Thursday, March 31, 2011

Haiku Movie Review: Suck Edition

Bloodsucking oddness.
If you go in expecting
Little, you find it.

A Marvel misstep
Clumsy for so many ninjas
Watch the Tick instead.

Shining stupidly
Lobotomizing beauty,
Slick but what a waste.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A journey to Elk River

This weekend I recently had opportunity to travel to Elk River, Minnesota in order to investigate the work of artists in that part of the state. It's been building itself up over the years, most notably with the Arts Alliance gallery on Main Street.

They have over 600 members and now a space on Main Street in their historic downtown. They're hoping to mobilize their community for a Regional Arts Center across the street and just finished their impressive Arts in Harmony National Juried Show at the Sherburne County Government Center. I think they have a lot of potential, although the artists I spoke with there suggested more support and exposure of their work would be helpful. They offer classes, exhibit space and do consignments and training for semi-professional and professional artists. They've been at it since 1989 and were very friendly when I went to visit.

Elk River also boasts a nice independent bookstore, Where the Books Are that could definitely use more customers but it's densely packed with helpful owners. The current economic climate and e-publishing trends place this as a somewhat endangered site, in my opinion.

It's hard enough for small book sellers to compete with big chains but if Elk River loses this shop, which has been a part of the community for almost 10 years now, I think it would be a pity.

Their historic downtown has several relatively recent murals and sculpture around different parts of the city, in addition to some quaint and eclectic antique and vintage shops.

Elk River is also home to a number of Southeast Asian refugees and Asian Americans who are active and emerging in the arts and culture, and I hope we'll see more of their work soon.

Oedipus el Rey in Minneapolis: Reflections

This month Pangea World Theater and Teatro del Pueblo collaborated to present Oedipus el Rey at the Guthrie Lab Theater.

Oedipus el Rey originally premiered at San Francisco's Magic Theater in February 2010, interpreting the classic myth of Oedipus in the modern California penal system and an LA barrio thanks to the work of Luis Alfaro. Instead of the road to Thebes, Oedipus journeys along Highway 99 from San Francisco to Los Angeles with a chorus of prison inmates.

Director Dipankar Mukherjee asked some provocative questions in his director's notes. "What does this act of a Chicano writer appropriating a Greek myth mean to contemporary society?" and "As artists, do we have an accountability to intervene on the question of violence? Are the youth in this economically strapped world fated to spiral down or do we have the audacious possibility to question fate?"

Next month, starting April 14th to May 1st, Pangea will be presenting its Alternate Visions Festival.

The first Pangea production I ever caught was an interpretation of Ovid's classic, Metamorphosis, also at the Guthrie Labs. They've always asked interesting questions with the material, but I particularly appreciated them working with Teatro del Pueblo here because I have a personal fondness for the classic myth of Oedipus, which features prominently in several of my poems such as Thread Between Stone.

I could gush about the set-design, costumes and choreography. But I'll leave that for others to remark upon.

I think it's more important to reflect on the question of cross-cultural perspectives informing this production. To have so many cultural aesthetics involved, clashing across time and tradition on-stage was intriguing and often well-executed. Those aesthetics were not merely cosmetic, but deeply internal, invoking both modern and traditional forms that stretched the actors skills. There were elements of African American theater, South Asian and Latino aesthetic thought and nods to Asian and Asian American stylization.

For me, I was also curious where the performance would take real risks, because that's when art becomes transcendent.

The story of Oedipus is often neutered in the modern classrooms it's taught in. But it is among the most prominent and accessible even after centuries, in terms of transgressive concepts: The themes of a man fighting against his destiny, presumably solving the great riddles and still committing some of the most horrible taboos of all to the amusement of the gods including patricide and incest.

In itself, a 'pure' theatrical staging of Oedipus should probably be pushing buttons with its audiences in any time and any culture, no matter what their beliefs. But we've seen such sterile considerations of the story over the years that one of the most powerful stories of humanity has lost a lot of tooth and has been losing ground to more energized adaptations of Medea.

