Monday, August 31, 2015

Call for Submissions: Journal of Southeast Asian American Education and Advancement

Please Share: The Journal of Southeast Asian American Education and Advancement is still looking for submissions for creative works for this year. Poetry, prose, creative non-fiction accepted. I strongly encourage you to submit given that this is the 40th anniversary of the Southeast Asian Diaspora and your voices matter.

As usual, I'm particularly looking for interesting pieces from Khmu, Tai Dam, Lue, Iu Mien, Hmong, Lao, Vietnamese, Karen, Khmer, Rhade / E De, Bru, Nung, Deng, and Akha writers.

The Journal of Southeast Asian American Education and Advancement (ISSN 2153-8999) is an on-line and freely accessible interdisciplinary journal providing a forum for scholars and writers from diverse fields who share a common interest in Southeast Asian (SEA) Americans and their communities. JSAAEA is an official publication of The National Association for the Education and Advancement of Cambodian, Laotian, and Vietnamese Americans (NAFEA), and is currently based out of the University of Purdue.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

10 Years After Hurricane Katrina and a village called Versailles

This month marks 10 years since Hurrican Katrina, and one of the interesting stories that emerged out of this for me was the story of the Vietnamese residents of the New Orleans neighborhood called Versailles. I had a chance to visit them a few years back while studying contemporary social justice, and it was a moving story,

They were among the first to return to rebuild when almost no one else would, and many had been refugees for so many decades: First driven out of North Vietnam for their Christianity, then out of South Vietnam, and then resettled in New Orleans during the height of judicial and political corruption in the region, in one of the very worst school districts surrounded by deep poverty and racism. They put up with all of that, and wanted to get back to just living their lives, then New Orleans literally began dumping garbage on them, using their neighborhood as a toxic waste landfill. And they had enough.

The documentary "A Village Called Versailles" is a great story of civic engagement and what happens when you finally push a commuity "too far." They start to speak up for themselves.

Check it out!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Uncanny Magazine Year 2 Needs Your Help!

This month, Uncanny Magazine is doing its annual kickstarter and just met their minimal funding goal. They now enter into their stretch goal phase with some ambitious hopes and some great content additions if they can get to the $31,000 mark, or, as of this post, $11,000 more. 

In their debut year they demonstrated their amazing capability to bring together amazing prose, poetry and visual art to our readers reflecting diverse voices and experiences. They've created a great space for both emerging writers and established writers from around the world, and I think that's well worth supporting.  I consider them a positive and supportive space where we're seeing some amazing ideas and visions come forward. 

Among the poets whose work is anticipated for the next year are Sofia Samatar, Isabel Yap, Sonya Taaffe, and M Sereno, so I'll be looking forward to seeing what they bring in 2016. I was partiuclarly honored to have my poem, "Slices of Failues In Super Science" included in their 5th issue, and I've always found them very open to speculative work from Southeast Asian American writers in diaspora, which is a rare thing in the North American markets, frankly. 

The campaign concludes on September 10th, but as with any kickstarter campaign, contributing sooner rather than later is always helpful.


Ruth-Inge Heinze's Tham Khwan: How to Contain the Essence of Life.

In Ruth-Inge Heinze's now-rare Tham Khwan : How to Contain the Essence of Life. Singapore University Press, (1982) she outlined several of the supernatural entities known to abound in Southeast Asia, particularly Thailand and Laos. The spellings are a little different from some of the ones more commonly used today, but provide a good baseline for consideration.

chao phi – spirit-lord : ghost of noble died in accident as spirit of locality

p[r]eta – hungry ghost : "may whistle at night"

phi am – "sits on the chest or the liver of sleepers."

phi chamob – "ghost who haunts where a woman died in the jungle."

phi ha -- "spirit of a woman who died in childbirth."

