Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Catzie Interviewed in Bakka!

Lao Roots Magazine recently did an interview with the amazing Catzie Vilayphonh.

At the moment she is the Fashion Director for magazine where she also has her funky interview column, Catz Out The Bag.

I recently did an interview with her for Bakka Magazine that came out this month.

She's one of the best Lao American writers out there today to watch for.

Giant Lao Lizard Attack!

From a recent ABC Radio Australia report:

The mother of an Australian man who was lost for eleven days in a jungle in Laos says her son has described being chased by giant lizards.

Hayden Adcock went missing in the jungle for eleven days after he went on a trek to visit a waterfall.

He was rescued by local villagers last week and remains in a critical condition in a Bangkok hospital.

His mother Lynne Sturrock says her son has horrific wounds and says he was attacked by wild animals.

She says he had to climb over a cliff to escape from the lizards.

"He'd said he had never seen anything like them before," she said.

"I think they could be related to Komodo Dragons only not as big, but you know quite large because he has seen goannas in Australia, but these were horrible and larger and all of a sudden this group of lizards started chasing him."

To which I can only respond: Utterly fascinating! :) Speculations, anyone?

Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu's new novel announced.

Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu just announced that her novel, Sunny and the Leopard People, has just been acquired by Sharyn November at Viking (for the harcover) and Firebird Books (for the paperback). Both are imprints of Penguin.

A big congratulations goes out to her! Dr. Okorafor-Mbachu was a special guest at this year's Diversicon, joining the ranks of writers like Minister Faust, Mark Rich, Tananarive Due and myself. :)

To celebrate, here's an interview I did with her earlier this year:

Dr. Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu is the Chicago-based writer of Zahrah the Windseeker, a children's novel that takes place in a highly technological world based on Nigerian myths and culture.

Her recently released The Shadow Speaker (Hyperion Books, 2007) is set in the countries of Niger and Nigeria. It was a finalist for the Essence Magazine Literary Award and a nominee for an NAACP Image Award. The Shadow Speaker was also a Booksense Pick for Winter 2007/08.

She is the winner of the 2007/08 Macmillan Writer's Prize for Africa. Her winning unpublished children's book, Long Juju Man,  a story about a Nigerian girl's encounters with an irritating crafty ghost, will be published by Macmillan in 2008.

She will be a special guest at this year's Diversicon in Minnesota and is an active voice in the Carl Brandon Society among others. A warm and engaging writer with a great imagination and lively sense of humor, I've met her on a several occasions and had a chance to ask her a few questions:

What are you working on these days, artistically?
Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu: I'm always working on something. :-). But for the last month, I've suddenly started writing a part two to The Shadow Speaker. I didn't intend to; sequels are not my thing. But my sister Ifeoma kept bothering me about it. She pointed out some interesting loose ends and points of possibility at the end of The Shadow Speaker that really got my mind churning. Soon things started to germinate and I just started knocking it out. Right now, I've got over two hundred very messy pages with holes, gaps, typos, inconsistencies, etc. But the story is here; it's ALIVE! I'm not sure if it's YA or adult, though. I'll worry about that when I finish.
I'm also working on an adult fantasy novel called Black Locusts. Its set in Nigeria's oil-rich but troubled Niger Delta. That one is far more polished.
What's been the biggest challenge for you, as a writer?
NOM: Finding time to write as my daughter's naps shrink and disappear. I used to get a lot of my writing done when she was asleep. I'd do all other work when she was awake, since it didn't require such deep concentration. Now that she's 4, her naps are almost gone and I've had to adjust. I teach four classes at two universities, too, and have some other things going on in my life that take up time. It's a grand juggling act. But I'm surprised to say that I'm managing.
How did you first get into writing?
NOM: I took a creative writing class in my sophomore year in college. Prior, I had never even thought to write fiction. But I was a heavy reader and I liked to write long colorful letters to friends.
What are some of your favorite themes and ideas to work with?
NOM: Identity, the environment, gender issues, the hero/heroine's journey, self-sacrifice and Africa-ness. 
Who's on your reading list these days?
NOM: Alice and Wonderland (since people keep comparing my books to it. I've seen the Disney movie a thousand times but read the book a long long time ago)
The Art of War (another reread)
The Name of the Wind (I've read Pat's earlier draft but not the finished polished perfect end product yet)
A Long Way Gone
Do you have any advice for emerging writers?
NOM: Keep writing and reading. I had to write about three novels (one that was 500 pages…and this novel introduced me to the world you'll find in both of my published novels) before I wrote something publishable.
When I was writing these, I didn't care about getting published. I was doing it for the love. This allowed me to really hone and develop my skills without the rejection process, editors, outside opinion and deadlines breathing down my back. Take your time.
I've loved reading since I was very young. I feel like much of what I leaned happened by osmosis, as I consumed book after book after book. You must read to be a writer. Also if you don't like to read, why should other people like to read your work?
Lastly, don't give up. Writing is much more challenging and time consuming than people think. There are sacrifices you have to make to produce written work. When you face those sacrifices, it helps to know this.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Lao Puppetry In Action