Pangea and Teatro del Pueblo's production of Oedipus el Rey in Minneapolis allowed us to see even more windows into the story than usual, staged in a zone where the voice of Latin American artists and other artists of color can often feel marginalized despite their strong social and economic presence in other parts of the city and the social structure of Minnesota society.

This was an opportunity to study what is offensive to a culture, and yet, what is also true. The updated dialogue is raw, the language at times profane but no worse than one would find on television or film. For devout Christians, some of the imagery is distinctly blasphemous and unsettling, and many in the audience were no longer removed from the powerful and transgressive themes of Oedipus as we might have imagined Greek audiences experiencing so many centuries ago. But the art here is purposeful and not merely shocking or inuring as it crosses lines to connect so many aesthetic and cultural divides.

Sometimes we see global classics shorn of their metaphysical roots. The Hollywood take on the Trojan War with Brad Pitt did away with the Grecian pantheon entirely. Other times, there are modern updates that propel the story into alternate history such as Loncraine's Richard the Third with Ian McKellan or the abstract modernity of Romeo and Juliet with Leonardo di Caprio.

Oddly, modern updates rarely really address real issues of a society's time. How often do we see an effective, modernized adaptation working with communities of color on our own terms, with an unflinching eye wrestling with urgent social issues such as the modern penal system and youth violence.

My lingering question, however, is that although Shakespeare was not the first to tell the story of Romeo and Juliet, his has become the most definitive take on it. Here, Oedipus el Rey covers substantive territory using the original work as a touchstone, but can productions of this particular text redefine our future sense of the story? Just as the Ramyana has had numerous interpretations since in different cultures, has Oedipus el Rey opened a wider pathway for others to approach this story? How interesting a question this would be if it did.

Leaving the play, it's hard for me not to think of how Phra Oedipus, Phra Laos would be staged with transcultural adoptees, Lao American refugees and deportees in Minnesota. How might the Khmer or Karen or Somalians look at this subject, and where would they set it? What would be some of their underpinning concerns?

At the same time, as we watch Neil Gaiman preparing to approach Journey to the West or Grant Morrison approaching the Mahabharata with his animated series 18 Days, how do we respond?

Looking at what happens to films like Infernal Affairs or Akira being re-interpreted without a commitment to their cultural roots, we ask to whom do the world's stories belong. But I think the healthy question is also, where does the art become meaningful and interesting for all of these approaches? It would be a poor thing to see so many retellings take place with nothing interesting to say in the process.

As Shakespeare asks in Julius Caesar:
"How many ages hence, shall this our lofty scene be acted over, in states unborn and accents yet unknown!"

Hats off to Pangea and Teatro del Pueblo for this fine question, and I look forward to their upcoming productions.

Philanthropy, the lottery and the Yogi Bear Dilemma

While I could easily have called the dilemma any number of things the basics remain the same, particularly for Lao American refugee resettlement organizations.

Last year, the execrable Yogi Bear live-action, 3-D film no one on earth was clamoring for secured $80 million for its production and made $99,549,375. Worldwide it's since gone on to make $199,749,375 and justified nominating Donald De Line and Karen Rosenfeltfor a crime against cinema.

One film like this was capable of fully funding 10 Lao American organizations for almost 30 years. While I'm certainly not one to ever advocate depriving the world of joy and entertainment, even if it must be delivered by insipid CGI bears, I still have to think there's something wrong with this picture.

The Census 2010 figures are out and we have approximately 154,191 Lao over 18.

In theory, if everyone were making a very modest $20,000 a year, that represents approximately $3,083,820,000 in economic activity in the US. Some of that, of course, goes into savings, housing and basic needs. But if our community committed even .01% of that income to philanthropy a year, we would be talking about $30,838,200. Or, the budget for the film District 9. 

This of course, has not actually happened.

We've had a problem securing basically $3 a week from every Lao adult person for a year. Yet, the return on investment would be immeasurable.