phi krahan – "appears as a man with feathers and tail like a bird." (in the north and the northeast this spirit is called "phi hoan")

phi krasy – "inside a witch and leaves her during sleep by her mouth. This phi has ... long bluish tail. ... Krasy witches have a sleepy appearance during the day. Their eyes don’t blink and they never look anybody in the face. Also, they don’t cast any reflection into a mirror. {This may be true during a dream.} Before krasy witches die, they have to find somebody who inherits the krasy".

phi kuman – "spirit of an infant who died before or shortly after birth." "The infant’s corpse has to be put into a pot which is closed with leaves ... on which charms have been written. The pot in then set afloat" on a river.{cf. Norse (et al.) setting adrift (on a boat) of corpses of the dead; Chinese "burial-writs"; and Hindu placing of bones of cremated corpses into a pot, to be deposited in a sacred river.}

phi lok [loka ‘locality’] – "haunts at certain places."

phi pa – "spirit of someone who has died away from home."

phi phrai – spirit of a woman’s corpse from which magical substance hath been extracted by sorcerer : "essences are made which drive men mad and attract women."

phi phut [bhuta] = phi phrai

phi tai ha – "spirit of a woman who has died of malaria."

phi tai hon – "a headless ghost of one who has died a violent death" {in Borneo, headless ghosts are those of headhunting-victims}

phi tai than krom = phi ha

phi thuk khun – "substance of a living person which has be sent out every week so that no harm will come to its owner." {cf. Siberian "external soul"}

phi yad – "dead kin."

Spirits who exist on their own account (Nature-spirits)

chao khao – Lord of the Mountain

chao thi – Lord of the Place

chao thun – Lord of the Open Land

mai ja nan – Boat-Mother

mae thorani – Mother Earth

phi ca kla – "spirit in the shape of a jungle cat."

phi khamod – "spirit in the shape of a red star who misleads wanderers."

phi kin hoi – "spirit in the shape of a vampire bat."

phi kon koi – "one-legged spirit."

phi lan kluan – "spirit through whose body one can see." [transparent]

phi lin lom – "windborn monkey spirit." {according to the Nepalese tradition, the god Vayu (‘Wind’) hath "the form of a monkey with a particularly long nose and large belly." (Tunsuriban, p. 163)}

phi mahesak [Maha-s`akra = Maha-indra] (in the northeast) – spirit of great power

phi nan tani – "female tree (except teakwood) spirit who may fill almsbowls of wandering monks."

phi pa – forest-spirit. "Hunters may leave a piece of ... a killed animal, ... to show respect to this spirit."

phi phun tai – "spirit in the shape of a shooting star."

phi poan khan – "spirit in the shape of a black monkey who may suck the big tow of somebody sleeping in the jungle ... near a salt lick."

phi ryan – "guardian spirit who takes residence in a spirit house."

phi sum – "fish-trap ghost."

phra phum – "ancestor spirit or former owner of the land."

phrai nam – "spirit of the water."

thewada cuti – "god who became a mortal rising from the tail of a green snake."

Academic papers of interest: Southeast Asian spirits and ghosts

Some interesting academic papers to keep an eye out for when doing research on Southeast Asian spirits and ghosts. In this batch, some regarding Laos, Thailand, and Burma:

Fear and Loathing in the Laotian Highlands
Author: Guido Sprenger (University of Heidelberg)

Short Abstract
Among Rmeet in Laos, proong are said to live as ordinary villagers by day and blood-sucking half-humans by night. What does this tell us about concepts of humanity and sociality, when social spaces harbour the inversion of the social?

Long Abstract
Concepts of destructive and dangerous, yet person-like beings point to an unsettledness of the sociality of humans. The ambivalence which they represent is heightened if these beings shift between roles, being ordinary members of society in one context and dangerous monsters in another. This paper elaborates upon the proong in upland Laos, a category of people who turn into half-humans at night, eating corpses and sucking life out of sick persons and newborn children.

