English at the University of Hawaii at Hilo

Mark Panek

  • Professor of English
  • Specialization: Creative Writing and Composition
  • Ph.D. and M.A., University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
  • B.A., Colby College
  • Contact Mark Panek

Mark Panek teaches a variety of highly interactive writing courses ranging from introductory composition to senior-level courses in creative writing, nonfiction writing, and composition pedagogy. In course evaluations, Dr. Panek’s students have expressed appreciation for the real-life connection between writing assignments and course content, their academic careers, and the world beyond UHH. Without cancelling classes, Dr. Panek takes the time to meet individually with every student on every paper—a service he extends to his students for life, whether they are enrolled in future courses with him or not.

Dr. Panek's Big Happiness: The Life and Death of a Modern Hawaiian Warrior was published in 2011 to wide acclaim. Honolulu magazine called the story of Waikāne's Percy Kipapa "An eloquent biography, not only of [Kipapa] . . . but of the local Waiāhole-Waikāne community in which he lived," and "a deeply researched, insightful look at the many problems facing Hawai'i's poor and rural neighborhoods." New York magazine blogger Dan Kois found Big Happiness a "smartly written tale" that "mixes the personal and the political to create a portrait of the Hawaiʻi tourists never see." The Japan Times has called it "as eloquent as any mystery novel." Big Happiness was named the winner of the 2012 Hawai i Book Publishers Association's Ka Palapala Po'okela Award for Excellence in Nonfiction.

Gaijin Yokozuna: A Biography of Chad Rowan preceeded Big Happiness as Dr. Panek’s proudest research/creative accomplishment. The Japan Times has called the story of Rowan’s rise from Waimānalo to the top ranking in Japan’s national sport “the best sumo biography in English,” adding that “few books in English or in Japanese can match it in bringing sumo and one sumotori to vivid, compulsively readable life.” The book was nominated for the 2007 Kiriyama Prize, the 2007 Los Angeles Times Biography of the Year Award, and the Hawaiʻi Book Publishers Association's 2007 Ka Palapa Po'okela Award for nonfiction.

Dr. Panek has also appeared in Mānoa: A Journal of Pacific Literature and the Hawaiʻi Review. His peer-reviewed scholarship on the unique concerns associated with teaching in Hawaiʻi has been published in Composition Studies.

His recently published novel Hawai'i borrows heavily from the work of novelist/journalist Tom Wolfe, and builds upon the research he conducted for Big Happiness, as explained here. After several favorable reviews such as this one, it was named the 2014 winner of the Hawai'i Book Publishers Association's Ka Palapala Po'okela Award for Excellence in Literature.

Dr. Panek was also awarded the 2002 Francis Davis Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching as a Doctoral candidate at UH Mānoa. He was nominated for the 2005 Board of Regents Medal for Excellence in Teaching during his first year at UHH, and named its winner in 2008. In 2013 he was honored with Hawai'i's most prestigious literary prize, the Elliot Cades Award for Literature.

He is married to Noriko, a Registered Nurse in Hilo Medical Center’s ICU. They have one son.