Monday, December 21, 2009

Good News in Lao Publishing

A grant from Planet Wheeler, created by the founders of the Lonely Planet guidebooks to fund innovative grass-roots initiatives, has been awarded to Big Brother Mouse.

This grant will allow them to set up both village and home-based libraries in sixty more villages in the coming year. It represents an exciting phase for Big Brother Mouse, who have been conducting great projects in children's book publishing since 2006.

They also have a number of other exciting things to share from this year, and I'd recommend people take a look at their efforts and support it if you can.

As always, for those who are fluent in Lao, I'd also recommend taking a look at Dokked Publishing the first private publishing company in Laos.
Ultimately, of course, I hope to see a stronger infrastructure in our community that supports a viable, progressive business model for Lao publishers around the world. This includes equitable distribution channels and fair market practices for Lao intellectual property.

I hope in the near future, enough sustainable interest in Lao publishing emerges both in and out of our community to allow more publishers to take diverse artistic risks and encourage high standards of craft.

By 2021, I hope to see at least 10 well-run Lao publishing houses across the US. I think it's viable to see the development of at least 1 to 2 new publishers in other nations as well, including Canada, Australia and France. By 2025, if not sooner, it would be wonderful to see the first Lao Literary Awards.

In theory, ambitiously, it could take as little as $100,000 to start all ten houses, or less than 50 cents per Lao in the US. Of course, the challenge is in the fundraising and ensuring there's good management and distribution available for the community.

From many conversations I've had across the country, there's a strong demand for Lao children's books among Lao parents. More than poets, I run into individuals interested in writing children's books or family memoirs.

With ca. 200,000 Lao in the US, with nearly 50% estimated to be under the age of 18, this can present an interesting and viable market. Young Adult writers could find a good market, given that the majority of Lao children's book writers are thinking of writing books for the younger end of the spectrum, but few books for teens.

Family memoirs, to me are a dicier proposition. They will have to be written so that they are of greater interest beyond just the immediate family of those involved, providing interesting perspectives for the reader. The good news is that almost every Lao immigration/refugee story I've run into also has enough distinctive and wild twists that family narratives could do better than many others currently available.

Naturally, I'd like to see more books of poetry emerge from within our community. I've seen some very promising manuscripts over the years, but many suffer from a chronic fear to engage with our culture or employ an unrepentant Laoglish. I want Lao American poetry to take on issues with a deep authenticity and a willingness to critique the inner and social worlds of our community with depth, breadth and risk.

I don't know if those types of books can emerge without our community finding ways to support and enjoy a healthy competition between a diverse number Lao publishing/media houses. I think it's something we need to work on in the coming years ahead. But I believe it can be done.

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