Villagers of the Rmeet acknowledge that some of their neighbours might be proong, however today this hardly ever leads to open accusations or banishment. For most of the time, their existence is made intelligible by stories and precautionary measures, but the identities of local proong remain undetermined. This paper explores how the social and the non-social person emerge as a whole, how frightening ambivalences and concepts of social order are related to each other and how social space might harbour the inversion of the social.

In the land of Pii Poob and Pii Grasueh: how malevolent magic epitomizes Khmerness in contemporary Thailand

Author: Benjamin Baumann (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)

Short Abstract
Exploring how Khmer speaking villagers in Thailand think about local forms of malevolent magic, as well as describing some of the related ritual practices, I will argue that the ambiguous characteristics of two malevolent spirits, mirror and epitomize the ambiguity of Khmerness in contemporary Thailand.

Long Abstract
From magic tattoos to love potions and malevolent spirits, Thai popular discourse intimately links the socio-cultural category Khmer to magical practices. Although stigmatized as deviations from the imagined orthodoxy of a state sponsored Theravada Buddhism, these practices nevertheless represent sources of great spiritual potency and are seen as indigenous traditions. Linking the present with a past known for the omnipresence of supernatural powers, Khmer magic commonly evokes feelings of fear and respect, while simultaneously being sought for in various contexts. Ranging from politicians to prostitutes, members of all strata of contemporary Thai society engage in magical practices, whereby the extraordinary power of Khmer magic is commonly agreed upon.

This paper aims at exploring how the intimate relationship of Khmerness and magic inflicts upon processes of socio-cultural identification in Thailand's lower Northeast, a region where approximately one million people speak a local Khmer dialect as mother tongue. Exploring how villagers in Buriram province think about local forms of magic, spirits, and witchcraft, as well as describing some of the related ritual practices and their popular religious foundations, I will argue that the ambiguous characteristics that two malevolent spirits display in local discourse, mirror and epitomize the ambiguity associated with being a Khmer speaker in contemporary Thailand. Furthermore, I will show that popular religious concepts like spirits and witchcraft continue to represent reference points for interpreting misfortune and illness and supernatural agency continues to be a driving force in social group formation, despite the fundamental transformations of village life caused by globalization.

« No witch, no village » : the therapeutic role of sorcery (and countersorcery) in Arakan (Burma)
Author: CĂ©line Coderey (IRSEA (Marseille))

Short Abstract
Based on my fieldworks in Arakan (Burma), my paper focuses on the important role played by sorcery for the inhabitants of that area. It aims to show that the persistence of sorcery largely relies on the fact that it allows the handling of anxiety and incertitude at various levels : therapeutic, social, psychological, religious.

Long Abstract
Based on my fieldworks in Arakan (Burma), my paper shows the important role played by sorcery for the inhabitants of that area. This importance is attested by two facts : 1. Sorcerers are a cause of misfortune and illness which is often put forward; 2. Many individuals act as « anti-sorcerers », i. e. as exorcists. Villagers often have recourse to them in order to be protected or freed from sorcery aggressions.

The persistence of sorcery largely relies on the fact that it allows the handling of anxiety and incertitude at various levels : therapeutic, social, psychological, religious.

First, sorcery represents an important component of therapeutic itineraries, which is more and more true as the availability and the efficacy of medical care are largely insufficient especially in the field of mental health. In other terms, it gives a sense to and provides a way to act on symptoms that cant be handle by other means.

Second, sorcery provides an instrument of social control because it legitimizes the temporary rebellion of oppressed individuals as well as the strengthening of destabilized social relationships. Moreover, sorcery allows the handling of anxiety and incertitude arising in a competitive context, by acting as an instrument of social manipulation as well as a mean of fate control.

Finally, by embodying the Bad, the Impure and the Disorder, sorcery provides - through the fight that is taken against it - a mean to restore and strengthen the Good, the Pure, the Order and, by doing so, the hegemony of Buddhism representing them.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Southeast Asian Science Fiction in San Francisco at Con-Volution 2015

In exciting news for October, I'll be presenting on Saturday and Sunday at Con-Volution in San Francisco on several panels, with many leading figures in Southeast Asian science fiction and other diverse spheres of speculative fiction.