A tourist traveling through Laos documented this cultural show in Luang Prabang. I've previously discussed some of the various forms that exist here, as we examine the possibilities for new expressive directions. The puppet element clocks in at 5:48 on this video.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Bunraku Puppetry

Bunraku is Japan's professional puppet theater. Developed primarily in the 17th and 18th centuries, it is one of the four forms of Japanese classical theater, the others being kabuki, noh, and kyogen.

The term bunraku comes from Bunraku-za, the name of the only commercial bunraku theater to survive into the modern era.

Bunraku is also called ningyo joruri, a name that points to its origins and essence. Ningyo means "doll" or "puppet," and joruri is the name of a style of dramatic narrative chanting accompanied by the three-stringed shamisen. This exhibition from a show in Kyoto found on Youtube.

There are several other fascinating demonstrations of the techniques leading me to consider whether or not future puppoetics development will require working with several others in the future. I admit, I'm intrigued.

A meeting with the Joe Louis Puppet Theater

Sakorn Yang-keawsot (Thai: สาคร ยังเขียวสด; b. 1922 in Nonthaburi Province, d. May 21, 2007 in Bangkok, Thailand) was a Thai puppeteer. He was a master of the hun lakorn lek (traditional Thai small puppets). Also known by his English nickname, Joe Louis, in 1985 he founded the Joe Louis Puppet Theatre. He was named a National Artist for performing arts in 1996.

I found the technique to be very interesting during my visit to Thailand in 2002, and will be considering their methods and others in the process of developing Laotian American puppoetics in the coming years ahead.

The following video was taken examining their construction process and other elements regarding the puppets.

Minnesota's Asian Pacific Cultural Center Challenge Grant.

From Naomi Chu, Executive Director of the APCC effort in Minnesota (612-282-1915),

The Asian Pacific Cultural Center is pleased to announce that two generous donors have issued a challenge to the community to match their $50,000 commitment to the Asian Pacific Cultural Center (APCC) by the end of 2008. APCC is now looking for contributions from the community to reach the $50,000 match.

A total of $100,000 in commitments to APCC will provide adequate funding and ensure stable operations through the 2009 legislative session, during which APCC will re-submit its request for state bonding. APCC was awarded $5 million from the Minnesota State Legislature for the re-development of a portion of the former Hamm’s Brewery in St. Paul during the 2008 session, but the award was line-item vetoed by Governor Pawlenty in May 2008.

Your contribution now will double the impact and support for APCC. To make a contribution, go to the APCC web site, and click on “contribute”, or you can send a gift to the Asian Pacific Cultural Center, P.O. Box 4097, St. Paul, MN 55104.

Over the past two months, the APCC Board of Directors and staff have weighed the organization’s options following the line-item veto. Through discussions with legislative leaders, community leaders, and APCC’s foundation and corporate partners, it was determined APCC will continue to focus on developing the former Hamm’s Brewery, and will pursue state support during the 2009 legislative session.

