Friday, December 19, 2008

Some facts about Laotian American literature

* A significant body of Laotian American literature has only recently begun to emerge since the early 1990s. Only a few examples from the 1980s have been identified at present.

* Many younger Laotian American writers write predominantly in English more than Lao.

* While Hmong American writers are particularly concentrated in the Twin Cities and California, Laotian American writers tend to be more geographically isolated from one another.

* The SatJaDham Lao Literary Project is one of the oldest continuous networks of Laotian American writers in existence at the present, first established in April, 1995. The group has held 7 national conferences to date of Laotian writers and readers. The group's name comes from the combination of the words "SatJa" and "Dhamma." "Satja" means truth in Lao, and "dham" is from dhamma, the teaching of the buddha.

* There are several masterpieces of classical Laotian literature including: the Vetsantrasadok, the Sin Say, and the Thao Hung. The Vetsntrasadok is a story about the life of the Buddha. Sin Say is a story by the poet Phangkham about three brothers who defeat an ogre. The Thao Hung is a historical epic about ancient families vying for control of Southeast Asia.

* Traditionally Laotian popular poems and songs are often satiric in nature.

* Traditional Laotian poets can recite epic works from memory that last up to six hours.

* The Lao literary tradition reaches back to the 15th and 16th century and survive principally in the form of palm-leaf manuscripts with religious and scholarly writing kept at the libraries of some 1,7000 Buddhist monasteries all over Laos. Some of these texts are written on 'Sa' mulberry tree paper, which is less durable than palm-leaf documents and may last about 1,000 years if preserved well.

Laotian American Writer's Festivals?

A Laotian American Writer's Festival?

For 10 years, the Chicano and Latino Writers Festival featured local and national writers through support from the Friends of the St. Paul Public Libraries in Minnesota and others in the Twin Cities. This is the sort of thing that makes me wonder what books and writers would be part of a Laotian American Writer's Festival.

So we're setting up the start with a Laotian American Writer's Summit in Minnesota in August, 2009. We'll hammer out more of the details over time.

In the meantime, if you were going to hold one in your state, who would be a part of the process? There are several in the US who would certainly be good candidates, ranging from current figures such as Phayvanh Luekhamhan, Catzie Vilayphonh, Saymoukda Vongsay,Dr. Bounsang Khamkeo, Soudary Kittivong-Greenbaum, TC Huo, Kongkeo Saycocie, Ova Saopeng and other writers from the SatJaDham network. Khampheng Manirath, a traditional story teller from Laos currently lives in Iowa, and would potentially bring much to a festival.

Abroad, a short-list of Lao writers to consider includes:

Douangdeuane Viravongs, the daughter of the late Maha Sila Viravongs and widow of short story writer Outhine Bounyavong. She has published various poems and novels and transcribed numerous traditional stories, of which the best-known is Kam Pha Phi Noi ('The Little Orphan and the Spirit’). She runs the family bookshop/publishing house Dokked Publishing in Vientiane and maintains the Maha Sila Viravongs Library, an important repository of rare books and documents.

Dr. Thongkham Onemanisone is the founder of the Lao Writer’s Association. He is the first Lao writer to receive the prestigious SEAWrite Award in 1998 for his work Pheua Hak Pheua Nang ('For Love for Her'). Dr. Thongkham's numerous other works include Phoum Pannya Sisawat ('Sisawat's Wisdom', 1997), Nithan Suphasit ('39 Moral Tales', 1997), Dhamma's Path Poems (2000), The Memory of SEAWrite Award Poems (2003) and Sharp, Decisive, Hot and Salty Poems (2004); the Lao Language Dictionary (1992) and Lao Language: Terms and Meanings (1997) and numerous poems and articles for daily newspapers and magazines.

The novelists Phieu Lavanh (b 1954), Bounseun Songmany (b 1956) and Damdouane Pomdouangsi (b 1958) are also frequently acknowledged as key writers, but curiously there are few extended details about their lives and work.