This will be my first time attending Con-Volution, but I'm looking forward to it. My tentative schedule for Con-Volution on October 2-4th at the Hyatt Regency SFO this year:

Southeast Asian SFF
Saturday 10:00 - 11:15, Harbor B (Hyatt Regency SFO)
Jaymee Goh, ZM Quynh, Bryan Thao Worra, Emily Jiang

For my part, I plan to approach this from a Lao angle, drawing on many of the lessons and challenges we face in the Laomagination movement during the course of our antebellum reconstruction. Southeast Asian SFF to me is particularly distinct in its priorities and shared frame of reference compared to South Asian and East Asian science fiction and fantasy. I'll most likely hold off on discussing where it all fits into the Silk-punk concept others have been discussing lately, other than to say that I think if one's going to write about things from a "punk" perspective, it should actually incorporate and embody genuine punk aesthetics, or the socio-political equivalent pertinent to the time in question.

Non-European Steampunk
Saturday 11:30 - 12:45, Sumac (Hyatt Regency SFO)
Jaymee Goh, Bryan Thao Worra, Pat MacEwen

Steampunk is often considered a genre of science fiction addressing "the future that never was," inspired by the themes of figures such as Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and the Victorian era. There's an extensive movement in post-colonial communities with our own perspective on what that retro-future might have been like, and often Europe and America isn't at the center of that conversation. Jaymee Goh will be taking the distinctive lead on this one as she discusses the journey of The SEA is Ours from Rosarium Publishing, the first anthology of Southeast Asian steampunk.

Modern Boogeymen
Saturday 13:00 - 14:15, Evergreen (Hyatt Regency SFO)
Matt Marovich (M), Tyler Hayes, Kendra Pecan, Bryan Thao Worra, Lori Titus.

There are many directions this panel can go. My personal angle will approach it from a Southeast Asian perspective. For cultures who've been through a war as horrific as the Southeast Asian conflicts, what's truly terrifying and shocking today? Do we frighten our youth with the Slender Man, or the classic entities such as the Phi Kongkoi?

Magic - Diverse Views
Sunday 10:00 - 11:15, SandPebble B (Hyatt Regency SFO)
Marie Brennan, Glenn Glazer, Pat MacEwen, Steven Savage, Bryan Thao Worra.

In the moden American tradition, speculative literature has largely gone in the direction of Arthur C. Clarke's aphorism that "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic," treating the use of magic as something with consistently predicatble results. The Lao view of magic is considerably more complicated, especially in a culture with over 160 ethnic groups and traditions.

Writing for and with minority groups in mind
Sunday 11:30 - 12:45, SandPebble B (Hyatt Regency SFO)
Marisa Garcia, Thaddeus Howze, Kyle Aisteach, Balogun Ojetade, Bryan Thao Worra

This is one where I take some particularly controversial positions, bearing in mind that in the larger world, many of those we consider minorities aren't, in fact, minorities at all. At the same time, for Lao writers we have many issues to contend with in science fiction and fantasy, such as how we present minorities in our culture respectfully without our narratives becoming mired in sociological and anthropological theory.

Reading 3
Sunday 13:00 - 14:15, Wine Room (Hyatt Regency SFO)
Kyle Aisteach, Sumiko Saulson( , Ms. Amy Sterling Casil, Bryan Thao Worra, Jaymee Goh

I'll be reading selections from DEMONSTRA, my 2013 collection of speculative poetry that won the Elgin Award for Book of the Year from the Science Fiction Poetry Association.

