Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Thanks, Philadelphia!

A big thanks to everyone who came to join us on May 21st at the Asian Arts Initiative and to Catzie Vilayphonh and her friends and family who gave me a whirlwind tour of the amazing opportunities and directions the Asian Pacific American community is taking in Pennsylvania.

I had the opportunity to see many of the impressive Khmer and Lao Wats, as well as observe the Philadelphia Lao New Year celebration and the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month celebration at the park. 

The new Family Style Open Mic format that the Asian Arts Initiative uses is a wonderful showcase of talent from both established and emerging voices. They also give out great door prizes and really help youth grow in their understanding of our collective heritage. Almost a hundred people showed up on a Friday night to see artists dancing, singing and sharing poems and experimental artwork. 

There's challenges here, make no mistake, but I'm left with a sense that there's amazing room to grow and flourish. With time and a commitment to excellence, I have no doubt they will!

World Refugee Day: June 5th

Lao American writer Saymoukda Vongsay and I will be among the performers at this year's Twin Cities World Refugee Day on Saturday, June 5th, from 1:00pm-6:00pm in downtown Minneapolis between 7th and 8th streets! We'll be sharing traditional stories that draw upon the 600+ year history of the Lao culture and how that's carried through to our present day journey in America, marking 30 years as refugees.

The event will feature music, dance, food and vendors from around the world, as well as a community resource fair. For even more fun, stick around for Minneapolis MOSAIC from 6-10pm –Minneapolis’ annual festival celebrating diversity through the arts.

What is World Refugee Day?
In 2000, the United Nations General Assembly established June 20th as World Refugee Day. Since 2001, people around the world have celebrated the day with events that honor the world’s more than 16 million refugees and raise awareness around refugee issues. Twin Cities World Refugee Day is our local event that aims to:

* Recognize the more than 100,000 refugees living in every corner of our state and celebrate the diversity of culture and experiences that they bring to our community.

* Raise awareness around refugee issues, including: international conflicts and violence that create refugee crises, the refugee resettlement process both here and abroad, and the challenges and opportunities faced by refugees after resettling in Minnesota.

* Build a cultural bridge between longtime Minnesota residents and our newest community members.

See you there!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Organization Profile: Asian Arts Initiative

It's always great to see good Asian American organizations out there, and the organizers and activists in Philadelphia have their hands full. This week I'm speaking at an event organized by the Asian Arts Initiative!

At the Asian Arts Initiative in Philadelphia, they are artists and performers, youth and parents, poets and writers, directors and actors, and musicians and dancers. They believe that the arts can provide an important political and cultural voice for the Asian American community in Philadelphia. They serve as a community arts center where artists and everyday people are developing means to express the diverse experiences of Asian Americans.

They have five main programs: An arts gallery, performances, artist workshops, Chinatown projects, workshops just for youth and the ACT program: Artists in Communities Training, a professional development course designed to give artists facilitation and teaching skills needed in school and community settings.

ACT is a six-week series of intensive workshops on educational models and strategies, a hands-on teaching placement, and opportunities for future residencies in schools and community settings.

Very interesting stuff, and with more support in Philadelphia, they could really accomplish even more amazing things!

I look forward to showing you all more pictures when I get back!

Pan Asian Dance Festival, May 23rd, 2010

Asian Media Access (AMA) in collaboration with MN Sunshine Dance Group and Pan Asian Artists Alliance, will present “Pan Asian Dance Festival” on Sunday, May 23rd, 2010, from 12:00 PM to 5:00 PM at the Burnsville Performing Arts Center, 12600 Nicollet Avenue, Burnsville, MN.

From 12:00 PM to 2:00 PM, families can take part in Asian craft making, street art, face painting, and other family fun activities. The cultural dance performances, from 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM, will feature a diverse display from the Asian community including Indian, Chinese, Hmong, Indonesian, Korean, Japanese, Laotian, and Vietnamese dancers.

Locally known dance groups such as CAAM Chinese Dance Theater, Ragamala Dance Group, and Changmi Korean Dance will perform fascinating dance performances. The festival aims to celebrate and unify the diverse Asian communities in MN, educate and share the arts and traditions of Asians, and build intergenerational and intercultural bridges across all barriers.

612-376-7715 or

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Annual Asian American Literary Awards

Since 1998, The Asian American Writers' Workshop has presented the highest literary honor for writers of Asian American descent Applications for the upcoming Twelfth Annual Asian American Literary Awards are due Friday, June 11, 2010.