Certainly, some will give more, some will find a way to give less, but I think it's important for our community to reassert our sense of values and our historic commitment to charity and compassion to invest and build in our community.

On the other hand, given the modest operating budgets of most non-profit organizations there are days I wish we were allowed to have even just a $1,000 annual budget item for lottery tickets. At the rate we're going, it would only take one big win to cover our typical operating expenses for a year.


Monday, March 21, 2011

UXO in Laos: $400 Million by 2020?

Recently a report on unexploded cluster bombs in Laos was featured on CNN won the first-ever CNN iReport Community Choice Award. This is great news to many because it is helping to raise awareness and attention on this lingering issue, 36 years since the end of the war.

30% of Laos continues to remain cluttered with cluster bombs dropped during the war for Laos by US airplanes. 3 out of 10 victims are under the age of 12 today. An estimated 80 million munitions still remain.

Between 1964 and 1973, US aircraft secretly flew 580,000 missions and dropped two million tons of bombs on Laos. These included 277 million cluster bomblets with a typical failure rate estimated at 30 per cent. The presence of these bombs severely hampers Lao development as many risk being killed or maimed farming or even simply going to school.

A new report published jointly by UXO Lao and the Lao National Regulatory Authority (NRA) surveyed 94% of Lao households and concluded that an estimated 20,000 people had died from UXO since the conflict ended.

Officials estimate clearance could be sped dramatically with an investment of $40 to $50 million a year over the next ten years to clear bombs in Laos in accordance with the Convention on Cluster Munitions.In 2008, the value of international aid to UXO removal in Laos was US$19 million. In 2010, the figure reached about US$20 million.

A US Senate committee recommended committing $7 million for UXO clearance in Laos in 2011. The US Congress allocated about $5 million and the US State Department $1.9 million for UXO clearance in Laos in 2010.

But clearly, more needs to be done and raised. Statistically speaking, with 200,000+ Lao in the US, monthly support of $16 from everyone for just ten years would raise the $400 million Laos needs.

Or, basically, 4 summer Hollywood blockbusters or, alternately, 400 cruise missiles.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Community development: The need for strategic, inclusive approaches

Over the coming years ahead, one of my emerging aims has to been to build a fundamental base and framework for a re-imagined ‘Lao American Renaissance’ that employs principles of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network, social justice and lifelong service learning. This is asking for culture shift, but I think it's one that will let our community remain progressive and forward thinking.

The transition from a monarchy to a democracy and from several outdated education and social control models has taken time. I think it's honest to say, our efforts to date alienated a far greater percentage of the community than we needed to during the last 30+ years. There's a very visible polarization between our successes and our have-nots that's unhealthy. A new mode of thinking, new approaches are necessary to revitalize an inclusive sense of ourselves.

This doesn't mean casting aside positive, constructive values, but it may mean expressing them with greater clarity and an acknowledgement when our actions are out of alignment with our values.

At it's simplest: There are many ways to be Lao, particularly Lao American. Many ways to express our participation within our community.

But at the same time, it's not 'anything goes' or else there'd be no point in identifying the approach to life as a Lao lifestyle. In the end, how do we bring out the best within ourselves?

Each person will spend their own lifetime learning to decide and to define what that can and should embody for them. Lao society in the past has benefited from viewing strict conformity and social control as repugnant, compared to many other cultures. Individual self-determination has been paramount.

This doesn't mean people don't still try, and we're still seeing the social traumas caused by this. But we need to move away from it, because lockstep rigidity has almost never yielded anything consistently fruitful to justify that approach. Lao historically thrive best within fluid, flexible environments. And I'd personally prefer to see that preserved.

There are Lao equivalents of Tiger Moms and Tiger Dads, but longitudinally, at a personal and collective level, I don't think we're seeing many of their kids achieving levels of happiness that vindicate those methods.