Con-Volution is an annual 3-day science fiction, fantasy, and media convention featuring guests, performers and vendors from a wide spectrum of the speculative fiction industry and community. Each year’s event is presented within the framework of a different central theme from which most of its programming items evolve.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Remembering William "Bill" Worra, 1933-2015

William C. Worra, 82, of Rantoul passed away on Monday (Aug. 17, 2015) at Heartland Health Care Center in Paxton.

Memorial services were held at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015, at American Lutheran Church of Rantoul with visitation from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday at Lux Memorial Chapel in Rantoul.

Bill was born July 31, 1933, in South Haven, Mich., the son of L.K. and Doris Worra. He married Marilyn G. Olstad in Rushford, Minn., on June 20, 1959. Preceding him in death were his parents and two brothers, Dick and Jack.

He is survived by his wife Marilyn and their two children and spouses, Amy and Bill Kenny of Lewisburg, Pa., and their children, Sadie, Jacob and Grace; and Daniel and Carrie Worra of Anacortes, Wash., and their children, William and Carmen; as well as his brother and sister-in-law, Joel and Margaret Worra of Rochester, Minn.; and sister-in-law, Pam Worra of Tipton, Mich.

Bill graduated from Bangor High School in 1951 and Western Michigan University (with a Bachelor of Music) in 1955, and earned his Master's degree from the University of Illinois.

After college, Bill began his career teaching music in Lawrence, Mich., grades K-12. He then enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, playing the trumpet in the 505th Band of the Midwest at Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul. He was honorably discharged from the service and was named band director at Rantoul Township High School in 1961, a position he held for 27 years. He is remembered fondly by hundreds of students who played in the high school band.

Continuing to stay active in music after his retirement, Bill volunteered to play trumpet in the Parkland Community College Band and was quite often honored to be a guest conductor. He was later asked to come out of retirement and be the Parkland College band director.

Professionally, Bill was widely known and recognized as an excellent musician and educator. In 1997, Phi Beta Mu International Band Masters Fraternity presented Bill with the Outstanding Bandmaster Award, and in 2002, he was named to the Band Master's Hall of Fame by the Phi Beta Mu XI Chapter, State of Illinois.

His faith in God and the American Lutheran Church were a large part of his life, including the friends he made through the church. Bill was the choir director at the church for more than 40 years and often accompanied hymns on trumpet. He served on the church council and was president of the congregation.

Bill served the community in many ways. He was a member of the Rantoul Rotary Club for more than 40 years, serving as president (1980-81) and was a Paul Harris Fellow. Bill definitely "tickled the ivory" as the club's piano player, often being the song leader's antagonist, always in good fun. He served as president of the PTA at Broadmeadow Elementary School. He was president of the Community Concert Association that brought a concert series to Rantoul. Bill played trumpet in dance bands his entire adult life. For the past 10 years, he took great joy and pride in being a member of Bud Vandiver's jazz combo, playing weekly at various nursing homes in the area.

Bill had a lifelong love for airplanes, and as an avid modeler, he was recognized by the Champaign County Radio Control Club as an All-Weather Flyer as demonstrated by flying at least once each month for 22 consecutive years. He earned his private pilot's license as well as his instructor, instrument and commercial rating, and logged many hours in the air.

Among his many other interests, Bill enjoyed playing basketball, golf, bicycling, photography and technology. He always had to have the newest gadget on the market and loved sharing them with his brothers.

Bill led a full and meaningful life with many great accomplishments. He has touched myriad lives and leaves a lasting legacy. He was a devoted husband, a loving father and grandfather, a loyal brother and a true friend. He was a man who had a great sense of humor, a pleasant smile and a kind word for everybody, and who placed the needs of others far above his own.

Remembering Terri Worra Koenne (1958-1972)

Teresa "Terri" Worra Koenne, 57, peacefully passed away on Sunday July 19, 2015, surrounded by her family.

Terri was born on June 28, 1958 the daughter of John and Lila (Nelson) Worra in South Haven, Michigan; attended grade school in Belleville, Michigan; and completed high school in Missoula, Montana. During her freshman year of high school she met the love of her life, Curtis Koenne, who she would later marry in Missoula in 1972.

