Monday, March 31, 2014

Lao American Writers Society asks: Are you bringing Lao writers to your campus in 2014-2015?

The Lao American Writers Society is beginning outreach to see if different college campuses and institutions would be interested in having Lao American writers or artists speak to students during the 2014-2015 academic year. From their current notice:
"The 2014-2015 year is a significant one for the Lao community in the United States because it marks 60 years since the recognition of Lao independence by the United Nations and 40 years since the end of the Lao civil war and the start of the Lao diaspora. 2015 is also 20 years since the founding of the SatJaDham Lao Literary Project. 
Less than 40 books about the Lao American experience have been written by the Lao in their own words. Laos is a nation the size of Great Britain, or in the US, it's comparable to Utah, or just a little larger than Minnesota. Today, there are more Lao living outside of Laos than inside it, with expatriate communities scattered across Asia, Europe, and the Americas. 
Over 400,000 Laotians are resettled in the US. 
There's still a long way to go for the Lao: 9 out of 10 have not successfully graduated from college, and many continue to live below the federal poverty line. But for those Lao who are engaged in the arts, there is often a strong connection to lifelong success. The timely introduction of Lao American writers to these students may play a key role in Lao American cultural development over the next 20 years if history is any indication. 
Several of our award-winning writers are available to speak with different classrooms in almost every region. They can work to provide a sense of how the Lao American community came to form in the US and where the arts have played a vital role in our reconstruction. 
The writers are available individually or as a group, and they'd be delighted to work with college institutions to meet their budget and specific needs."  

Saturday, March 29, 2014

A note from the Dhammapada

"Make an island of yourself, quickly strive and wise become.
Freed from stain and passionless, you’ll not return, take flesh, decay."

-Dhammapada, verse 238

[Poem] Discussing Principles of Art with Laotians at Cha

As a nice way to close the month, my poem, "Discussing Principles of Art with Laotians" is now up at the Hong Kong-based literary journal Cha this week.

There's a lot of content in this issue including poems by Reid Mitchell, B.B.P. Hosmillo, Renée M. Schell, Edward Ragg, Mingjuan Tan, Reihana Robinson, Amy Uyematsu, Deborah Guzzi, Jenna Le, Ranu Uniyal, Suzanne Hermanoczki, and Eileen Chong.

There are many great pieces but in particular, I'll point out Schell's "Ghost Husband," Chong's "Cleansing Ritual," Uyematsu's "The Emptying Room," and "After the Fall" by Robinson as pieces my regular readers may find of special interest.

"Texting Nostalgic for Kathmandu" by Jyoti Omi Chowdhury is a photographic essay I particularly found haunting and evocative.

I'm also giving a big congratulations to Cha, which is celebrating their 6th year with this issue. I remember when I was first had a chance to submit a poem to them, "Zelkova Tree." That poem is still one of my favorite pieces. I applaud their enduring commitment to literature and fine art and wish them many more years of success in the future.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Profiled at the Poetry Foundation

Photo by Boon Vong

As a nice milestone today, I just became the very first Lao American poet to be featured on the Poetry Foundation website. It has been a long journey. One might argue well over 40 years of Lao in America. But the journey has let us learn many things, meet many people. As I noted elsewhere, I may not always be able to talk you about everyday life. But we can almost always talk of the world and art, and that is a grand point to meet.

Another point of interest connected to this: In Chicago, is the Poetry Foundation is exhibiting the handwritten versions of the poems from the Poetry Parnassus of the 2012 Olympics. There, you can see my handmade version of my poem "On A Stairway in Luang Prabang" that was part of the Olympics.

I hope my fellow Lao Americans see this not just as a personal victory, but a community victory, and that we recognize the value of our words and the things we can change from sharing our voices. That comes with responsibilities, but also infinite potential worth fighting for.

I have also now been included on their list of Asian American poets the Poetry Foundation presented earlier this month. In another post, I mentioned a number of Lao American poets who could also be included as significant and emerging voices in Lao American and world arts and letters. No one list will be completely comprehensive or complete, but it's impractical not to make an effort to start somewhere.

I have seen critiques that Asian American poetry can not be distilled into a list or manageable categories,  but I far more fear an environment where we do not make an effort to recognize individual and distinctive voices in our community.

For over six centuries, Lao culture has enjoyed a profound journey of over 160 ethnicities within our borders. Plurality and diversity and an amicable approach to life have been great hallmarks of our culture. The Lao have almost always held deep contempt for monolithic voices and uniformity. This has its disadvantages at times, but for every generation, learning to navigate that has been a journey that strengthens us rather than diminishing us. I would deeply hate to see that change.

Within the US, I particularly believe we are obliged to create and express ourselves to the limits of our imagination.

Five years ago, when I became the first Lao American to hold a fellowship in literature from the NEA, I wrote "I recognize those who gave so much around the world to bring us to this point. Some names we know, so many we do not. I thank those voices, those souls, and add my own to our collective story of freedom and dreamers. And to those who come upon these words of mine: Write. Create. Add your voice to this magnificent tale."

Those words still hold true.

Thank you all for your wonderful support over the years, and I hope we see this moment not as an end but another step in a journey that began long before us, one that will continue long after us.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

East West Players’ 48th Anniversary Visionary Awards Dinner & Silent Auction on April 28th

East West Players (EWP), the nation’s premier Asian American theatre, celebrates the achievements of individuals who have raised the visibility of the Asian Pacific American (APA) community through their craft at the 48th Anniversary Visionary Awards Dinner & Silent Auction. The fundraising event will take place on Monday April 28, 2014 at the Universal Hilton. Proceeds from the gala will benefit East West Players’ educational and artistic programs.

The 2014 Honorees are:

Paul Kikuchi (Made In America Award) is a Japanese American playwright/screenwriter. His first play, Ixnay received its world premiere in East West Players’ 2008-2009 season. In 2011, East West Player presented the world premiere of Paul’s third play Wrinkles. The following year, his fourth play Slice was presented by Metamorphosis Theatre Company at the Fremont Center Theatre in South Pasadena. His other play is The Long Arm of Stanly Matsui. As a screenwriter, two of his screenplays, Blindsided and Turnaround have been optioned.

Reggie Lee (Visionary Award) stars as ‘Sgt. Wu’ on NBC’s hit sci-fi police drama Grimm currently in its third season. Prior to Grimm, he was best known for his role as Secret Service Agent ‘Bill Kim’ on the popular FOX show Prison Break. Since having starred as Lance Nguyen in Universal’s high-octane blockbuster The Fast and the Furious in 2001, Lee has had memorable roles in films from Pirates of the Caribbean to Tropic Thunder, and more recently, in Safe and The Dark Knight Rises. Stage credits include Broadway and National Touring Companies of Miss Saigon and Carousel. He continues to be active with East West Players.

