I was recently interviewed by the Laotian American National Alliance for their facebook page. I appreciate them taking the time to ask about my work.
When it comes to giving a community a voice, Bryan Thao Worra is quite vocal. He has put Laotian Americans on the map with his prose and poetry and shown the public that good writing can come from our community. Over the years he has worked tirelessly in bringing writing opportunities for anyone interested in becoming a writer. He has not only given them opportunities but advice and encouragement to express themselves through the power of words.
We would like to introduce you to Mr. Bryan Thao Worra, in celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Bryan Thao Worra is an award-winning Lao-American writer. He holds over 20 awards for his poetry and community leadership, including an NEA Fellowship in Literature and is the author of 6 books with writing appearing in over 100 international publications including Australia, Canada, England, Scotland, Germany, France, Singapore, China, Korea, Chile, Pakistan, and across the United States.
Born in 1973 in Vientiane, Laos during the Lao civil war. He came to the US at six months old, adopted by a civilian pilot flying in Laos. He was naturalized in 1976 during the US Bicentennial. In 2003, he reunited with his biological family for the first time in 30 years, who had escaped from Laos to Modesto.
He is the first Lao American professional member of the Horror Writer Association and is an officer of the international Science Fiction Poetry Association. He is the Creative Works Editor of the Journal on Southeast Asian American Education and Advancement. His work is on display at the Smithsonian's national traveling exhibit "I Want the Wide American Earth: An Asian Pacific American Story." In 2012, he was selected to be a Cultural Olympian during the London Summer Games representing Laos. His 2013 book DEMONSTRA was selected as Book of the Year by the Science Fiction Poetry Association.
Recently, we had an opportunity to ask Bryan a few questions on what he is passionate about, what makes a good leader and so much more. Please take a moment and and read his insightful responses.
1. Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader? Maybe someone who has been a mentor to you? Why and how did this person impact your life?
My adoptive grandmother Ellen Coffee had the most significant impact on my life as a leader. She instilled in me a sense of community service, of independent thinking and exploration, and a pursuit of knowledge for knowledge’s own sake. She encouraged me to look things up on my own, to appreciate the arts and culture, and to help others. Without making it too long a story, at the heart of her own experience was respecting the opinions of others but ultimately making her own choices, for what she felt was good for her family and her community. People could be right, and they could also be wrong. And so could we. We weren’t infallible. But we were to work as hard as we could to make the right choices that helped everyone enjoy the best our freedoms had to offer in the United States.
2. What has been your most challenging role? Author? Grant Writer? Community leader? Why?
My most challenging role has been my work in the Lao American publishing community because we are trying to create a culture shift, one that balances a deep love of books with bringing them more actively into our lives. A good book isn’t meant to be purchased and then set on a shelf like a paperweight. But for decades we haven’t had many works in our own words on our own terms, that I often run into many youth and families who don’t know what to do with Lao books when they have them. But this is not an insurmountable position, and I think, over time, we’ll see some truly amazing stories emerge from the next generation.
3. Finish this statement: Successful people…
Embrace both their mistakes and their successes and learn from both. Successful people see issues on a continuum, not as binary propositions.
4. How do you encourage others in your community to follow their passion?
I remind them every expert started out as a beginner. For my students, I particularly emphasize that our roots are not a liability but an opportunity.
5. How can literature be used as a vehicle to transform a community?
Good literature lets us see possibilities within ourselves, it lets us reflect on our histories and gives us something concrete to pass on to the next generation. Laws change, borders change, science changes, people come and go in a thousand ways. But through literature and the arts we have a way of connecting with the dreams, the voices of those who’ve gone before us, what they valued, and what they hoped for us. Literature lets us consider roads not taken, it lets us think of routes ahead, and it connects us to other humans around the world who’ve been on similar journeys of wonder. It is very difficult for a people to grow and change, if they cannot express what they would transform into.
6. What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?
An ability to evolve with conviction. A leader has to be open to outcomes, not attached to outcomes, and so they have to develop a set of convictions that allows them to evolve their positions, to compromise, to keep their communities focused on bigger pictures to get everyone ahead of the curve, not just “caught up.”
7. If you could meet any author or poet, who would it be and what question would you ask?
I would be delighted to meet the Lao poets of tomorrow, and ask them to keep reading, and keep writing to the very limits of their imagination.
8. What is the source of inspiration for you when you are writing poetry?
I tend to look at the world around me and I ask myself what hasn’t been written about. And even if something has been written about, I look for the angles we might not have considered. It’s important to challenge narratives, to create options and opportunities for consideration. There are many ways to see the world and to express not only what has been, but what might be.
9. What inspired you to organize the Lao American Writer’s Summit?
Someone told me it was impossible, and no one would ever come.
10. What book made you love reading or inspired you to become a writer yourself?
Growing up in Montana, when I was 3, The New Book of Knowledge encyclopedia set that my family owned was really the start of it all. It occupied me for hours upon hours each day, from the articles on dinosaurs to mythology, history, technology, nature and so much more than that. Some of the images still linger with me four decades later. That’s the power a book can have.