The Asian Pacific Cultural Center mission is to celebrate, promote, and foster understanding of Asian Pacific cultural heritage. APCC is a nonprofit organization engaged in providing all Minnesotans the opportunity to further their understanding of Minnesota’s Asian Pacific communities and their cultures. APCC will provide space to Asian Pacific community organizations, and serve all Minnesotans through art, music, dance, education, and language studies; while creating bridges for inter-generational and inter-ethnic understanding.

APCC’s efforts are currently directed toward funding and building a new destination place for Minnesotans: a 55,000 square foot Asian Pacific Cultural Center facility. Proposed as part of a mixed-use re-development of the former Hamm’s Brewery on Minnehaha Avenue in St. Paul, the facility will include a theater/cinema, a large banquet hall and kitchen, a multimedia/resource library, and multiple classrooms and offices.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Nerakhoon: The Betrayal

I've mentioned Nerakhoon: The Betrayal before. Youtube now has a rough cut that has some great highlights of this film.

For me, it is one of the few that I know I will watch many, many times over the course of my lifetime, because of its amazing textures and layers.

It succeeds as both a narrative of the Southeast Asian refugee experience and as a deeper meditation on Lao culture and on universal themes of betrayal at all levels of human experience.

It's really a remarkable film, one that affects me at both an artistic and personal level. See it when you can.

Hmong Art Festival: 2008

Here are some scenes from this weekend's annual Hmong Art Festival in Saint Paul, organized by the Center For Hmong Arts and Talent. Congratulations to everyone involved!:

This year's show had numerous performance acts, some visual arts displays by both established and emerging Hmong artists, puppets, food and so much more. For a free event, it was well worth the cost of admission! :)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Key MN Artist Grant Deadlines

For my colleagues in Minnesota, this is a friendly reminder of the following grants coming up:

Minnesota State Arts Board Cultural Community Partnership Grant: August 22nd.

MN Playwrights Center Many Voices Fellowship: August 29th

Creativity In Motion: August 30th. HIGHLY competitive, $40K Award. Only offered once every 2 years for a project NOT completed but in clear progress.

Archibald Bush Artist Fellowship: Deadlines will be posted in September.

Puffin Foundation: New guidelines available in September. Take careful notice of the disciplines that will be eligible however.

John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship: September 15th.

MRAC Community Arts Grant: October 6th.

Although it's a little far ahead in late June keep an eye out for the COMPAS Community Art Program.

June will most likely be the deadline for the Soros Open Society Documentary Photography Project. This one looks like a good one but photographers will need to start building up a credible body of work to apply.Photographers should also check out the Ultimate Eye Foundation and its two highly competitive $5k grants.

Painters should check out the Pollock-Krasner Foundation. No deadlines, but you need to show need.

Keep on top of these. They're really good opportunities.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Lao Oral History Archive and other CLS news

The Center for Lao Studies is initiating a Lao Oral History Archive project in 2009.

This project will document and archive the untold stories of Lao refugees in the United States, their struggles and successes, before they are lost forever.

Currently, there are almost no existing oral history projects and little academic research that focuses on the ethnic Lao refugees in the US.

By raising awareness of the Lao refugee experience, CLS will advance the growing field of Lao Studies, as well as illuminate the realities that this population faces today.

The Center for Lao Studies is also proud to present its first publication, Contemporary Lao Studies: Research on Development, Culture, Language, and Traditional Medicine, edited by Carol Compton, John Hartmann, and Vinya Sysamouth.

The compilation of vetted, peer reviewed articles came out of the First International Conference on Lao Studies. The book will be available by the end of 2008. International Conference on Lao Studies.


The next triennial International Conference on Lao Studies will be held at Khon Kaen University, Thailand in 2010. CLS is currently working with Khon Kaen University on the logistics of setting up the dates, forming an organizing committee, formatting the call for papers announcement, and other details of the conference.