Peter Lenkov and Ken Solarz (Visionary Award) are the Executive Producers of TV show Hawaii 5-0 airing on CBS and is seen in over 200 countries.

Peter Lenkov has been a writing producer of movies and television shows for nearly 20 years. Prior to Hawaii 5-0, Lenkov served as executive producer on CSI:NY for which he won a Media Access Award. Lenkov’s additional television credits include 24, for which he earned an Emmy nomination for Best TV Series, The District and La Femme Nikita. He also co-produced the miniseries XIII based on the popular graphic novel and video game of the same name and created Metajets and Kung Fu Dino Posse, two new animated TV shows. On the big screen, writing and producing credits include Demolition Man, starring Sylvester Stallone and Sandra Bullock, Son in Law and Jury Duty. In July 2013, Universal released R.I.P.D., starring Jeff Bridges, Ryan Reynolds, and Kevin Bacon. The film was based on the comic book written by Lenkov for Dark Horse Publishing. Lenkov’s second comic series Fort: Prophet of the Unexplained was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award in 2002.

Ken Solarz began his professional writing career as a journalist for both print and television. He covered organized crime, politics and produced documentaries while working for ABC, PBS and CNN. Ken came to Hollywood in 1986 to write for Michael Mann’s Crime Story and Miami Vice. Ken has also had four movies produced, including City of Industry. He has written and produced thirteen other television series including the Untouchables, Profiler, and CSI:NY.

Maurissa Tancharoen (Visionary Award) is currently co-creator and executive producer on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. for ABC television. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she grew up singing and dancing, and toured the country as a member of a Motown pop group. At Occidental College, she became heavily involved in the theater and wrote several award-winning plays. She started her screenwriting career as a staff writer on the FOX series Oliver Beene before moving on to write an action-comedy for Revolution Studios. She also created and executive produced the MTV series Dance Life with her brother, director Kevin Tancharoen (Mortal Kombat Legacy, Fame). With her husband, Jed Whedon, and his brothers, she co-wrote and appeared in the Emmy Award winning musical Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. She then went on to write and produce for television shows such as Dollhouse, Drop Dead Diva, and Spartacus.

Current major sponsors of the gala include: PLATINUM CIRCLE – Edison International, NBC Universal, Mattel, The Walt Disney Company, CBS; GOLD CIRCLE – The Thomas R. Bancroft Family, Wells Fargo; SILVER CIRCLE – Sony Pictures Entertainment; BRONZE CIRCLE – Lynn & Brian Arthurs, Tim Dang & Darrel Cummings, I.W. Group, Inc., Rod Nakamoto, Lynn Waggoner, Reggie Lee, Sanrio, HBO, Union Bank, Mnet America; VIP Reception Sponsor is Comcast.

Award-winning composer Nathan Wang (Beijing Olympics/Shaolin Monks, Steven Spielberg’s Oscar Award-winning film The Last Days) will serve as the evening’s Musical Director.

East West Players’ 48th Anniversary Visionary Awards Dinner and Silent Auction will be held on Monday, April 28, 2014 at the Hilton Universal City, 555 Universal Hollywood Drive, Universal City, CA 91608. The no-host reception and silent auction will start at 6pm. The dinner and awards program will start at 7pm. Tickets are $175 – $1,750. Full table sponsorship packages are also available. For more information on East West Players’ 48th Anniversary Visionary Awards Dinner and Silent Auction, please visit contact East West Players at (213) 625-7000 or

Sunday, March 23, 2014

GHOSTS, Revisted

Lao American artist Sayon Syprasoueth and Michael ED Detto's exhibition "GHOSTS, Revisited" is coming to the Goethe Intitut from 4/1-15 (two weeks )in Los Angeles.

In their artists statement, they noted "Cultural memory is collective memory, and the artist plays a part in it. Today’s notions of history and memory may be flawed and disputed, but they are especially problematic for the individual that has experienced tragedy. The notion of “victims’ silence” following tragic events has often been the subject of discussion, and is frequently linked to suffering. Should victims decide to speak about their experiences, they are likely to relive past suffering, often making it unbearable."

They added: "German writer W. G. Sebald, whose books became landmark works in the realm of esthetics and its link to memory, served as an inspiration for the exhibition entitled “Ghosts.”

The exhibition includes works by Aragna Ker, Denise A. Scott., Ken Gonzales-Day, Prumsodun Ok and Michael Detto.  The exhibition focuses on the topic of memory as a central theme in exploring the roles of artists as storytellers, researchers, and/or social advocates.

As part of the exhibition, Several artists were invited to present and talk their work in Santa Monica last winter. At the Goethe-Institut, “Ghosts Revisited” offers the chance to “revisit” these works with a lecture by curator Michael EB Detto on his project “Sebald and the Image of Destruction,” as well as the opportunity to discuss the works with the artists themselves.

The Goethe Intituit is located at 5750 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 100 Los Angeles, CA 90036, USA

"Revival of a Lao Musical Treasure: Sian One Sone Kong Ban Hao"

I received an interesting letter from Henry Holmes regarding his reprinting of a classic of Lao literature, the Lao Song Book, “Siang One Sone Khong Ban Hao” (The Harmonious Sounds of Our Villages), first published in 1965. I haven't obtained a copy yet, but the proposal sounds interesting.

Here's a picture of the original book, a copy of the original sells for over $75 on the rare occasions you can find one. According to descriptions, the original was a large (9 X 12.25 in.), 75 page paperback contains a mixture of romantic and patriotic songs, interspersed with black and white photos of Laos, its king, its soldiers and people. The text is in Lao, French and English. In French, the title was Melodies de nos villages, Recueil de chansons Lao.

He wrote:

"Not long ago, I got a very pleasant email from an old friend who had (like me) served as a teacher in Laos back in the late 1960s and early ‘70s. She was enquiring about a 60-year-old collection of traditional Lao songs, but didn’t know what had happened to this book. 

I was fortunate to be one of the people who started the project, as a young teaching volunteer, back in 1962, in the ancient royal capital of Luang Prabang. It was conceived by a Catholic priest, some Lao schoolteachers, and myself, burgeoning into an international team of Lao and foreign music-lovers. We set out to identify and preserve the favorite songs of Laos, most of which were already more than 50 years old. Many were nearly forgotten. Our work caught the attention of Prime Minister Prince Souvanna Phouma and his wife, who were great enthusiasts for Lao music; he eventually wrote, by hand, his personal introduction to the book which was printed in early 1965. 

