Thursday, July 30, 2009


My newest book, BARROW, is off to the printers with a planned release date of October 3rd from Sam's Dot Publishing! Thanks for all of your support, everyone!

The release party is scheduled to be held at the Loft on Saturday, October 3rd at 7:00 P.M. at 1011 Washington Ave. in Minneapolis. (

The cover was designed by Laotian American artist Vongduane Manivong. You can see more of her work at

BARROW contains over 55 poems from 1991 to the present. This selection includes all new work as well as revised works that have previously appeared in journals such as Whistling Shade, Tales of the Unanticipated, The Journal of the Asian American Renaissance, Northography and Defenestration Magazine.

Like On The Other Side Of The Eye, BARROW is a collection of speculative poetry, influenced by international mythic traditions, fantasy and science fiction from a Southeast Asian American perspective.

BARROW is composed of six sections drawn from the diverse definitions of the word, "barrow":
BARROW: n. 1) A large mound of earth or stones placed over a burial site. 2) A wheelbarrow. 3) A pig who has been castrated before reaching sexual maturity. 4) A count of forty threads in the warp or chain of woolen cloth. 5) An old lunar crater located near the northern limb of the Moon. It lies between Goldschmidt crater to the northwest and the irregular Meton crater formation.
But BARROW isn't intended to be a definitive exploration of a word as much as an extended question. There will be multiple ways of getting into the text.

Often we think a concise definition of a word is to be preferred. Reduction to one-word synonyms or stark, objective fragments of sentences and thoughts.

But what would the world be like if a word were allowed to truly breathe? To explore all of its possibilities and meanings, to discover dead ends and back alleys of the mind and spirt, the universal, the local and the personal. Even to find new meanings for itself? What would that look like.

Obviously, the conventional wisdom is that it would be impractical to have a world where there was at least one book solely focused on every word. But BARROW provides an interesting suggestion of what could be.

BARROW isn't an etymology, a linguistic history of the word, but an alternate approach to establishing definition, or subverting them. It is a question of how we define and redefine, and how we see, hear and experience languages.

There's a lot more under the hood driving BARROW, but that's part of the fun we'll be able to talk about more once it's released and in the public.

BARROW features an original foreword by Dr. Nnedi Okorafor, award-winning author of The Shadow Speaker and Zahrah The Windseeker. You can see more of her work at

Upcoming Events In August: Jai Lao Foundation and

Two main events I'll be attending this month are:

Fundraiser Dinner to Launch Jai Lao - "One Night in Laos" - San Ramon, CA on August 8, 2009

Join Jai Lao Foundation as they launch their first fundraiser benefit dinner party celebrating Lao art and culture.
"Cross over the Golden Gate in CA and step back into time and be transported to another country - the enchanted land of Laos. Stroll the streets of Laos and stop to savor the flavors of Laos from various street vendors serving Lao pho soup, our signature papaya salad, hot and sizzling BBQ, tasty laab, and sweet desserts. Live Lao cultural entertainment will keep your heart beating for all things Lao. Please support them with a $50 per person donation to contribute to their foundation's fund for renovating schools in Laos. "
For more information, visit

Lao Culture Night-Elgin, IL on August 22, 2009 (12:00pm to 9:00pm)
Celebrating Lao Culture Night in Elgin at the Hemmens Auditorium (45 Symphony Way).

There will be cultural performances, arts & crafts exhibitions, fashion shows, many hosts of vendors selling foods, and materials followed by the Oscar nominated documentary film "Nerakhoon: The Betrayal"

Rediscover Elgin, and bring your family to celebrate Lao Culture Night. Lao American rock star Ketsana will also be attending!

DIVERSICON 17 Schedule

Diversicon is this weekend, and this year, I'll only be doing two panels, but participating in many others. I look forward to seeing you there!:

Friday, July 31:
8:30-9:55 PM, Mainstage
Science Fiction/Fantasy Films: The Year in Review
Bryan Thao Worra, Melissa S. Kaercher, co-mods.

Saturday, August 1:
10:15-11:30 PM, Krushenko's Annex
Panel & Reading: The Poetry of Poe
Bryan Thao Worra, mod.; Sandra Lindow, Cynthia Booth, Rebecca Marjesdatter,
John Calvin Rezmerski

DTV deadline approaching

Just as a reminder: July 31st is the last day to apply and appeal for DTV Converter Box Coupons. (but coupons can be used until they expire.) Applications for coupons are accepted online, by phone at 1-888-388-2009 (1-888-DTV-2009), by mail and by fax. Mailed applications must be post-marked no later than midnight on July 31, 2009.

