Melissa Llanes Brownlee’s Reflection on Writing

by Melissa Llanes Brownlee

Read My Kuleana here

I wrote “My Kuleana” seven years after I received my MFA. It’s a part of my short story collection (Hard Skin) written when I realized I actually wanted to write again. This was before my flash and micro days when I still believed that I needed to write longer. When I started to write this, I hadn’t yet dealt with the care of an elderly person in any of my previous stories because I don’t think I was quite ready to write about that part of my life growing up in Hawai’i.

Writing this was very difficult for me. Releasing it out into the world, even more so. I struggled with how best to write the relationship between the grandfather and granddaughter. I didn’t want it to be sentimental, but I didn’t want it to be distant either. I tried my best to write it as matter of fact as I could, staying close to the granddaughter’s POV. For me, the central narrative is about a child dealing with the trauma of caring for someone they shouldn’t be, doing the things an adult should be doing, burying it beneath the normalcy of childhood.

I think sharing intergenerational trauma, especially from a non-white perspective, is important to the discourse about caring for our elders. Even though I come from a culture where caring for your parents or grandparents is expected, I was also raised in a culture where individualism and autonomy are also expected. This story doesn’t reconcile this conflict but instead showcases it. 

Melissa Llanes Brownlee (she/her), a native Hawaiian writer, living in Japan, has work published or forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly, Reckon Review, The Hennepin Review, Cheap Pop, Milk Candy Review, Lost Balloon, Atlas + Alice, Fictive Dream, Five South, and Cotton Xenomorph. She is in Best Small Fictions 2021, Best Microfiction 2022, and Wigleaf Top 50 2022. Read Hard Skin, her short story collection, from Juventud Press. She tweets @lumchanmfa and talks story at

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