Siang One Sone Khong Ban Hao (The Harmonious Sounds of Our Villages) is an unusual piece of work. For the first time you can see the musical notes laid out on a “western” chart; the Lao words are there, as well as phonetics so that non-Lao could actually sing the 41 songs! There are summaries in both French and English. On many pages, there are stunning photos of Lao life, the countryside, and the people in those days. And as a final stroke, the whole book was printed entirely by hand. 

At the time of the project, it was described in the Asia Magazine in 1963. And in 1965, the Harvard Alumni Magazine featured the story, which provides an informal history of the project. This article is included with each copy of the book. I believe you will find the Lao Song Book to be a kind of treasure to touch the hearts of Lao people and their friends everywhere. 

 The original book was quite large, almost coffee-table size. We found that by reducing it to 9 x 6 inches, loose-leaf style, it would be far less expensive, yet still elegant and easy to read. 


 Kindly send a cheque for $29 per copy (covering fine printing and mailing) to me; I will mail your order out within less than 10 days. Those of you living outside the United States: Please let me know of your interest; I will figure the overseas postage and let you know the total cost.

Henry Holmes
370 North Civic Drive, Apt. 406
Walnut Creek, CA 94596
May I wish you some nostalgic and happy musical memories!

I'll try to see if I can get a copy soon to show you what the new release of it looks like.

Friday, March 21, 2014

"We are victims of fat tigers and foreign policy": Poetry in the Southeast Asia Globe

I was profiled this week at Southeast Asia Globe in the article “We are victims of fat tigers and foreign policy,” which was "the sixth part of a Southeast Asia Globe series that shines a light on the region’s finest poetry." A big thanks to Nathan A. Thompson for covering my work and that of Soul Choj Vang. 

Soul is a Hmong poet whose work I deeply admire and respect next to that of Burlee Vang, Pacyinz Lyfoung and Andre Yang, who each bring their own distinctive touches to Hmong arts and letters. You can find both Soul's work and my poem "The Last War Poem" in the 2002 book Bamboo Among the Oaks from the Minnesota Historical Society Press.

As we approach the 40th year of the Lao Diaspora next year, revisiting these pieces seems particularly timely.

Also, the great art for this series was done by Portland artist Natalie Phillips. You can check out more of her work at:

Lao American speaker possibilities: 2014-2015

It's getting time for student groups and college departments to start selecting their speakers for the upcoming year. As we go into the 2014-2015 school year I'm receiving numerous requests for possible guest speakers from the Lao community who audiences might find interesting.

The list that follows is by no means exhaustive, but you have to start somewhere. It will give you some particularly strong leads to go on, based on their credentials, their speaking skills, knowledge, and relative flexibility with your schedules and budget if you're interested in having someone come to your campus, library or institution.

Why might you be interested in a Lao American speaker? 2014 is the 60th year since Laos was recognized by the United Nations and 2015 is the 40th year since the end of the conflict and the beginning of the Lao Diaspora. These two years represent particularly important milestones for the modern Lao community, which has been increasingly recognized for their work nationally and internationally.

One thing to note for the upcoming year is that the SatJaDham, the Lao Literary Project was founded in April 11th, 1995 by four Lao writers living abroad.  2015 will be the 20th anniversary since the organization's founding. Ultimately, the group convened 7 national conferences and produced 5 small anthologies of Lao American writings between 1995 to 2001. The group's name came from the combination of the words "SatJa" and "Dhamma." "Satja" means truth in Lao, and "dham" is from dhamma, the teaching of the Buddha. While the network is not currently active, many of its founders and members have continued to write and contribute to community building through their art, education, civic service and volunteering, including with organizations such as the Lao Heritage Foundation, the Center for Lao Studies and the Laotian American National Alliance.

The four founders of SatJaDham were Dr. Adisack Nhouyvanisvong, the founder of Naiku, Soudary Kittivong-Greenbaum, Amphone (Guy) Phiaxay, and Kongkeo Saycocie.

Dr. Adisack Nhouyvanisvong has spent over twelve years in the educational testing industry. He has created and ensured the psychometric integrity of large-scale educational assessments for the Minnesota Department of Education and for professional and certification organizations. He is an expert in computer-based tests (CBT) and computer-adaptive tests (CAT). He has taught at the University of Minnesota and is an adjunct faculty at Metropolitan State University. Dr. Nhouyvanisvong has published in peer-reviewed measurement journals and regularly speaks at national educational measurement conferences. He has a PhD in psychology from Carnegie Mellon University and an MBA from the University of Minnesota..

Dr. Vinya Sysamouth is the executive director of the Center for Lao Studies. The Center for Lao Studies serves both as an academic and a resource center for scholars, the general public, and persons of Lao heritage around the world. Their mission is to advance knowledge and engagement in the field of Lao Studies through research, education and information sharing.

Dr. Khampha Thephavong is currently a primary care physician at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Fresno, California. Dr. Thephavong also serves on the Board of the Lao-American Advancement Center. Dr. Thephavong holds a BSN degree from the California State University of Fresno and a D.O. degree from the Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine. She is the national advisor on the Lao community to the White House Initiative on Asian American and Pacific Islanders.

Dr. Ketmani Kouanchao received her Ed.D. in Education in 2012. She has been a consultant on issues of higher education, the arts, and non-profits, with a focus on Southeast Asian Americans. Born in Savannakhet, Laos, she emigrated to the United States in 1978 and received her education in Minnesota. She is an editor of the Journal of Southeast Asian American Education and Advancement and was a member of the international SatJaDham Lao Literary Project. She writes a regular column for the Twin Cities Daily Planet. From 2001 to 2013, Dr. Kouanchao has been employed with the Mt. San Jacinto College as a senior administrator. Her most recent appointment was as the Director of Equity, Opportunity and Engagement programs for MSJC. This office includes responsibilities for diversity, leadership programming, compliance, discrimination complaints and recruitment.

Boungheng Inversin is a prominent Asian American activist and community member who plays a prominent role in Laotian refugee resettlement. She has served with the Lao American Womens Association in Washington D.C. and many other causes. With Daniel Duffy, she edited the 1999 short story collection of Outhine Bounyavong, Mother's Beloved:Stories from Laos, presented by the University of Washington Press. Mrs. Inversin was also the personal interpreter for Secretary of State Hilary Clinton during her historic visit to Laos in 2012. As you can imagine, her availability is somewhat more limited.

