Since 1988, the Harold Keables Chair of English has welcomed an honorable writer and teacher to `Iolani School to work with students on diverse areas of creative and non-fiction writing. This tradition honors the life and legacy of legendary teacher Harold Keables, who devoted 15 years to teaching English at ‘Iolani, from 1965-1980.
Many students and teachers remember Mr. Keables for his passion for lifelong learning and his high standards of writing. Each Keables Chair continues his legacy.
“We look for people who can connect with students in terms of their writing and self expression and who can add energy to the school,” says Dr. Peter Webb, Upper School English teacher and head of the Keables Chair Committee.
On Jan. 28, internationally acclaimed jazz critic Nate Chinen ‘94 returned to ‘Iolani as the 2019 Keables Chair of English. Chinen grew up in Honolulu and, as a Son of ‘Iolani, was encouraged at a young age to express himself through writing.
“I had some great teachers in Lower School who encouraged me in a really constructive way,” says Chinen.
After winning his first short story competition in the third grade, Chinen quickly realized that writing was his passion.
“It was this nice bit of validation,” said Chinen. “It helped me realize that writing was something that I not only enjoyed, but seemed to be good at.”
Throughout his high school career, Chinen gained experience in time management and simultaneously juggling multiple deadlines.
“As a journalist, my life is full of deadlines, so being able to manage that was second nature to me because of my training here as a student,” Chinen said.
He also learned different skills in creative and analytical writing, both of which are necessary for writing as a music critic.
“‘Iolani was great training because I did a lot of creative writing here, but I also had to do and learn the tools of analytical writing, like book reports and argumentative essays,” said the talented music critic. “Being able to access both the critical and creative side is what I do. It’s like different streams that are feeding into one river.”
According to Chinen, his work as a music critic happened “pretty accidentally.” While he loved writing, he had also always loved jazz and participated in Stage Band.
“Stage Band was a really big part of my life on campus,” said Chinen, adding that, “I was always a drummer.”
While a student at the University of Pennsylvania, Chinen seemed to live a “double life.” During the day, he was an English major who studied poetry, and at night he continued to play drums in a band.
Although writing and playing music were Chinen’s two main interests, he didn’t think to combine them until he began his internship at the Philadelphia city newspaper and experienced life in a newsroom.
“At a certain point, I realized that there was very low barrier to entry for me to start writing about music there,” said the award-winning journalist. “They were open to me pitching stories, writing reviews, and conducting interviews.”
Chinen has since written for The New York Times for more than a decade, and is a ten-time winner of the Helen Dance-Robert Palmer Award for Excellence in Writing from the Jazz Journalists Association. He recently published his critically acclaimed book, “Playing Changes: Jazz for the New Century” in August and is currently the director of editorial content at WGBO, a jazz radio station in New Jersey and one of the biggest in the country.
These accomplishments and his ability to connect with ‘Iolani students earned him the honor of being the 2019 Keables Chair. This experience has not just impacted `Iolani students, but also Chinen, who felt a certain nostalgia upon his return to campus as the Keables Chair.
“It’s an incredible honor. I’m grateful and humbled by the history of this fellowship because I remember very clearly what it felt like to be in a class with a visiting Keables Chair. That’s not a distant memory for me,” said Chinen. “I understand the rhythm and the ‘texture’ of the lives here. It’s this sort of intangible thing where I can skip all of the formalities and I can immediately understand where the students are at.”
As for proffering advice to any aspiring writer or anyone who wants to express themselves, the proficient journalist simply stated, “It’s just like the old Nike slogan: ‘Just Do It.’ Don’t wait for the right invitation or the perfect opportunity. You can only get better at it if you just keep doing it.”
Chinen will be on campus until Feb. 8. During that time, he will visit with students in English, history and music classes. He will also speak at the Keables Fort Night, a free evening lecture, on Tuesday, Feb. 5 at 7 pm. The Honolulu community is invited to attend.