New Songbird Found In Laos

Making the rounds this week: A songbird has just been discovered tucked away in a rugged region of Laos dubbed with the scientific name Pycnonotus hualon. "Hualon" translates from Lao as "bald-headed." You can find a typical article from the Science News Examiner.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Call for Presentation: AAS Panel on Laos

The Center for Lao Studies (CLS) has been encouraged by the Association for Asian Studies (AAS) to form a panel or roundtable for the next AAS Annual Meeting to be held in Philadelphia, PA from March 25-28, 2010. Currently, they are able to form one solid panel and would like to invite scholars in the area of Lao Studies to join a second panel. The topic for the second panel is a broad topic that deals with "new research" in Lao Studies.

If you are interested in becoming a part of this panel, please submit your abstract and CV to Dr. Vinya Sysamouth by July 30th, 2009. For more information about the AAS, please visit their website at:

Friday, July 24, 2009

5th Year Since Lao'd And Clear

Tonight, July 24th, 2009 is the 5th anniversary of the Lao'd and Clear Reading in Minneapolis.

This marked the first time Laotian American writer Saymoukda Vongsay and I performed together in public. It was a reading no one seriously anticipated or expected back then.

A literary and artistic event centered around young Laotian American voices was unheard of for Minnesota at the time.

Lao'd and Clear was a reading that stands out in my mind for a number of reasons. It brought together the visual artwork of the Laotian American artists Malichansouk Kouanchao, Aloun Phoulavan and Vongduane Manivong for the very first time.*

* To be clear, previously, Mali and Vongduane exhibited together as part of the Five Senses Show of Hmong and Lao Artists at the Babylon Gallery on Lake Street (before that gallery burned down.) But this was the first time Aloun Phoulavan had been exhibited with them.

Lao'd and Clear was held at the acclaimed Loft Literary Center on 1011 Washington Avenue S. in Minneapolis. The Loft Literary Center was where I would eventually hold many readings including my book release party for On The Other Side Of The Eye.

Tip Sivilay, a member of the SatJaDham Lao Literary project, graciously provided us with a CD of some of his favorite Lao jazz artists to play for the audience before the show began. We also played a slideshow of images from my first trip back to Laos in 2003.

The Vongsay family provided audience members with a delicious assortment of traditional Lao appetizers and snacks to nibble on before and after the show. Mali was also in the process of selling her t-shirts at the time, including the shirt Saymoukda wore for the reading, and these were reasonably popular and now hard to come by.

We had a very surprising turnout of nearly 100 people on a Saturday night for a poetry reading.

The evening was done in what I think is safe to call the signature style of a Minnesota Lao American poetry reading, complete with zany door prizes, surprises and lots of laughter.

This isn't to say it was perfect. Far from it. Very little documentation of the evening exists today in terms of photographs or programs.

Hindsight now allows me to concede: A lot of our material was still rough and unpolished. We were pretty self-conscious up there, taking a pretty big risk self-identifying as Laotian American writers.

We fielded a lot of snippy and snide remarks during the early planning stages, and even afterwards, we got a lot of very frank and blunt critiques.

At the time, we wanted to show there could be an audience for our work, and that Laotian Americans created. And $@$@ good stuff, on top of that. I would like to think most people in attendance saw that.

The VHS footage isn't fit for public viewing, but suffice it to say: while we weren't quite ready for prime time, it's a clear beginning of a new Lao American approach to poetry in Minnesota.

From this point forward we continued to collaborate on many fun and positive projects. Both Saymoukda and I learned a lot from the evening.

Since then, she's performed around the world in Japan and Italy, Alaska and across Minnesota. Last year, she released her first chapbook, No Regrets at a reading at the Loft with acclaimed novelist Ed Lin and I, and continues to write and create.

Malichansouk Kouanchao continues to produce amazing work and her murals and other art projects appear around the country, including as part of the Legacies of War project and for Refugee Nation. She's traveled widely in recent years. She's one of the essential Laotian American artists of our generation. An original of hers is very hard to come by, so if you spot one for a good price, get it.

Vongduane Manivong's work has been displayed around the country as well, from Texas to Rhode Island and Minnesota, among other places. She was the artist for the cover for my new book, BARROW, being released in the early fall. Her style has continued to grow in its character and professionalism. She continues to live in Texas with her family.

Aloun Phoulavan eventually left the Saint Paul Public School system to study art and culture in Asia for several years before returning to the US. His work has appeared in Bakka magazine among other places and he started a family.