The most constructive approach would engage historically underused assets strategically to create and establish meaningful economic, educational and artistic institutions. These institutions would, when well-developed, form anchors for a sustainable and contributory community. In the long-range, I hope for the 21st century to be regarded as a golden age of Lao American philosophical, intellectual and cultural development, centered from Minneapolis and other cities around the country.

By 2020, I hope we've taken steps to reduce educational and economic disparities and reduce the extreme educational, economic, and social polarization of the Lao community. It's particularly important to engage Lao American women within this process and to successfully bring the voices of elder and youth into the traditional intergenerational constructiveness that is a hallmark of early Lao culture.

We also need to encourage a new generation of ethical, ambitious, and effective entrepreneurs who have a philanthropic mindset to establish and maintain meaningful institutions that encourage progressive thought and action.

Effective efforts will hold regular formal and informal community dialogues stemming from this expanded knowledge our unique history, commonality, and solidarity. Our activities need to be committed to presenting diverse voices reflecting a wide range of experiences and perspectives from men and women, young and old, different faith traditions, the GLBT community, veterans, and social and economic classes.

Often, communities are driven by encouragement to speak with one voice, but a diversity of opinions and plurality are far more deeply essential elements to community building. True, positive dialogue must empower many routes to success. Our projects need to be developed to help bring that diversity forward, and we should be mindful of that when considering what we might do over the next five to ten years ahead and beyond.

The Lao could represent over $8,000,000 in economic activity in Minnesota, but this is not reflected in the institutions we have at the moment. It's disproportional, that after 35 years since the first Lao resettled in the Minnesota, Lao refugees have less than 30 economically viable businesses, community centers, and cultural institutions. Most are located outside of Minneapolis, an average of 15 to 30 minutes away from basic services such as culturally appropriate grocery stores, faith-based institutions, tutoring resources, and places of employment.

We might attribute this to the fact that many lack the confidence, resilience to effectively rebuild our lives in the aftermath of the war, particularly as a collective community. Following many discussions over the years, it's clear we have a severe community-identified deficit of knowledge, institutions, and successful linkage and interpretation of cultural values and attitudes to generate long-term success.

So what steps are necessary to address this?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

[MN] Booking with the Cooks: March 20th

If you're in Minneapolis, join novelists and Loft board members Faith Sullivan and Lorna Landvik as they host an afternoon of literary talk highlighted by a bake sale.

Faith and Lorna will conduct a panel discussion around women writing in the kitchen and elsewhere, featuring local favorites Sandy Benítez, Wang Ping, Patricia Weaver Francisco, and Mary Rockcastle. You will also be able to purchase baked goods with incredibly clever literary names like Proustian Madeleines, Dickensian Divinity, Flaubert Fudge, Austen Angel Fingers, Woolf Wonder Bars, and much more!

Free and open to the public. Target Performance Hall at Open Book, 1011 Washington Ave. S in Minneapolis.

Incorporated in 1975, The Loft Literary Center is the nation’s largest independent literary center. The Loft supports the artistic development of writers, fosters a writing community, and builds an audience for literature. Thousands of students register for Loft creative writing courses each year; thousands more participate in Loft readings and other events.

MN artists and arts funding 2011-2012

While there's still a lot of dithering going on at the Minnesota State Arts Board and the continued funding issues in the Minnesota legislature, it's important for individual artists to keep a sense of key programs likely to be available:

Artist Initiative—Project grants for artists at all stages of their careers, to support artistic development, nurture artistic creativity, and recognize the contributions individual artists make to the creative environment of the state of Minnesota. The typical application deadline is the end of August.

Arts Learning—Project grants to provide opportunities for lifelong learners to acquire knowledge and understanding of and skills in the arts. The typical application deadline is the beginning of November.

Arts Tour Minnesota—Project grants to support touring performances, exhibitions, and other related arts activities throughout the state. This application deadline is typically mid-October.

Cultural Community Partnership—Project grants to enhance the careers of individual artists of color. Artists, at any stage in their careers, can apply for grants to help support collaborative projects. You apply in mid-November typically.