Thavisouk Phrasavath was a 2010 Emmy-winning director whose work was nominated for a 2009 Academy Award (Oscar) and Film Independent Spirit Award. He is an accepted member of WGAW (Writer Guild of America West). He has directed documentaries, dramatic short and music video for independent record label and artists, published poetry and won awards for paintings and illustrations. He is the author of the book Step Out of the Womb (Memoir of the Journey to Land Where the Sun Fall). His background in community work includes assisting Gang Prevention for Youth and Family Crisis Intervention and working with the police as a liaison and consultant for the Lao community. Thavisouk Phrasavath has consulted for the New York City Board of Education. The Betrayal (Nerakhoon) was the film that he was both subject and a filmmaker.

Channapha Khamvongsa is executive director of Legacies of War. She worked at the Ford Foundation and Public Interest Projects, focusing on immigrant and refugee rights, global civil society, civic engagement, capacity building and transformational leadership. She was previously appointed to the Seattle Women’s Commission and served on the boards of the Refugee Women’s Alliance and Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership (CAPAL). She is currently on the board of the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) – America. Ms. Khamvongsa was born in Vientiane and came to the U.S. at the age of seven. She studied at George Mason University and Oxford University. She received her Master’s Degree in Public Policy from Georgetown University.

Sunny Chanthanouvong and his family emigrated from Laos to Minneapolis in 1984. He first began working at the Lao Assistance Center in 1992 as a Youth Specialist, and became the executive director in 2001. building an award-winning staff focused on community service and involving the community in local and national policy. He received a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Mankato State University and completed professional development courses in nonprofit management, real estate, and leadership at Hamline University and the University of St. Thomas. He is a 2013 Bush Leadership Fellow and was a 2011-2012 Humphrey Policy Fellow. He also received a 2013 Virginia McKnight Binger Award in Human Service. He currently contributes a regular blog to the Twin Cities Daily Planet, “Sunny’s Side of Life,” discussing opportunities and his journey in building civic engagement.

Ova Saopeng is an actor and writer from Los Angeles. He was born in Savannakhet, Laos and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. He is a TeAda Productions Company Artist and co-creator of Refugee Nation a play about the Lao-American experience, based on the stories Lao communities across the U.S. ( He received his B.A. in Theater from the University of Southern California and since then has performed nationally with theater companies including the Children's Theater Company in Minneapolis, Mark Taper Forum/P.L.A.Y., East West Players, and hereandnow. He is a member of We Tell Stories and Water 's Edge Theater children's theater companies.

Saengmany Ratsabout holds a Master of Arts in Southeast Asian Studies from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Ratsabout has taught Ethnic Studies and Asian American Studies at Saint Cloud State University and was interested in exploring the social history of Laotian Americans and how immigration laws and legislations affect the community. He has worked in the non-profit and academic sector for over 13 years in various capacities.Ratsabout has been a Board Member of Laotian American National Alliance and an Executive Board Member of the Center of Lao Studies. In addition, he works as a consultant to the Lao Assistance Center of Minnesota. As a consultant with LACM, he has worked on the Get Out the Vote project, research analysis, grant writing, planning and evaluation, and community assessment. He currently works with the Immigration History Research Center (IHRC) at the University of Minnesota.

Nor Sanavongsay is an artist from Illinois who currently lives with his family in San Francisco. The author of the children's book Xieng Mieng: A Sticky Mess, he is also the founder of Sahtu Press. He is trained in both design and programming of interactive media. He’s created award winning projects for retail giants such as Sears, Motorola, and many others. During his rare off-hours, he donates his time to design posters and flyers for many community services across the US.

Catzie Vilayphonh is a member of the spoken word duo Yellow Rage and the chair of the Laos In The House interdisciplinary exhibition coming to Philadelphia in 2015. Catzie appeared on Russell Simmons' Def Poetry Jam in 2001 and performs at various venues across the country. She has performed with Ursula Rucker, Sarah Jones, Danny Hoch, Beau Sia and I Was Born with Two Tongues. Vilayphonh was the Fashion Director for magazine in Philadelphia, where she also wrote her weekly column Catz Out The Bag interviewing everyone from designers to directors and artists to actors. She was also the Transmit Editor for Theme Magazine, a contemporary Asian American culture publication based out of New York. Visit her at

Saymoukda Vongsay is a Lao American poet and playwright whose passion is arts advocacy. Her work has been published by Altra Magazine, The Journal of Southeast Asian American Education and Advancement, St. Paul Almanac, Lao American Magazine, and Bakka Literary Journal, to name a few. She has taught and performed spoken word poetry from the Midwest to the East and West coasts, as well as in Italy and Japan. Saymoukda is a co-founding member of the Unit Collective of Emerging Playwrights of Color and an active participant with Pillsbury House Theater’s Chicago Avenue Project. She is a 2011 Jerome Foundation/Mu Performing Arts' New Eyes Theater Fellow, winner of the 2010 Alfred C. Carey Prize in Spoken Word Poetry (NY), and an advisory board member of the 2010 MPLS Asian Film Festival. Her full-length play, Kung Fu Zombies vs Cannibals, was commissioned by Mu Performing Arts. Saymoukda is pursuing an interdisciplinary Masters degree in Public Policy, Social Work, and Creative Writing at the U of MN.

Pom Outama Khampradith has worked at a national level to promote, preserve, and transmit Lao culture through the arts all throughout the United States. She has been the Artistic Director of the Kinnaly – Lao Traditional Music and Dance Troupe based in Seattle, Washington, where she teaches over 60 second-generation Lao American youth the art of Lao traditional dance in all its rigorous training and original choreographies, while experimenting with and incorporating contemporary Lao music and dance styles. Particularly noteworthy is Kinnaly’s efforts to perform on live music accompanied by a traditional Lao deum band all of the time. Recently she has had the honor of training under Laos’ most celebrated dance master, ajarn Kongseng Pongphimkham. Most remarkable is her gift in generating a genuine interest in her students to explore their heritage beyond dance, integrating into her curriculum the learning of traditional arts and crafts, Lao language and folklore. She has been dancing for over 25 years.

UPDATE:  Because more than a few of you insisted.
Bryan Thao Worra is an award-winning Lao American writer.His work appears in over 100 international anthologies, magazines and newspapers, including Innsmouth Free Press, Kartika Review, Outsiders Within, Bamboo Among the Oaks, Tales of the Unanticipated, Astropoetica, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Journal of the Asian American Renaissance, and Asian American Press. In 2009 he became the first Laotian American to receive an NEA Fellowship In Literature. In 2012 he was a Cultural Olympian during the Summer Olympics in London representing Laos. He is the author of numerous books and holds over 20 awards for his writing and community service.

 More speaker suggestions to follow!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Lao American Theater in 2014

This April, TeAda Productions' Refugee Nation will be returning to Minneapolis after 4 years with a new version of the popular Lao American play. Among the new elements is an expansion of Litdet Viravong’s role and new opportunities for local artists to be involved.