Several years ago, poet Thongbay Photisane visited the US as part of the University of Iowa's International Writer's Program. At the time, he directed and edited the only monthly literary magazine in Laos, and served as second secretary of the Lao Writer's Association, editing its newsletter. He was the author of the short stories "The Life of Love," "The Love of the Luang Prabang Song," "Life and Family" and "Song of Man," which have appeared in Vannasin magazine, the monthly publication of the Lao Ministry of Information and Culture; these were also published as a book.

From the Hmong community, prominent writers would include Kao Kaliya Yang, author of The Latehomecomer, Mai Neng Moua, the editor of Bamboo Among the Oaks, writer May Lee Yang, Katie Ka Vang, Pacyinz Lyfoung and the members of the Fresno-based Hmong American Writer's Circle or contributors to the Paj Ntaub Voice Hmoob literary journal.

Dr. Dia Cha author of Folk Tales of the Hmong and Dia's Story Cloth, Dr. Gary Yia Lee, author of Dust of Life, and Houa Vue Moua, the author of Trails Through The Mist also deserve strong consideration. Dr. Lue Vang's Grandmother's Path, Grandfather's Way is also a particular classic. I'd also certainly enjoy a festival featuring Soul Vang and Pos Moua, the author of Where the Torches Are Burning.

Of course, no list is going to be complete and comprehensive. But I'd love to hear your suggestions about who would make great writers to add to a festival of Laotian American writers.

It's promising that in the last few years we've seen a particular upswing in the number of books available where we could consider such festivals viable.

Places to submit work

There are a number of places where Lao American writers can place their work, both print and online. This thread will list several which are currently good opportunities for new and experienced writers.

Some initial ones to consider include:

Lao Roots Magazine:

Bakka Magazine:

The Journal of Southeast Asian Education and Advancement

Other publications to consider sending work to include: Eye.D Magazine is an online publication dedicated to celebrating the diverse experiences of Asian-Americans by educating and entertaining its readers through thoughtful dialogue, captivating articles and resourceful information. Eye.D's goal is to be a voice for the Asian community as their identity evolves in America. Still active, Hyphen Magazine is always looking to give opportunities to freelancers, writers and artists. 13 Minutes target audience consists of females, ages 24 to 45. Their focus is to provide bicultural Asian American women with a forum in which issues that are familiar with them can be addressed and explored. CHA: An Asian Literary Journal is the first Hong Kong-based online literary quarterly journal dedicated to publishing quality poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, reviews, photography & art from and about Asia. Theme Magazine is a quarterly publication that covers global avant-garde Asian culture for an increasingly international readership. Jade Magazine endeavors to be THE reference for professional Asian and Asian American women in their 20's and 30's. Audrey Magazine is still around. A bimonthly English-language magazine highlighting the stories that interest Asian American women nationwide. East West, is an Asian American lifestyle magazine covering fashion, politics, food, career, beauty, celebrities and more. Kartika Review publishes literary fiction, poetry, and essays that endeavor to expand and enhance the mainstream perception of Asian American creative writing. The journal also publishes book reviews, literary criticism, author interviews, and artwork. They turn their focus on works relevant to the Asian Diaspora or authored by individuals of Asian descent. Kartika plans to sponsor readings, panel discussions, writing contests, and other creative activities for the Asian American community in Boston, New York City and the Bay Area.

AsianAmericanPoetry.Com Founded in the Unites States of America in June of 2005, is a non-profit Internet-based site created to share poems by Asian poets from the U.S. as well as from all around the world. Their mission is to "encourage and strengthen Asian poets to share their poetic works or art and have their brilliant gifts discovered.

Welcome to the Laotian American Writers Blog!

The hope of this blog is to connect Laotian American writers with one another and to exchange thoughts, insights and perspectives on our contemporary literary process. We'll examine upcoming books, classic texts, performances, readings and techniques to help create an effective resource for Laotian American writers across the country to perfect their individual craft.