Folk and Traditional Arts—Project grants to support the artistic traditions and customs practiced within community and/or cultural groups by identifying, documenting, preserving, presenting, and honoring Minnesota’s folk arts and traditions. This is usually in the beginning of January, and it's very easy to miss this one because of the holidays.

In addition, emerging artists and groups of artists in MN will want to keep an eye out for funds offered by their regional arts councils (MRAC in the Twin Cities, for example) as well as COMPAS and the McKnight Fellowships offered through institutions such as the Loft Literary Center for writers and MCAD for visual artists. Intermedia Arts also offers a number of exceptional grant opportunities and the Jerome Travel and Study Grant is also a good resource.

I will say that a number of otherwise good artists who are applying are getting taken out because they aren't developing a good strategic sense of their plan for themselves or developing a compelling worksample set for themselves and are scrambling for the last minute. But a good request typically takes an entire year into account and can justify what role these funds will have not only in the immediate but over the long-term.

For most of these grants you need to be able to explain this in less than 250 words, so be efficient about your details and realistic in the scope of your plans. It's helpful to look at previous grants that not only were approved but those that weren't. The ones that weren't selected are often easy to identify, in hindsight. Good luck, and remember there are staff members and many community volunteers available to help you, but you need to give everyone time to provide adequate feedback and support!

Lecture: As[I]Am: Perspectives on Asian American Art and Transformation

I'll be speaking at the University of Minnesota on Friday, March 25th!

As[I]Am: Perspectives on Asian American Art and Transformation
From 12 to 2PM at the University of Minnesota - Coffman Memorial Union, 323. 

My topic is the challenges and opportunities for modern artists and audiences to shape their communities even as students, and the intersections between technology, democracy and intellectual thought. We'll talk about the work of Southeast Asian American students, in particular from the mid 1990s to the present moment who've each played a role in the reconstruction, and why this matters.

This is presented by the Asian American Studies Program, Co-sponsored by The Office of Vice Provost and Vice President for Equity and Diversity, and the Asian American Students for Advancement and Progress (AASAP). Thanks to everyone who invited me!

Historical Lovecraft anthology coming soon

An all-new horror short story of mine will be appearing in the upcoming anthology, Historical Lovecraft. The anthology will be available in print and as an e-book in 2011, and is produced and edited by the eldritch duo of Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles, who've been behind the Innsmouth Free Press. The cover artwork is by Spanish illustrator Paco Rico Torres.

The stories cover a lot of ground, particularly in nations and civilizations that normally haven't been covered by people writing within the Cthulhu mythos. Naturally, I take a swing with a story set in Laos in the 1890s and the search for a forgotten temple of ancient beings and mysterious secrets. 

Recently for the Innsmouth Free Press I also covered short stories on mysterious lost Twain  papers being debated by literary scholars in Innsmouth, a convention about cryptogastronomy, the Innsmouth fashion scene and a dog in a nursing home that knows when people die, so be sure to check those out, or even better, submit your own stories to them!

You can also still find my short horror story, "A Model Apartment" in their fourth issue, regarding a young Hmong artist who goes to the famous city of Arkham to study art. It combines many of the classic themes of Lovecraft as well as Southeast Asian mythology in a modern urban setting.  

2011 Against The Grain Artistic Scholarship Fund for young Asian American artists

Against the Grain Productions announced a wonderful scholarship recently for emerging Asian American artists. The aim is to provide financial assistance and promotion of Asian American college students pursuing a major in the performing and/or visual arts such as film, theatre, fashion, photography, graphic design, dance, music, etc.

The scholarship is open to High school seniors or college students currently enrolled full-time at an accredited vocational, junior college or four-year college/university with the intention to or currently pursuing a major in the performing and/or visual arts. They need to be of at least 50% Asian American descent and maintain a minimum cumulative 3.0 out of 4.0 (unweighted) GPA.

There are a few additional requirements but overall the scholarship is very easy to apply for and an important step for Asian American artists and others to give back to the community and support our emerging voices in the next generation.