They'll be coming back to Intermedia Arts from April 10-13 and April 17-20. The show starts at 7PM Thursdays – Saturdays and at 2:30PM  on the Sundays. There will be free childcare provided during the Sunday matinee performances for youth ages 3 – 11.

Another thing to keep on our radar will be the next National Asian American Theater Conference and Festival is taking place in Philadelphia this year, October 8th-12th, 2014.

Catzie Vilayphonh and her Laos in the House project are going to be collaborating with Saymoukda Vongsay of Kung Fu Zombies vs. Cannibals fame as well as the members of Refugee Nation to discuss their experiences, show examples of their work and consider the next directions they want to take.

The ConFest is currently entitled "Home: Here…There… Where?"

The conference is centered around the proposition that trough the lens of the Asian American experience of migration and the search for a sense of “place” and equity on personal, community, and global levels, there is a distinctive Asian American relationship to broad definitions and meanings of home.

Already scheduled are 4 full-length productions, 2 performance showcases, 20 panel discussions or workshops, and 3 plenary sessions. There will also be open-mic opportunities, video presentation sessions with artists sharing work-in-progress, neighborhood artist/open studio and community tours, new play readings, and open space sessions.

I think it will be interesting to see how Lao American theater artists respond to the idea in comparison to other Asian Americans represented there.

All of this has me thinking of how it also might fit into the traditional Lao theater form of Lam Luang.

Lam Luang is a form of Lao theater where morlam singers and others dress up to enact various characters from Lao folklore and our legendary epics. This is a sung story but they range from the family-friendly to the lewd, with serious and bawdy works among the repertoire. Several stock characters might appear in a Lam Luang performance. These include the hero, ພຣະເອກ, heroine ນາງເອກ, king father, queen mother, clown, villain ຜູ້ຮ້າຽ, and supernatural forces such as gods, demons, spirits, or Nyak.

The question for me has to be: How might we make this cost-effective and interesting to mount different productions in the United States, and what might be the community's larger development advantage if they were able to successfully popularize it.

As you might expect, the Lam Luang form includes Jataka tales of the Buddha's life but can also reflect contemporary development projects and community concerns such as UXO. At the present moment, we're seeing modern and classical Lao music incorporated into this form. But there are other possibilities.

As an artist I think our responsibility has to be to push it as far the form as far as it can be pushed. To straddle that odd line between mastering the traditional form with excellent production values but to still do what no one has done before, due to various constraints of time, space, budget, and talent.

The question I have to consider as an arts developer is: Given the current level of philanthropic support for Asian American theater, should Lao American theater go after the same funds or strive to develop independently? Much as the research shows saying your book comes from an indie publisher doesn't really affect people's decision to buy that book, does saying your an Asian American theater production over a Lao American theater production bring in that many more audience members or funding dollars to underwrite the development and production costs?

Without a sustained commitment from Asian American philanthropists or Lao American philanthropists, I think the question is really in the air.

Admittedly, now I can't get "The Producers" out of my head:

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A New Future for Poetry in Post-Censorship Burma

Poetry Foundation has a great article by Harriet Staff on "A New Future for Poetry in Post-Censorship Burma" taking particular note of James Bynre's piece for The Dissident. Byrne noted "I came to realise that the poets were essentially working undercover. They were survivors (those that had survived) and the poetry was extraordinarily rich in imagery, playfulness and dense in metaphor."

This was an environment where for the better part of the 20th and 21st century words became liabilities. We find out in the article that words like "red," "sunset," even "mother" became forbidden. A book that will be of extreme interest to those of us working on similar issues is Bones Will Crow: 15 Contemporary Burmese Poets, which is the first anthology of Burmese poetry to be printed in Europe and the Americas.

As I begin to transition into doing my work with Sahtu Press, I'm particularly struck by Byrne's remarks: "If you probe deeper and talk to many of the writers inside the country suspicion of the government and Western cultural organisations remains. In fact, several poets in Mandalay boycotted the Irrawaddy Festival this year because of apparent shoddy treatment by the (mostly British) organisers. Last year during the festival I became aware that many key Burmese writers were disappointed by their low-level of involvement in the festival. Clearly there is a need for the Burmese to decide how best to celebrate their own literature. This could take the form of an independently-run festival organised by the Burmese themselves."

It suggests to me that my work on the National Lao American Writers Summit is and remains an important effort. We'll find out later this week if we have been greenlit to convene the next National Lao American Writers Summit for August, or if it must wait until 2015, five years later.

It is my hope that Burmese, particularly Karen in Minnesota are able to build the critical mass they need, too, to rebuild their literary traditions. This will be one of the pressing questions of the Minnesota Legacy funds- if they will be willing to aid the newest Minnesotans, however brief their time among us has been.

I empathize deeply with their situation, and there are many other Lao who can appreciate this journey very concretely. Time will tell if we can rise up to the occasion or if we will all become cultures whom history rolls over, another story between the cracks filled with "what might have beens."

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Poem From A Secret War, 2557

I’m telling you
This poem is science fiction
To keep you safe.

Not a word of trouble
About the “could have been”
Questions that get you killed.

But for a brief moment, we are
Imagining together. Reading.
What have I written?
We switch places like magic.

I become you.
You become me, briefly, returned
By the time it takes to finish.

Lips secretly moving
After work,before bed.

Or perhaps it’s a weekend.
Our states are questionable.

Encounters are funny.
Today, they are not lethal.

Honestly, I imagine you found me
Strictly by chance, more than choice.

In my tongue, you detect no rhyme.
In your tongue, this poem is not a crime.

I buried this poem on a page
Among words you seem destined to read
All of the way to the end.

I will mention great old ones and stars
No one objects to,
Except ghosts. Phi.

You will dismiss this,
And I will regret

This discussion, this fantasy,
This vague recollection of conflict
Can give you

No heroes

Except those you make
For yourself.

The Canon of Cthulhu

I recently discovered I have my own official reference code, WT10, when people are citing my short story, "What Hides, What Returns," in the Cthulhu Mythos in Wikipedia. Yes, that and a cup of coffee get you a cup of coffee, but it's nice to know my work -is- seriously considered part of the mythos.

I hope it won't be too long before the contributions to the Mythos found in DEMONSTRA get cataloged. There I introduced the Laotian Great Old Ones like Gop Nyai, the Frog Who Devours Moons, and Nyar Thep, an avatar of Nyarlathotep. Other elements include the text of the Ktulu Jataka, and the Tao Yaomo Ching, and Phra Bok, who brings doom to New Sarnath. But we'll see where it all goes. In the meantime, I'm happy enough people felt the work in "What Hides, What returns," merited a reference code throughout Wikipedia. WT10 it is!