It is anticipated that more scholars and community members from both sides of the Mekong River and abroad will attend the third conference, the first one to be held outside the United States. Please stay tuned for more information.


International Lao New Year Festival

Get ready for Pii May Lao as CLS and the City of San Francisco host a historic event at the City Hall's Civic Center Plaza on April 11, 2009.

CLS is coordinating with various Asian and other public and private organizations in the Bay Area and across the country to make this important event one of the most widely attended and celebrated in California.

Please join them as they come together as a community to showcase the richness of Lao customs and cultures, and to promote the awareness of the peoples from Laos.

The Journal of Lao Studies

The Journal of Lao Studies (JLS) is an exciting new academic project which hopes to become the first and most prestigious venue for researchers who work on Lao issues.

The Journal of Lao Studies is sorely needed in the field, as presently there are no scholarly journals or University press series devoted to Lao Studies.

Articles on Lao Studies are now published in disparate journals in France, Australia, Thailand, and North America. As a result, scholars in the field have a difficult time attempting to gather together all the various publications spread across the globe in several languages.

In addition, since most academic journals with an Asian focus are primarily devoted to Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Thai, or Vietnamese Studies, research based in or on smaller countries is often ignored.

In Spring 2008, Dr. Vinya Sysamouth, the Executive Director of the Center for Lao Studies, brought together a number of enthusiastic and notable scholars from many countries to draw up plans for the new journal.

Steve Arounsack, Ian Baird, Carol J. Compton, Anne Frank, Nick Enfield, Gregory Green, Boike Rehbein, Gary Lee, Mark Pfeifer, Phitsamay Sychitkokhong Uy, and others have offered advice, joined in on conference calls, and assumed specific positions on the journal's executive board.

Dr. Vatthana Pholsena and Dr. Justin McDaniel have agreed to be the co-head editors of the journal, and will be writing submission guidelines, designing a style-sheet, and drafting by-laws over the next few months.

Calls for articles, translations, and book reviews for the first issue will begin in earnest in 2009. They will keep us up-to-date on our progress and are open to advice and suggestions as they launch this new venture.

SAIL: Study Abroad In Laos 2009

Program Dates: June 15 - August 10, 2009

The Center for Lao Studies (CLS) is sponsoring its first ever Summer Study Abroad in Laos (SAIL) program in 2009 at the Lao-American College in Vientiane.

The comprehensive program offers participants a unique opportunity to intensively study the Lao language, Lao history and culture and augment their academics with cultural exposure trips and volunteer experience with an international nongovernmental organization (NGO).

During the eight-week program, SAIL students will spend three hours a day in classroom language training, and pair up with a Lao partner to further improve their speaking skills and listening comprehension.

Students will also participate in an elective course, such as Environmental Studies or ASEAN Economic Development, several times a week. Outside the classroom, the program leader will facilitate cultural activities and discussions with local artisans and teachers on topics such as textile weaving, agriculture and Buddhism, as well as guided trips to many of Laos' most important sites.

The learning experience will be completed through the volunteer program: four to ten hours a week working with a Vientiane-based NGO.

This part of the program allows students to utilize and contribute their own skills and talents to the work of a development organization, as well as learn about efforts and strategies to strengthen economic and social systems in Laos.

Deadline for applications is March 15, 2009. For complete program details, please see the SAIL brochure on the website: or contact Samantha Miller at

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Loft Poetry Festival, Saturday 9-13!

As part of the Loft Literary Center's day-long celebration of poetry in Minneapolis on Saturday, September 13th, I'll be on a special panel, "Promoting Your Poetry, Promoting Yourself."

Gee, I wonder how I got picked for that. ;)

Anyway. this session is from 1:00 - 1:45, and features 3 or 4 panelists in a very relaxed atmosphere. We're discussing our experiences for about 5 mintues each, then take questions!
Highlights of the weekend are also readings by Linda Hogan and Martin Espada! :)

See you there and check out for more details. :)

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Scenes From Diversicon

Here are some scenes from this year's Diversicon! :) Thanks to everyone who made it an exceptional convention! :)