I hope to see many students apply and I hope others will pass the word on about this distinctive opportunity.

Against The Grain Productions Inc. was founded to produce films, media outreach programs and community events that promote awareness and unity of Asian American culture and identity. ATG is an innovative resource that gives voice to significant, relevant and untold stories in our community. These projects will create future educational, cultural, and artistic opportunities for Asians and Asian Americans. They function as a traditional non–profit, using media projects to raise funds for international orphanages. I wish them luck in the coming years ahead!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Monday, March 14, 2011

MN Arts Count Census. Be Counted!

Whether a personal or professional interest, arts are important to you - and to the quality of life in Minnesota. The Minnesota Legacy Amendment passed in 2008 helps support creative expression through grants dispersed by the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council and the Minnesota State Arts Board.

As part of dedicating funding to the arts from the Amendment, the state legislature has called for the Minnesota State Arts Board and the state's Regional Arts Councils to conduct a census of artists and artistic organizations to measure the far-reaching influence of the arts in the state.

The Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, along with the Minnesota State Arts Board, invites anyone who, professionally or personally, engages in any and every form of creative expression to participate in the MN Arts Count census. Do you sing? Act? Dance? Write? Draw? Paint? Sculpt? Photograph? Weave? Play an instrument? Compose?

No matter how well or how publicly you share your talents, be proud and be counted.

Go to to complete the census. If you prefer, paper surveys are available by calling
800-748-3222 ext. 225.

Help us spread the word. Tell your friends to be counted, too!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Journal of Southeast Asian American Education and Advancement seeking creative literature

The Journal of Southeast Asian American Education and Advancement (JSAAEA) (ISSN 2153-8999) is looking for creative writing for this upcoming edition, preferably by April 1st. We're looking for poems, short stories, creative non-fiction. Excerpts and interviews are also accepted.

The Journal is an on-line and freely accessible interdisciplinary journal providing a forum for scholars and writers from diverse fields who share a common interest in Southeast Asian (SEA) Americans and their communities.

JSAAEA is an official publication of The National Association for the Education and Advancement of Cambodian, Laotian, and Vietnamese Americans (NAFEA), with support from the department of Bicultural-Bilingual studies and the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Texas, San Antonio.

In the past and upcoming volumes we've presented the work of emerging and award-winning writers from Vietnam, Thailand, Laos and the Hmong community. I'd particularly be interested in seeing some work from the Khmer, Tai Dam, Iu Mien and Karen perspectives.

We're accepting work from both established and emerging writers. Previous contributors are invited to submit work again.

Please feel free to refer others to the Journal !

Friday, March 04, 2011

Available as speaker or consultant, 2011 rates

Here's our regular reminder:

As many of you know, I am available for consultation as an artist. I advise primarily in literary disciplines.

These consultation sessions can be used to take a closer look at you and your work, assist you in identifying your professional goals and opportunities, and develop strategies to attain those goals along a realistic timeline.

I've successfully provided guidance all across the United States. For individual artists, my standard consultations cost $75/hour. If you anticipate needing more than 10 hours or more of consultation time a retainer rate is available. For small informal groups and small non-profit organizations, my standard consultation rate is $100/hour or $300 for one day, although additional charges may apply depending on the complexity of the project. These prices will remain in effect until December 31st, 2011.

The following credentials may assist you when considering whether to retain my services: I hold the distinction of being the first Lao American to receive an NEA Fellowship in Literature in 2009 for poetry. I'm cited for my writing in national and international textbooks. Among my 20 literary, academic and professional awards, I hold an Asian Pacific American Leadership Award in 2009 from the State Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans, and a 2002 Many Voices Fellowship from the Minnesota Playwrights Center.

I am the author of several books and my work appears in over 100 international publications around the world including Australia, Canada, England, Germany, France, Singapore, and across the United States.

As in previous years, I only take on between 5 to 15 clients at a maximum, following a brief portfolio review. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me directly at and we can look over your specific needs and how we can best work together.