Op-ed at the Twin Cities Daily Planet: Creating Councils That Matter

My op-ed, "Creating Councils That Matter" is up at the Twin Cities Daily Planet this week, examining the journey and need for more resources for Minnesota institutions such as the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans.

The report from the Minnesota Office of the Legislative Auditor called for either the elimination or strengthening of the councils, but as they were presently operating, they were too isolated and had too many other barriers in place reducing their effectiveness.

Winchester House opened to overnight guests

Years ago, one of my first visits with my mother after 30 years was to the haunted Winchester House in California. As the legend goes, the heiress to the Winchester fortune felt cursed by the spirits of those who'd been killed by Winchester rifles and moved to San Jose, California where she used what was left of her fortune to build guest rooms for all of the ghosts. Construction never ceased, going on 24 hours a day until the day she died. No one really knows if the ghosts were appeased or what happened to her after she passed on to the other side.

I'm not sure mom ever quite understood the story behind the house, or why we were there. But in any case, it's now been opened up for overnight guests and serving booze on the premises. It won't be like a hotel, but guests can make arrangements to get the full "Winchester House" experience. Hmm. Time to see when I've got a free date on the calendar. It would certainly make for an interesting writer's retreat.

Dinosaurs and Dreams: Savannakhet and Cabazon

Savannakhet, Laos is home to one of the "biggest" dinosaur museums in Laos. Or at least Savannakhet. Everything's relative in this instance.

Having grown up with a great love of dinosaurs myself, I empathize with the owner and his passion. It's up there with the joy of Don Quixote and Emperor Norton, in my book, and in the years ahead, I hope to help him out a little bit more.

In the meantime, I thought it would be important to visit one of the biggest dinosaur museums of Cabazon, California to see how they do it. Granted, the museum is presently overrun with creationist materials, but it still raises a quirky enough bar that maybe our Lao colleagues will get inspired to make Savannakhet a major dinosaur attraction of Southeast Asia one day.

Here are a few of the shots from the journey:

Dinny the Dinosaur was most recently made famous in the computer game Fallout: New Vegas. A few artistic liberties were taken with the level design, but in case you're curious, you COULD do much of what they suggested in that game in a far-flung, post-apocalyptic future.

The dinosaur park has been featured in at least two films, Pee-Wee's Big Adventure and The Wizard. The stop has fallen on hard times since, with most of the restaurants nearby having gone out of business.

Still, the city of Cabazon is your go to place if you're looking for Robot Dinosaur Exhibits. They've found several animatronic dinosaurs in great condition, as well as a variety of others of varying degree of authenticity.

At  a certain point, it becomes clear much of the museum is run for entertainment purposes to widen the imagination and your sense of the possible and occasionally, the absurd.

It also occasionally feels like a space where you're uncertain who'll meet next, such as, say, Rex, or a relative of Rex from Pixar's Toy Story series. It's entirely possible the resemblance is completely coincidental.

For $7.95 to see the whole thing, it's an interesting stop. The whole exhibit was clearly designed as a labor of love and some wily collecting. Hopefully, one day the residents of Cabezon will recognize it for the cultural treasure it is and work to ensure that it's preserved.

As for the dinosaur museum in Savannakhet, I ponder now what would really make the most sense for the community and how we might tie its success to the greater success of Savannakhet and Laos as a whole. There are many opportunities to consider. What if Savannakhet took its cue from the city of Nantes, in France, for example, with its giant marionettes?

Lecturing on Chickering's 7 vectors: March 18th

Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?
Paul Gauguin, 1897

I'll be lecturing on Chickering's 7 vectors and community college student leadership on Tuesday, March 18th at Mt. San Jacinto College from 12:30-1:30pm. Bring your questions and ideas and I look forward to discussing it with you!

Chickering's Theory of Identity Development explains the process of identity development. The theory was created specifically to examine the identity development process of students in higher education. Other organizations and institutions have found it has practical applications for them as well.

 The core concerns are how does a student developing competence, manage their emotions, become autonomous and then interdependent, how do they develop mature interpersonal relationships and an identity, a purpose, and integrity.

For the point of this lecture we want to ask where do student organizations fit in with that both for the leaders and the participants and how might we make better programs that help everyone at different points in their development.

This session is free to students and their families at Mt. San Jacinto College.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Lao Americans Writers: Time to ratchet things up a notch

This week I saw that two of my poems had been nominated for a Rhysling Award from the Science Fiction Poetry Association. This is the first year that my work has been considered for this award, so I'm happy about that. The poems in consideration both appeared in Expanded Horizons: "The Robo Sutra" and "Five Flavors."

Maria Mitchell provided original artwork inspired by "The Robo Sutra" which appeared in the December, 2013 issue:

The winning works are "regularly reprinted in the Nebula Awards Anthology from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc., and are considered in the SF/F/H/Spec. field to be the equivalent in poetry of the awards given for "prose" work— achievement awards given to poets by the writing peers of their own field of literature."

As I've mentioned elsewhere, win or lose, I'm happy this year. Why? Because now that Lao poems have made it this far, openly tapping into our heritage and our imagination, we've set a precedent. I hope many other Lao poets will find courage from.this and dare to discuss a future where Lao are still a part of the world.

At the same time, as I've mentioned to Saymoukda Vongsay, as Laotian Americans, we need to ratchet things up a notch, not only within Lao science fiction, fantasy and horror, but in all of our books. There's right ways and wrong ways to go about that.

As proud as I am of Kung Fu Zombies vs. Cannibals, Nor Sanavongsay's A Sticky Mess, my own DEMONSTRA, and so many others, I also know we can do better. Many of our recent films are in the same boat. As we approach the next horizon, mediocrity needs to be stomped on. Hard.

Across the board, I think every Lao American book that comes to mind has been falling short of technical perfection over the last 40 years. Even the best of our work.

In every book, Lao or not, there's at least one thing that the author could have done better, if we're really honest with ourselves. That imperfection is part of the human condition, but it doesn't mean we should stand by lackadaisically accepting it like Job or Dr. Pangloss, saying this is the best of all possible worlds.

I'm not saying focus so much on production values that in the end we have a technically perfect book that has a boring story. But we can do more to create and present works that deserve to last generations. We cannot just idly accept the "merely competent." We must strive for excellence on our own terms that transcends the expectations of previous generations and even our own contemporaries.

This is a hard critique to write, but we owe it to ourselves and to our readers to hold ourselves to the highest standards. We may not always hit J.K. Rowling or Stephen King numbers, but when we create, we must do so passionately to the very limits of our abilities. It must be breathtaking in its risk, it must be an experience to encounter. We should never settle for less.