After high school, Terri joined the Army and was stationed in Colorado and Germany. In 1980, she and Curt moved to Phoenix, Arizona. After graduating from Arizona State University in 1992, Terri worked as a Compensation Analyst on the Compensation and Benefits team for thirty-five years where she had a positive influence on everyone with whom she had the opportunity to work. As a Compensation Analyst, Terri focused on architecting and maintaining the systems needed to deliver Intel's compensation programs. Her wry sense of humor, coupled with her warm personality and positive attitude, made working with her a pleasure - and she worked with team members and colleagues all around the world. In addition to her work, Terri enjoyed gardening, camping, and riding motorcycles and quads.

Terri is survived by her husband Curt; sons Chad and his wife Sharon, Travis and his significant other Elyse; mother Lila and her husband Richard Timm; her "Superdog" German Shepherd Niki; her brother Michael and his wife Tammy; brother Bryan Worra; step mother Pam, and sister-in-law Kim Koenne. She was preceded in death by her father John Worra.
A Celebration of Life was held on August 23, at 10am at Mariposa Gardens Memorial Park in Arizona.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Southeast Asian American Legacies: 40 Years after the end of the Vietnam War

In some good news for the week: I've accepted an invitation to speak on December 4th at UC Merced on “Southeast Asian American Legacies: 40 Years after the end of the Vietnam War” as part of a panel on literature and its connections to the Southeast Asian Diaspora.

In particular, I'll be approaching it from the perspective as a poet, which certainly seems appropriate. I look forward to seeing you there, and will have more details in the coming weeks ahead!

Tentatively speaking, the one-day symposium will feature three panels on the following themes: new directions in scholarship on Southeast Asian Americans and how they intersect with other fields ((inter)disciplinary field building), Southeast Asian American literature, and community-engaged research, This is still subject to change, but I'm excited about the topics because there are many directions we can take them.

Chaired by Ma Vang, Seng Vang and Alisak Sanavongsay, they've invited some exceptional scholars to the proceedings. I'm hoping we'll also have a chance to acknowledge the 20th anniversary of the SatJaDham Lao Literary Project out there, in addition to the other issues of interest to us as commuity builders.

Keep your fingers crossed, and I may be able to bring out the pieces involving phi and Laobots. :)

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Pondering the Power of Stories at Sahtu Press

Humans are natural storytellers. It's one of the things that seems to truly set us apart from other creatures in the world. The Lao culture has a long tradition of sharing stories with each other to tell ourselves not only who we were and where we come from, but also, who we could become, although in the recent century the stories of collective ambition have often been lost or muffled in the process of trying to remember our pasts.

I feel it's been a very long time since any of us spoke of our hopes and dreams for our future in any great detail. I've come to see the repression of our true stories, and our inner dreams and imaginations as a deeply toxic element of the American refugee resettlement process.

Often, if we tell stories, we're supposed to tell only those that allow bias confirmation and affirm the safe narratives. We're only allowed to express our journey with rose-colored glasses, the appreciative and grateful refugee who see our our hosts have only ever been helpful. We may never suggest they hindered our adaptation and resettlement. We cannot reflect on truly lost opportunities or those who fell in between the cracks. "Everything's fine," even when it's not.

Mind you, it is largely against the traditional Lao character and demeanor to hang on to grudges, to be too attached to those memories that make us miserable. And this is a healthy form of healing, when it does not veer into outright denial.

Far too often, we do not ask for accountability to the point that we may as well be chicken shit, or the proverbial carpet others walk all over. Nearly half a century later, we still run into some people in our own community who say we can't tell stories like this, that we cannot rock the boat, or we might get sent back or invite some greater misfortune.