They also are presenting:

Lifetime Achievement Award. The Workshop has also recognized notable writers and cultural figures for their contribution to Asian American literature through a lifetime achievement award. Past winners of this award include Maxine Hong Kingston, David Henry Hwang, and Sonny Mehta.

Members' Choice Award. The Asian American Literary Awards Ceremony also features the Members' Choice Award. Initiated in 2000, the Members' Choice Award allows Workshop members to choose their favorite title of the previous publishing year. In order to participate in voting for this award, you must be a current member of The Asian American Writers' Workshop.

Questions to a poet...

Lao American writer Catzie Vilayphonh recently interviewed me and these were some of the answers that came out of the process. Thanks, Catzie!

So, what do you do when you’re not writing?
If I'm not writing, I'm getting ready to write. But that covers a wide range of activities. My old teacher J. Patrick Lewis always reminded me that writing is 90% thinking, so I look at the work of other artists, journey through the community and take a lot of pictures. I'm also a big gamer and enjoy talking with my colleagues in the science fiction, horror and fantasy writing community.

How did you get started writing?
Growing up in Michigan in the 1980s I attended a number of Lutheran and Waldorf schools where we were often encouraged to write stories. During this time, Dungeons & Dragons, Star Frontiers and Call of Cthulhu, among other role-playing games were really popular among my classmates and I found I much more enjoyed the story-telling process as a creator.

As a poet, most of my work really began in the last years of high school in Saline, Michigan, and at Otterbein College in Ohio. A College advisor invited me to a coffeehouse at The Roost, and another to a Quiz and Quill reading in the Philomathean Room in Towers Hall, and making a long story short, I took to it like a fish to water and wrote ever since. Along the way, my college introduced to the work of writers like Pablo Neruda,Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Heather McHugh and Shuntaro Tanikawa. These were the key poets I'd read in my early years.

Do you find other Lao supportive of your work?
The roots of Lao culture treasured poetry as an intellectual pursuit and that's carried through. My poetry's very different from the classical forms but it's well within the spirit of the tradition, too. My work is supported by the modern Lao community in much the way other poets are supported by the modern Lao community.

What’s one of the best things someone has said to you about your writing?
A manuscript of mine was being judged for a competition and one judge dismissed it as: "It's chaos." But another defended it saying, "Yes, but it's controlled chaos."

How do you find time to write?
Good scheduling, good discipline.

Why are you excited by the Lao American Writers Summit?
It's an arrival. After 30 years to have the opportunity to gather together and consider where we'll really go next, possibly together. Nothing's set in stone. But we want to open possibility.

What’s a personal project you’re really looking forward to?
Trying my hand at a few more novels and short stories. That's going to be something newer.

Do you have any advice for younger writers?
Look below the surface. Connect with an aim for truthfulness. Don't "kitchen sink" your work, have some faith in your readers intelligence. Be the writer you want to be, not what others want you to be. That's a start.

Friday, May 14, 2010

New Pieces Accepted for Innsmouth Free Press

As I've mentioned before, one of my current sidelines is writing Lovecraftian flash-horror vignettes for the Innsmouth Free Press. Three new pieces that will be coming up include two articles about Tcho-Tcho refugees, and a profile of a local doctor doing business between Arkham and Innsmouth. These should be up in a few months.

In June, the long-awaited Multicultural issue of the Innsmouth Free Press is anticipated, and will feature my short-story, A Model Apartment, examining what happens when a Southeast Asian refugee painter travels to the famous haunted city of Arkham, Massachusetts. I'm looking forward to that. In the meantime, they're also always looking for new contributors, so if you're interested, I'd encourage you to consider it!

U.S.Embassy provides counter-narcotics assistance to Laos

United States Ambassador to Laos, Ravic R. Huso, signed an Amendment to the Letter of Agreement last week on behalf of the U.S. Government for bilateral cooperation with the Government of Laos in support of counter narcotics and law enforcement.

Now if they'll just increase the amount of money for UXO removal in Laos and efforts to support and develop a sustainable habitat end environmental system for Laos, considering the rapid rate of deforestation going on there.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Laos in the House: Philly and Family Style!

At long last, I'm going to Philly!

I'm off to join good buddies Catzie Vilayphonh and Michelle Myers for their great Family Style Open Mic Series with fellow Lao American writer, Saymoukda Vongsay, author of "No Regrets"!