There's an old quote by Hokusai on his 70th birthday that I adore:
'From the age of 6 I had a mania for drawing the shapes of things. When I was 50 I had published a universe of designs. But all I have done before the the age of 70 is not worth bothering with. At 75 I'll have learned something of the pattern of nature, of animals, of plants, of trees, birds, fish and insects. When I am 80 you will see real progress. At 90 I shall have cut my way deeply into the mystery of life itself. At 100, I shall be a marvelous artist. At 110, everything I create; a dot, a line, will jump to life as never before. To all of you who are going to live as long as I do, I promise to keep my word. I am writing this in my old age. I used to call myself Hokusai, but today I sign my self 'The Old Man Mad About Drawing."
How can Lao not strive for that same ambition?

At the same time I'll also point out the counsel an old college friend of mine once gave me that lingers in my mind: You cannot be a true writer until you can look yourself in the mirror when you wake up in the morning and say: "I've written some pretty dogshit stuff." But then you have to be able to forgive yourself, commit to writing even better than the day before, and move forward.  Fortunately, as Lao writers, we're currently having more good moments than bad, but we cannot let ourselves rest on our laurels. We must push on.

Our very future depends on it.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

She Walks In Shadows fully funded!

Coming out of Innsmouth Free Press, it's an all-woman anthology of stores reframing many of the classic women and entities from the Cthulhu Mythos. Officially funded, they're now in stretch goal mode. Their hope is to raise an additional $1,000 to cover interior art for the various stories being presented for this collection.

Among the writers I'll be particularly watching out for in this collection are: Carrie Cuinn, who will be writing Anna Tilton from “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” and Benjanun Sriduangkaew who is writing Pth'thya-l'yi. Ann. K Schwader is contributing poetry using Ammutseba, an original Mythos entity she contributed to the canon years ago.

I'm also keeping an eye out for Molly Tanzer, who is writing a story with Asenath Waite from "The Thing on the Doorstep" and Cynthia Ward, who is writing Mother Hydra, an entity appearing in many classic stories including "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," and "Dagon." There are several others also committed to the project well worth checking out.

Every little bit helps, but don't let that stop you from chipping in big bits, too. Or Great Old Bits, as the case may be here.

Friday, March 07, 2014

[Poem] What the Guide Said

“Because I don’t really
Want you looking for it,
I’m going to call it
Phou Phi Jai Dam.
It’s not poetry, but
You can tell your readers
‘Peak of the Black-Hearted Ghosts.’

“It’s up to you to decide
If I’m whispering of Bokeo hill spirits
Or Phonsavan poltergeists bumping at night.
Maybe it’s near the Demon Straits or Phou Pha Thi,
But for you safety, I recommend you leave it be.”

“Maybe you can give it a dull name like K2
As Americans are so wont to do.
That mountain will still be here
Long after you’re gone.
Call it what you will.”

“There you might find nubile Nyakinee
Dancing the true Fon Nyak to an indecent tune,
Plucking horrible fruit forbidden for humans,
Adorned in putrid garlands of despair and folly,
Wearing a hungry sinh fashioned from
A vain humans’ hair and skin.”

“If no one’s watching, you can pilfer rare variations
Of the midnight horror, oroxylum indicum,
To replace crimson Nak tongue beans you need for
A brew of immortality, memorable for its stench
Of obscene, prediluvian milk perversely infused
With scales of the drowned and beautiful eyes.”

“But be precise in your measures, or everything
Simply comes to suffering.
Again. “

"If they catch you, they'll press your skull
Easily as a cold olive for a pitiless vinaigrette.
Or flay you for a hellhorse saddle.”

He chuckles, old smoke made man,
“If you absolutely insist on seeking,
You might get your perilous bearings
Looking from the snaggle-toothed outskirts
Of Muang Phi Lao and her profane pillars
Of devoured yesterdays, wailing of severed roads.”

He peddles away with a cryptic wink,
Hair slick as a corpse ink shot
From the Never Seen Again Bar.

High above, a stray cosmic hound’s maw widens,
Foaming with nameless stars.

Refugee Nerdery at the Twin Cities Daily Planet

This weekend at the Twin Cities Daily Planet is my latest column on science fiction conventions, refugee resettlement, education and the arts: Refugee Nerdery. As we go into the beginning of convention season for this year, here's a big shoutout to all of my readers behind MarsCon, Diversicon, ConVergence, Arcana and the many others who've helped me create a space for Lao American art and artists in a time when no one else really sought us out. You've made a difference!

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Lao American poet snapshot

Poetry Foundation recently featured an article on Asian American poetry which has an excellent list of many of my favorite Asian American poets. I've interviewed several of them over the years for Asian American Press and other journals.

The list is notable in that the first draft does not include Lao American poets. However, with the approach of the Lao New Year this April, and as Laos celebrates its 60th year since being recognized by the United Nations it seems appropriate to mention a few of the active Lao American poets who could have been included in such a list.

Naturally, I would suggest the award-winning poet Saymoukda Vongsay, who received the Carey Prize in Spoken Word and is the author No Regrets, although many may be more familiar with her plays such as Yellow Tail Sashimi, and of course Kung Fu Zombies vs. Cannibals.

Catzie Vilayphonh is half of the spoken word duo Yellow Rage, which was the first Asian American act to perform on HBO's Russell Simmons Def Poetry Jam. She is currently organizing the Laos In The House project to bring Lao artists and writers to Philadelphia in 2015 in time for the 40th anniversary of the Lao diaspora.

Phayvanh Leukhamhan is a Vermont-based poet who participated in the Kundiman Retreat for Asian American poets and who worked with Souphine Phathsoungneun to create the poetic opera “I Think of This Every Time I Think of Mountains," although I consider it a little hard to find copies of the whole thing.

Sery Bounphasaysonh is an emerging writer whose work I enjoy, and featured his poetry at the Journal of Southeast Asian American Education and Advancement in 2012, along with the poetry of Krysada Panusith Phounsiri and Jim Vongsouvanh.

I'd certainly watch all of their work for a sense of where Lao American poetry is headed.

The SatJaDham Lao Literary Project was founded in 1995, and as it approaches its 20th birthday, I think it's important to remember the many different poets whose work was featured in their anthologies. For some, it represented the whole of their published work to date, but for others like Kongkeo Saycocie, they have continued to share their work widely online as the Lao rebuild in the aftermath of our many conflicts.

There are many Lao American poets who we could name, but in the interests of time and space, we'll keep this list brief for now. I am hopeful that in the next few weeks we'll get some good news about the 2nd National Lao American Writers Summit among other projects.

