Artists resurrect Lao mythology

When asked about his forthcoming book, Lao American writer Bryan Thao Worra recently replied, “I wanted to work with the acclaimed Lao American artist Vongduane Manivong to rebuild an appreciation for the classic Lao myths, one that celebrates and rekindles Lao imagination, taking us on new journeys.”

Part of that journey has been setting precedent as the first Lao American book of speculative poetry and art successfully funded through Kickstarter. They reached their modest goal in less than 24 hours.

The two are now raising more funds until January 1st to include more art to depict classic Lao legends and mythology. So far, they’ve raised enough to include eight of sixteen proposed pieces.

“With community support, we can show some very innovative takes on famous and not so-famous beings of Lao legend,” said Vongduane Manivong. “It’s the kind of project Bryan Thao Worra and I wanted to do for a long time.”

Based in Texas, Manivong has been an artist for a long as she can remember. One of the first exhibits of her work in Minnesota was ten years ago at the “Five Senses Show” of Hmong and Lao artists at the Babylon Gallery on Lake Street in 2002.

Crowdfunding has taken off in recent years thanks to the success of several sites such as Kickstarter. The central idea is that individuals who share similar passions will directly sponsor interesting projects, often in exchange for interesting rewards and glimpses into the artists’ process. These rewards can range from personalized thank you notes to sketches by the artists involved, or even being included in the books or finished art itself, depending on the project.

Artists are often attracted to crowd funding because many have good ideas that may otherwise be ‘hard sells’ to conventional financiers or require excessive artistic compromise to make it commercially viable at the expense of artistic integrity. More successful projects gain seed funding and also secure concrete evidence of the interest from potential customers and gain great exposure in the community.

The author of five books, Thao Worra’s newest collection includes poems like “The Spirit Catches You and You Get Body Slammed,” “Zombuddha” and “Full Metal Hanuman.” As he prepares to celebrate his 40th birthday in 2013, DEMONSTRA touches on many of his experiences across the country and around the world.

“In this collection, you can expect wild, weird and spooky stuff,” Thao Worra said. “But there are many fun laughs too.”

As the first Lao American to be accepted as a professional member of the international Horror Writer Association, Thao Worra also holds membership in the Science Fiction Poetry Association. Speculative poetry draws on themes of science fiction, fantasy, horror and magical realism.

Thao Worra’s writing frequently presents poems from the perspective of Lao refugees and transcultural adoptees. He remains the first and only Lao American to hold an NEA Fellowship in Literature for Poetry.

“We see an unfortunate trend in literature that suggests refugee communities must fixate on narrative memoirs, but I believe the imaginative and creative works of those communities are vital to present, for many reasons. If we cannot speak of our pasts or our future, how can we navigate our present?”

The kickstarter was initially organized to commission Vongduane Manivong to illustrate four classic creatures from Lao legends. The Nyakinee, a magical giantess, the Kinally, graceful half-bird, half-human women; the Vanon monkey warriors of the gods, and the Nakanya, half-snake, half-human women who are protective spirits of wisdom.

Quickly meeting that goal, they are now focusing on efforts to add more beings based on support from their readers.

“There’s the frog who eats the moon,” Thao Worra mentioned as an example. “Or the ghost Nang Nak. We’d love to be able to include them all for this book”

Thao Worra has worked with Vongudane Manivong on several other projects, including the cover of his 2009 collection, BARROW.

“She has a great eye for realism. She’s often commissioned to do family portraits, but she also has a great imagination, so we’re really looking forward to seeing what she comes up with as this project continues.”

DEMONSTRA will be released in 2013 by Innsmouth Free Press, a micropress of dark fiction and horror. They release several high-quality anthologies and novels during the year, available in print and as e-books.

Innsmouth publishes original short fiction inspired by 20th century author H.P. Lovecraft’s writing and other writers of the Weird tradition, especially fiction that explores interesting, novel settings and characters juxtaposed with Lovecraft’s original fiction. Their triannual short fiction is released in February, June and October. Nick Mamatas, Mary Robinette Kowal, Ekaterina Sedia, Paul Jessup and many others have published work with Innsmouth Free Press.

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