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Unique Virtual Event Hosts Lao and Hmong American Authors for Ground Breaking Intellectual Forum

(The following post is by Ryan Wolfson-Ford, Southeast Asian reference librarian in the Asian Division.)

On May 2, the Asian Division hosted an engaging virtual event entitled “Memory, Experience and Imagination in the Works of Lao and Hmong American Authors,” featuring a unique set of speakers: Kao Kalia Yang, Bryan Thao Worra and Thavisouk Phrasavath. All three have won prestigious awards and are nationally recognized as authors and poets. Thavisouk is also an Academy Award nominated filmmaker.

This event broke new ground, bringing together Lao and Hmong American authors at the Library for the first time to speak about their work in a critical forum. It was well attended with a total of 138 total users who joined the virtual event from around the world to enjoy a robust and lengthy discussion exploring multiple dimensions of these artists’ work. The event was hosted by the Asian Division’s two Southeast Asian librarians with technical support from other staff in the Division. And the event was co-sponsored by the Library’s Asian American Association.

A collage of three color photos, including two men and one woman.

Left to right: Bryan Thao Worra, Kao Kalia Yang and Thavisouk Phrasavath. All three spoke at the event highlighting Lao and Hmong American authors on May 2nd, 2022. Photos courtesy of each speaker.

During the nearly two-hour long event, the authors explored in depth the role of memory, experience and imagination in their works against the backdrop of the Vietnam War and its aftermath, global migration, the refugee experience, living in the diaspora, and life in America. An important and recurring theme among the three panelists was how to locate Lao and Hmong Americans as part of the larger American story. The talk shone a light on the three authors while featuring voices not often highlighted at the Library of Congress.

A printed letter in Laotian.

“Satrī Lāo” ສະຕຣີລາວ [Lao Women]. 1996. AAPI Collection. Library of Congress Asian Division.

Two printed pages from a children's book, with text and b&w illustrations.

A Hmong language primer and religious text from Northern Thailand in Ntawv puaj txwm script. Tswv Mis Nus, “Vis pheej Ntug” 1962-1963. Library of Congress Asian Division.

Beyond this event there are significant, rare and important holdings at the Library’s Asian Reading Room among the Lao and Hmong collections. Some items are part of the Asian American Pacific Islander collection while others are part of the Southeast Asian collection. To learn more please contact a Southeast Asian reference librarian using the Ask a librarian service.

Selected bibliography of the three featured authors:

Memoirs by Kao Kalia Yang:

The Latehomecomer: a Hmong Family Memoir

The Song Poet: A Memoir of My Father

Somewhere in the Unknown World: A Collective Refugee Memoir

Children’s books by Kao Kalia Yang:

The Most Beautiful Thing

Yang Warriors

From the Tops of the Trees

Poetry by Bryan Thao Worra:

“Before We Remember We Dream.”

“DEMONSTRA.”

“Tanon Sai Jai.”

“BARROW.”

“Winter Ink.”

“On the Other Side of the Eye.”

“My Dinner with Cluster Bombs (The Tuk-Tuk Diaries).”

“Touching Detonations.”

Some titles are freely available online.

Memoirs by Thavisouk Phrasavath:

Stepped Out of the Womb: A Memoir of a Journey to the Land Where the Sun Falls.”

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