Mai Der Vang received the prestigious Walt Whitman Award from the national Academy of American Poets for Afterland, her very first full-length book of poetry from Graywolf Press.
They held a book launch in Fresno on Thursday, April 13th, 2017 at the John W. Dodson Theater. The reading was a very personal one for me, having known Mai Der's work for over a decade now, watching her grow by leaps and tiger bounds. I had the honor of performing with her at the University of California Merced during the Southeast Asian American Symposium in 2015, and I'm excited to see where her poetry takes her over the years ahead. This was a historic reading and a genuine milestone for the community that can be seen as a victory and an inspiration for all Hmong writers around the world, an evening marked by joy, memory, and a portent of good fortunes yet ahead for all.
Acclaimed poets Soul Vang, Andre Yang, and Anthony Cody read, and outgoing Fresno Poet Laureate Lee Herrick introducing her work, putting it into context for the audience.Members of Hmong American Writers' Circle were there in attendance, with Pos Moua, Burlee Vang and others clearly there in spirit.
A Fresno poet, her verse has appeared or is forthcoming in Poetry, Virginia Quarterly Review, New Republic, and elsewhere. Her essays have been published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the San Francisco Chronicle, among others. Mai Der’s work has also been anthologized in Troubling Borders: An Anthology of Art and Literature by Southeast Asian Women in the Diaspora. As an editorial member of the Hmong American Writers’ Circle, she is co-editor of How Do I Begin: A Hmong American Literary Anthology. Mai Der has received residencies from Hedgebrook and is a Kundiman fellow. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of California, Berkeley, along with a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing/Poetry from Columbia University.
Afterland is a powerful, essential collection of poetry that recounts with devastating detail the Hmong exodus from Laos and the fate of thousands of refugees seeking asylum. Mai Der Vang is telling the story of her own family, and by doing so, she also provides an essential history of the Hmong culture’s ongoing resilience in exile. Many of these poems are written in the voices of those fleeing unbearable violence after U.S. forces recruited Hmong fighters in Laos in the Secret War against communism, only to abandon them after that war went awry. That history is little known or understood, but the three hundred thousand Hmong now living in the United States are living proof of its aftermath. With poems of extraordinary force and grace, Afterland holds an original place in American poetry and lands with a sense of humanity saved, of outrage, of a deep tradition broken by war and ocean but still intact, remembered, and lived.
US Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera remarked on her collection, saying "With a 'sliced and boiled tongue,' the voice drifts in and out of the 'ash oven of a forest,' from the shrapneled spirit meals of a Laos gone, quaked by forced wars and continuous fading echoes of the lost, Mai Der, nocturnal soul-smith, returns to that war-riddled sub-land and leaves us these 'dispatches.' I am astounded at how this poet accomplishes these tellings of war, of the Hmong peoples, of escape, exile, of never-leaving, of always-returning—of retracing the life-particles of the dead in various forms of disappearance and presence. In a language of 'torn jackets' and fruit, of insects and mothers, of humpbacks and shamans, Mai Der Vang comes back at us as the 'carved edge of a claw.' The mastery of image, the leap, the dislodging of our perceptions, fluid as 'humming of rain against a woman's bare neck.' A major, almost impossible, groundbreaking collection."
Andre Yang lives in Fresno, California. He is a founding member of the Hmong American Writers’ Circle (HAWC), where he actively conducts and participates in public writing workshops. He received his MFA degree from Fresno State where he was a Provost Scholar and a Philip Levine Scholar. There, he divides his time between teaching freshman composition and poetry. Andre is a Kundiman Asian American Poetry Fellow and has attended to the Tin House Summer Writers Workshop, the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference, and the UCross Foundation residency. His poetry has appeared in Paj Ntaub Voice, Hyphen Magazine, Kweli: Journal, the chapbook anthology Here is a Pen (Achiote Press), and the anthology Poetry of Resistance: Voices for Social Justice (University of Arizona Press).
Soul Vang’s poetry is anthologized in Tilting the Continent: Southeast Asian American Writing, How Much Earth: An Anthology of Fresno Poets, Bamboo Among the Oaks: Contemporary Writing by Hmong Americans. His poetry also appears in the publications; In the Grove, The Packinghouse Review, Central California Poetry Journal, and Paj Ntaub Voice. He was born in Laos, came to the U.S. as a refugee child, and has served in the U.S. Army. He was graduated with an MFA in Poetry from California State University, Fresno. He holds the distinction of being the first Hmong American to publish a full-length poetry collection with To Live Here by winning the Imaginary Friends Press poetry contest in 2014. His second collection, Song of the Cluster Bomblet is forthcoming from Blue Oak Press. Find him at www.soulvang.net.
Soul also read the poetry of Pos Moua, who unfortunately could not attend that night due to health reasons. A graduate of the University of California at Davis, Pos Moua has studied with Gary Snyder, Alan Williamson, and Sandra McPherson. Pos Moua lives in Merced, California, with his wife, two sons, and two daughters, and teaches English and Hmong full-time at Merced High School and part-time at Merced Community College. His work is represented in Tilting the Continent: Southeast Asian American Writing, How Do I Begin, and his chapbook, Where the Torches Are Burning.
Anthony Cody is a CantoMundo fellow and an editorial member of the Hmong American Writers’ Circle. He was born in Fresno, California with roots in both the Dust Bowl and Bracero Program. His poetry has appeared in U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera’s 187 Reasons Mexicanos Can’t Cross the Border: Undocuments 1971–2007 (City Lights), How Do I Begin?: A Hmong American Literary Anthology (Heyday), in which he also served as co-editor, Prairie Schooner, ToeGood Poetry Journal, Gentromancer - a collaborative cross-genre art project with artist Josue Rojas in El Tecolote. New work is forthcoming in Tinderbox Journal and TriQuarterly Review. He is currently pursuing his MFA in Creative Writing - Poetry at Fresno State. Find him at www.anthonycody.com.
Founded in 2004, the Hmong American Writers’ Circle organizes literary workshops to foster creative writing in the Hmong community and in the California Central Valley. Hmong-American literature is nearly non-existent in the Asian American literary canon, let alone the national landscape. With the knowledge that no definitive accounts of Hmong literature exists, many Hmong writers often write from a place of absence while struggling to create literary traditions in a culture that could face extinction.