Among the writers who will be attending this time is Lao Canadian Souvankham Thammavongsa, whose book of poetry won the CBC Book of the Year Award in Canada and the prestigious Trillium Award. This will be her very first visit to Minnesota, thanks to support from the Canadian Arts Council.
For many of us, this will be a significant return, such as for Catzie Vilayphonh, who, as part of the spoken word duo Yellow Rage, became one of the first Asian American women to appear on Russell Simmons’ Def Poetry Jam on HBO. She is now the founding vision and curator of the acclaimed Laos In The House interdisciplinary exhibit in Philadelphia at the Asian Arts Initiative. Actors Ova Sapoeng and Leilani Chan will be on hand to present an all-new scene from Refugee Nation, but also to continue the discussion with the Lao Minnesotan community about building an active body of Lao American theater artists who can speak of the Lao journey. Saymoukda Vongsay has gone on to win much acclaim since 2010, most notably for her succesful theatrical production of Kung Fu Zombies vs. Cannibals that blended Lao American history with science fiction.
Chanida Phaengdara Potter founded Little Laos on the Prairie a year after the first Lao American Writers Summit. It’s still going strong with their recent exhibit for the Lao Diaspora Project, entitled Refuge of the InvisibLao now at the Brooklyn Park library. If anyone ever had any doubts about the attention an exhibit of Lao art would have, those questions have been definitively put to rest this year. But we must soon ask, what next?
Five years ago, Nor Sanavongsay showed the Lao American Writers Summit his ideas for his book based on the beloved Lao folktale of Xieng Mieng. He’d been working on it for 14 years. In 2013, his wish finally came to pass with the publication of A Sticky Mess. He has since gone on to found Sahtu Press, with the hope of bringing many more Lao American stories forward.
In attendance will be actress Kulap Vilaysack, who inspired a DC comic book character. She is currently working on a documentary of her life, Origin Story, which has connections to family in Minnesota and the Secret War for Laos. Alisak Sanavongsay is known lately for producing “Cooking with Nana” one of the most popular youtube channels for Lao cooking. He was also a pivotal member of the SatJaDham Lao Literary Project now celebrating 20 years. These are incredibly exciting directions for our community. How do we empower others to take a chance with their own story and reach for the truly amazing?
For many Lao, there was a strong connection between literature and their later success in education.
Dr. Ketmani Kouanchao, for example, was also a member of SatJaDham. Her writing has appeared in the Twin Cities Daily Planet, Little Laos on the Prairie, Asian American Press and many other publications. She has been a strong advocate for Lao American college students and their families through her personal life and also her doctoral dissertation.
The award-winning Dr. Adisack Nhouyvanisvong, one of the founders of the SatJaDham Lao Literary Project went on to found the Minnesota-based education technology company Naiku. He will be speaking on the legacy the early Lao American writers created. Dr. Vinya Sysamouth, one of the founders of the international Center for Lao Studies will discuss current efforts with Lao oral history projects.
There are several new faces to the Lao American Writers Summit, including Krysada Panusith Phounsiri. He recently released his book Dance Among Elephants with Sahtu Press. Linda Pharathikoune, a Lao American writer based in Idyllwild, will share her perspective as she prepares for the ambitious release of three books soon. This will be the first time many of us get to met Sery Bounphasaysonh whose work has appeared in the Journal of Southeast Asian American Education and Advancement. Kanya Lai, an English teacher from Tennessee has had work appear in Bakka Magazine and other national publications in addition to performing on stage.
Bidone Salima has been a freelance photographer and her creative flash essay, “Beauty,” was selected as the first winner of the Little Laos on the Prairie Writing Contest in 2013. In 2013, she also completed a groundbreaking playwriting class with a cohort of emerging Lao American writers in San Diego, at the Old Globe Theater.
This will also be a significant gathering for Minnesotans to meet with the Kinnaly Traditional Arts and Dance Troupe of Seattle,Washington. The troupe has performed internationally to preserve the 600-year old traditional arts and dance of Laos. Singer and community builder Ketsana Vilaylack has been a prominent figure in supporting the Kinnaly troupe and other Lao artists across the country as we rebuid. As we convene, it will also be time for many of us to fondly remember the impact of writer, dancer and community builder Pom Outama Khampradith, who passed away a year ago.
40 years since the end of the war, we still have less than 40 books about our experience by Lao Americans in our own words. But we’re making great strides now to change those figures around. So what will it all mean for us to gather again like this, and where do we go from here? That remains the constant question. But by the end of this weekend, I hope we’ll get a sense of the immense possibilities before us. You can visit the website at http://oursharedjourney.wix.com/oursharedjourney.