On The Other Side Of The Eye included at New Pages

"On The Other Side Of The Eye" was included as a writer's resource by New Pages this week. It's nice to be appreciated. It can be found among many other fine blogs by writers from around the world, offering various bits of advice and opportunities for emerging and established writers.

I consider them an essential resource at the moment, with one of the better up-to-date calls for submissions you're going to find anywhere online without going through someone like Duotrope. Be sure to regularly check their calls for submissions for great literary journals and projects to submit your work.  

I guess that means extra dachshund pictures need to go up here now.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Happy birthday, King Kong!

Today marks the 81st anniversary since the movie King Kong first appeared and changed horror cinema forever.

I found it interesting that there's so little material that takes up the challenge of King Kong vs. Cthulhu. Godzilla vs. Cthulhu certainly. But few people entertain the possibility of an encounter between the residents of Skull Island and the non-Euclidian island city of R'lyeh.

Would King Kong be outmatched against the Great Old One? Certainly. But so were the humans on the boat in Lovecraft's classic story, and many of them turned out... well, fine is a relative term, I suppose.

Some might expect my interest in King Kong also includes his disputed battle with the Japanese kaiju, Godzilla. For years the rumor was that in the Japanese version, Godzilla won, but in the American version, King Kong won, but the truth is that a careful watching shows it was fought to a standstill. This does come into play in the way I handle several of my poems from a Lao American perspective.

But another more significant literary influence for me was the way author Graham Greene used King Kong as a motif in his book The Captain and the Enemy. This novella was an unusual part of Green's output, but when you read through it, the closing lines of "What or who is King Kong?" is absolutely haunting.

King Kong makes a few appearances in my book DEMONSTRA, including a sequence in "The Dream Highway of Ms. Mannivongsa," where we ask if he might have been a contemporary of the monkey warrior general Hanuman during the battle against the Nyaks at Lanka during the epic of Phra Lak Phra Lam:


Rats live on no evil star:
Good luck in China, pests in New York,
Especially in the walls.

Last time in the city, some sleazy Hee-Haw reject
Was threatening to take his Texas time with her,
“Every way but wrong,” arrayed in tacky rhinestones. 

When she’s awake, magic doesn’t usually work right,
But sometimes, karma lends a hand or calls a cab

A poet friend, back from practicing
His mad science in Imperial City,
Had a day off and went to an aquarium,
Marveling at dolphins and Jiang Kui,
Wondering if we’re evolved remoras, secretly.

At night she never goes without her six-demon bag
She found for a steal in Little China, ten times more handy
Than crappy designer knockoffs her friends tote absurdly.

Doc Ratsabout asks in the shadow of Lady Liberty:
“Was King Kong secretly a Vanon veteran?
A sulking simian sword-saint
Who somehow survived
The savage siege of Lanka
With the honored hero Hanoumane,
Living out the last of his modest pension
Pent up on Skull Island?”

Yank someone from his home
Just for a sideshow, you can’t expect
Everything will be dandy.

She debates which souvenirs to get her niece in Modesto.
The official Trippy Master Monchichi, or Hello, Piggy?
A rare copy of It Ain’t Truth If It Doesn’t Hurt, maybe?

Wayward Wah-Ming would know,
But she’s always busy in a library
Or off wandering a street of albino crocodiles.

That’s the persistent problem with this city:
Who ya gonna call?

Her cousin Noy is right: Some have an angel heart.
But those were usually in a jar on their desk, waiting
For the girl of
Their dreams.

How could she ever live here, when it was so hard
To find a decent bowl of kowpoon?

Japanese yokai: The Rokurokubi

Here we have Sawaki Suushi's 1737 image of a Rokurokubi, one of the classic spirits of Japan notable for their long necks in the most common version, although another has a head that can detach and fly around. Unlike the Phi Kasu, of Laos a Rokurokubi's viscera and entrails do not typically fly with her head. The ability of the Rokurokubi to elongate their necks brings to mind the imagery of the ghost Nang Nak when she elongated her arms to reach for through the floor of her home to retrieve a piece of lime she dropped while cooking. 

Some scholars feel the legend came to Japan from overseas during the Muromachi period (1300s-1500s) as a result of traders doing business in Southeast Asia and southern China, or around the height of Lan Xang. In China they were referred to as the Rakuto or Hitoban. The Rokurokubi whose necks elongate are a newer legend. But it would be interesting to see what would happen if these spirits came to visit Laos after so many centuries.

One era such exchanges might plausibly take place would be during World War 2, following the Japanese occupation of Laos in 1945.

There are Hmong anecdotes of watching Japanese units, informed of the surrender of Japan, committing suicide by placing grenades under their hats after pulling the pins. Most likely it would have been a Type 97 grenade, 九七式手榴弾 or Kyūnana-shiki Teryūdan, like this one:

Until recently, Japan was one of the largest contributors of foreign aid to Laos, and there any number of possibilities how a yokai from Japan might have traveled to Laos. The question is, how would they interact, if at all, with the local phi, and would it be different from their interactions with the Hmong dab, and other entities reputed to inhabit the highlands or who have yet to be discovered.

It's an interesting scenario for writers to consider.

Revisiting "African Sci-Fi ≠ Western Sci-Fi"

A great 2013 article on African science fiction "African Sci-Fi ≠ Western Sci-Fi" by Curt Hopkins examines some of the issues facing contemporary African science fiction today and what I think many of us would consider to be positive directions it's taking. It has many implications for Lao science fiction, fantasy and horror. I hope many of our emerging writers give it some strong and serious consideration.

Although written almost a year ago, its central premise remains relevant. Like many countries in Africa, Laos too was bombarded with ideas that mechanization was the same as civilization. 

Laos saw the lingering and corrosive specter of such ideas during the pushback in Luang Prabang, when locals wanted to use development funds from UNESCO's World Heritage Site designation to build skyscrapers of glass and concrete. They considered wood "the construction material of the poor," disregarding the fact that it was these classic wood structures and the idyllic ancient architecture that earned this designation in the first place.

The idea that Africans can connect machinery with a sense of extraction and exploitation resonates with me as I watch foreign mining, animal trafficking and deforestation taking place unhindered by any concerns for sustainability.

Toyin Agbetu's comment "African sci-fi literature often differs from Eurocentric visions of the future in that it often normalises spiritual beliefs alongside often contrary views on what is regarded as technological development,” also struck a chord with me that I think we may already be seeing in many of the works of Lao writers in diaspora.

How will that ultimately manifest itself? I am uncertain, but would approach the idea with great curiosity.

I look at the work of writers like Minister Faust, Saladin Ahmed, and Sofia Samatar and am quite encouraged by the ground we can break, but also remain acutely aware of the ground we must still cover.