This series is sponsored by the Asian Arts Initiative, a really visionary grass-roots arts organization in Pennsylvania

The Family Style Open Mic takes place on the 3rd Fridays of the month. As always, this popular monthly open mic, Family Style, welcomes extended “family” from all communities and cultures.

I and Saymoukda perform on Friday, May 21, at 7:30 p.m. This is our very first performance in Philadelphia, ever! There's a $5-10 sliding scale admission. The event is at 1219 Vine Street, Philadelphia. Check it out if you can!

The Future of Midwestern Poetry Panel

On Friday, May 14th, I and several amazing poets from the Midwest are taking part in the Poetry Society’s “ Centennial Event, A Celebration of Midwestern Poetry, co-sponsored by Rain Taxi Review of Books:

Dobby Gibson, Sarah Fox, G.E. Patterson, Sun Yung Shin, Michael Walsh, and Bryan Thao Worra, with Robert N. Casper

This will be a panel discussion, featuring emerging Twin Cities poets, on Midwestern poetry in the 21st Century. Admission is free. It will be at the Minnesota Center for the Book Arts Gallery,Open Book, 1101 Washington Avenue S. in Minneapolis.

I'm not reading poetry this time around, but will be engaged in a discussion with these poets and the audience regarding a few key questions:

What are some of the general attributes (thematic, aesthetic, philosophical) of Midwestern poetry? and how do we think our generation of poets are continuing and contributing to the Midwestern poetic voice, or challenging them? And is it useful in our work?

For me in particular, I look forward to these questions, even as I know it's a sprawling one. Having grown up in Michigan, learned most of what I know of poetry while in Ohio, and applied it in Minnesota and now around the world, when they ask me, are such categorizations useful, and do I feel connected to other poets in the region or the Twin Cities, this isn't as easy as you might think.

Lol. I'm planning on being VERY frank for this panel. Well, not Frank Chin-level Frank, but still... Don't miss out on this one. It ought to be a hoot.

You can visit the Poetry Society of America at

The Poetry Society of America, the nation's oldest poetry organization, was founded in 1910 for the purpose of creating a public forum for the advancement, enjoyment, and understanding of poetry. Through a diverse array of programs, initiatives, contests, and awards, the Poetry Society of America works to build a larger audience for poetry, to encourage a deeper appreciation of the art, and to place poetry at the crossroads of American life.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Lao and Asian Pacific American Heritage Month!

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month is here, and the Twin Cities Daily Planet has been kind enough to print one of my blogs on the subject.

There's many ways to talk about our experience in Laos and where it fits within the larger story of the United States of America and the Laotian community around the world. 35 years since the end of the war in Laos, we've seen some amazing progress and growth and it is also easy to see where we can still focus our efforts to create a sustainable community that brings out the best in all of us.

While I strongly believe it's important to remember those of us who are citizens who helped make America what it is today, we must also remember those who are not considered citizens, whose contributions saved lives and taught us all so much.

MN Asian Pacific Leadership Awards Announced

Congratulations to the 2010 Asian Pacific Leadership Awards recipients: Mali Kouanchao, Excellence in the Arts, Mao Heu Thao, Leadership, Kaimay Yuen Terry, Leadership and Dixie Lee Riley (posthumously) for Lifetime Achievement. The results were recently announced by the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans.

The awards will be presented at the annual dinner this month. For this year, the Council has put together a program that will explore the roots of the Asian American & Pacific Islanders community.

Noted scholar Dr. Franklin Odo, formerly director and founder of the Asian Pacific American Program at the Smithsonian Institution and a curator with the National Museum, will be the keynote speaker at the dinner.

Karen Lyu, the nationally renowned jazz singer, will perform and end the evening. The evening will also see the presentation of the Leadership Awards to deserving local heroes who dedicated so much of their time and talent to bettering and advancing the community.

The Annual Dinner is Saturday, May 15, 2010 from 6:00 pm until 9:00 pm at the Crowne Plaza Riverfront, 11 East Kellogg Blvd, St. Paul, MN. Dinner is $40.00 per person.

For inquiries or to RSVP contact the Council on Asian-Pacific Minnesotans at 651-757-1740 or (Parking in the Crowne Plaza ramp is complimentary on a first come first serve basis).

A profile of Mali Kouanchao appears at Asian American Press this month.

Congratulations, everyone!