend told me once, "All writing is creative--regardless if you're writing a research paper or a book report--you're taking your thoughts and your experiences and putting them down on paper with a message that everyone can understand."

What I love about that quote is that ALL writing is creative. What moves us as readers of poetry, fiction, or memoir is language and the specificity of the story. We’ve read newspaper articles about storms that are like reading an old, dried up piece of meat. Then we read about the boy who survived a tornado that ruined three quarters of his town because he decided to go to school early that morning and wasn’t home when his house was swept away. We read to find out the story behind the story. We want to connect with what we read and what allows us to do that is attention to detail. I challenge you to find a good piece of writing that stays in the realm of the general.

The writing lessons and exercises and prompts I use help students in that process. I include lessons that help them to organize their thoughts, figure out what story they are trying to tell. I teach them how to find a focus to the piece and write with specificity and detail. I also include lessons that tap into their memories--into their own stories--with the hopes of pulling those stories out.

We are teaching these kids to be life-long writers. We are teaching them to communicate. We are teaching them how to be their best selves on paper, and have that writing be a true reflection of their capabilities. All kids love to write, some have just forgotten why. We want to help them remember.

Everything comes back to story—creative stories can be used to describe the water cycle, whether or not a flame is a living thing. Storytelling can be used to write from the point of view of a different person—journals written from someone on the Lewis & Clark trail—imagination journals of a scientist about to make an incredible discovery.


Malia Collins
Discipline: Writing


Email: maliacollins@gmail.com

Website: www.liannehunt.com

Special Populations I work with: All ages.

Idaho Commission on the Arts- Teaching Artists Directory

Phone: 208/334-2119 or 800/278-3863 Fax: 208/334-2488
Mailing address: P.O. Box 83720, Boise, ID 83720-0008
Street address: 2410 North Old Penitentiary Rd., Boise, ID 83712