It's been a fascinating 5 years. Since the reading, we connected with some great writers and artists like Catzie Vilayphonh and Phayvanh Leukhamhan, Thavisouk Phrasavath, Ova Saopeng and Leilani Chan and so many other supportive figures and visionaries. I'm grateful to be part of this journey with them and our readers. I can't wait to see what's ahead.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Minnesota hosts many science fiction conventions each year, but Diversicon stands out for its specific focus on multicultural science fiction and fantasy.
Now celebrating their 17th year, Diversicon is expected to draw participants from across the country and even as far away as Australia, bringing together writers, artists and fans of all ages.
This year’s Guest of Honor is acclaimed author Kay Kenyon, author of "A World Too Near" and Bright of the Sky.
The additional special guests this year are Michael Levy and Sandra Lindow. The convention is also recognizing the "posthumous" guests of honor Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Allan Poe.
Diversicon runs from August 11-13 at the Best Western Bandana Square Street at 1010 Bandana Blvd. W. in Saint Paul.
Kay Kenyon grew up in Duluth, Minnesota, attended the University of Minnesota, and earned an English degree from the University of Washington in 1979. She has been a model a commercial actress, copywriter and urban planner. Her novels include The Seeds of Time (1997), Leap Point (1998), Rift (1999), Tropic of Creation (2000), and the Philip K. Dick Award finalist Maximum Ice (2002), and John W. Campbell Memorial Award finalist The Braided World (2003).
Kenyon's new series is The Entire and the Rose, which began with Bright of the Sky (2007) and continues with A World Too Near (2008) and this year's City Without End. The concluding volume, Prince of Storms, will be coming soon. She also published various short stories that have appeared widely. She now resides in Wenatchee, Washington and will also be giving readings at Dreamhaven and Uncle Hugo's while she is in town.
This year's Diversicon will feature dozens of lively discussions and readings on speculative literature, films, TV and the graphic arts, with additional entertainment scheduled throughout the festive weekend. Additional Diversicon highlights include the annual Yugo Awards for “Best SF Books That Should Have Been Written,” film screenings, auctions, dealer tables, games and story-telling. Rregistration is $40 for adults and $30 for students. For more information visit

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Spotlight: Zhu Bajie

Zhu Bajie. A major poem from my upcoming collection BARROW features this classic figure from Asian literature.

Zhu Bajie originally held the title of Tiānpéng Yuánshuǎi ("Marshall of the Heavenly Canopy, or the Marshall of the Heavenly Tumbleweed"), commander-in-chief of 80,000 Heavenly Navy Soldiers. Tiānpéng Yuánshuǎi defeated a demon to earn his title. He was later banished, however, for misbehaviour.

At a party organized for all the significant figures in Heaven, Bajie saw the Goddess of the Moon for the first time and was captivated by her beauty. Following a drunken attempt to get close to her, she reported this to the Jade Emperor and thus he was banished to Earth.

In popular retellings, Zhu Bajie was sentenced to a thousand lives where each life would end in a love tragedy.

Arizona reflection

It's hard to say when I've seen so many variations of sand and brown. The temperature wanted to go as high as 120 degrees from the 111 when I arrived on Thursday. My purpose had been to examine and identify the Laotian population in Arizona and see where they were at, and what the community was like.

This was an interesting question given that my previous trip to Arizona had been to attend the International Conference on Lao Studies, and I think it's reasonable to presume that beyond the ivory halls of academia, there must be a significant community there to support such an interest.

According to the Census 2000, there were 1,243 Lao and 33 Hmong who identified themselves as such in Arizona. There are many who feel this is grossly undercounted. It was reasonable to assume that the good majority of them lived near Phoenix, which is where one of the oldest Wat Lao continues to exist. The other major Wat Lao is in Tuscon, Arizona, but I haven't had a chance to visit there yet.

Wat Lao Soudharam, presided over by Ajan Savang Sithisombath, Ajan Vichit Dipraseuth and Ajan Bounleuth Sirivongsack, is one of the smaller wats in the US, with one major building near the center of the compound. The grounds are spacious enough to hold festival events, and the community members there are well connected to one another.

Significant organizations and grass roots groups that have been a part of the Arizona Lao community include Natahasinh Doungjumpa, a traditional Lao dance group at one point coached by Nary Nickolas and Ju Chaen.

The Lao Youth Organization is the local Lao youth group, and the Lao United Soccer Team have also been a part of the Phoenix community.

The famous Silivongxay sisters make their home here in Arizona. Always generous with their time, they bring a great energy to any community service projects they are involved in. Anasone Silivongxay is currently working energetically to raise awareness about issues of Census 2010 while juggling her many other projects, including raising a family and taking classes to pursue her higher education, and also maintaining a fine blog at, among other places. Khonnie Silivongxay is equally engaged with the community and has always been helpful to me on my journeys with her passion for helping others.

Openly Lao businesses such as restaurants and stores aren't very visible in Arizona, but I'm sure it's only a matter of time, and in the short time I had to visit, it's possible I missed them. But I look forward to coming back to visit Arizona in the future. But I'm definitely bringing sunscreen next time.