We aren't allowed to tell the stories that make others, including ourselves, uncomfortable. We cannot tell those tales that might leave our audience horrified at the choices we made to survive and arrive here.  We're discouraged from suggesting there are parts of our journey we should look upon with shame. There's an implicit distrust that our communities might learn from the worst aspects of our experience so that we might not repeat them, if we spoke openly of what we endured and the compromises we made. This is all so unhealthy.

I wouldn't want us to hold onto toxic anger. That's not the point of telling such stories. Holding onto anger just for anger's sake goes against many of the cultural principles that helped us survive so far in the world. But, at the same time, never acknowledging anger, disappointment, or times when we've felt betrayal is also problematic.

One of the things that troubled me about a recent exhibit in Minnesota that presented the journey as a fixed, non-critical immigration narrative that didn't address out how often we really came to the brink. There's no serious discussion of our community's near collapses and failures to thrive as refugees in America. And without understanding the stakes, we go in with an incautious approach to policy.

Instead, the exhibit presented a "bootstrap" feel-good narrative that suggested there were tough times, but it was always going to work out. That 40 years later, the story is basically done. It's such a disservice to the memories we nominally say we want to honor. It's inauthentic, and if we don't start taking our true stories more seriously, we're going to face even bigger problems down the road.

I never wanted to collect the Lao family stories of immigration to the US in such a way that we could just write them off or generalize them. Indeed, the majority of families I've talked to have almost always had interesting backgrounds and tales about how they got here that don't fit into a neat pattern.

There may well have been shared time in the camps with each other, but getting out, and those early years in the US almost always had something to them that was very unexpected. The story of Thavisouk Phrasavath, whose life was documented in the Oscar-nominated, Emmy-winning film Nerakhoon, the Betrayal, is a perfect case in point. Compare that to the journey of Lao American artist Mali Kouanchao, or Nor Sanavongsay, the founder of Sahtu Press, or any family, really.

In any case, I discuss the power of storytelling over at Sahtu Press this week and the implications for many of us as we decide which tales we will preserve, how we will tell them, and how we will share them with each other and the next generation. Take a look.

Travel to Laos: Bombs, Loss and Hope, August 27th in Seattle

If you're in Seattle next week, you have a chance to hear from Legacies of War as they discuss the 5th anniversary of the UN Convention on Cluster Munitions and 40 years of the Lao diaspora as we try to create a peaceful legacy in the US and abroad. This will be held at ArtXchange Gallery at 512 1st Ave S. in Seattle for one night only!

You can read the New York Times article about her life's work here. From 1964 to 1973, the U.S. dropped more than two million tons of ordnance on Laos during 580,000 bombing missions—equal to a planeload of bombs every 8 minutes, 24-hours a day, for 9 years – making Laos one of the most heavily bombed country per capita in history. Author T.D. Allman and photographer Stephen Wilkes recently covered the issue in the National Geographic article "Life After the Bombs." Award-winning Lao American photographer Khampha Bouaphanh also recently traveled to Laos to document this issue and has been sharing some of his work with the community already.

The bombings were part of the U.S. Secret War in Laos to support the Royal Lao Government against the Pathet Lao and to interdict traffic along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The bombings destroyed many villages and displaced hundreds of thousands of Lao civilians during the nine-year period. Up to a third of the bombs dropped did not explode, leaving Laos contaminated with vast quantities of unexploded ordnance (UXO). Over 20,000 people have been killed or injured by UXO in Laos since the bombing ceased.

As the executive director of Legacies of War, she heads a national organization which seeks to address the problem of unexploded cluster bombs in Laos. A key part of their process is to provide space for healing the wounds of war and to create greater hope for a future of peace.

Previously, Khamvongsa 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 has served on the Seattle Women’s Commission and the boards of the Refugee Women’s Alliance and Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership (CAPAL).

Khamvongsa's education includes studies at George Mason University, Oxford University, and a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from Georgetown.

Channapha Khamvongsa has already been confirmed as the keynote speaker for the 2016 Lao American Writers Summit in San Diego, California in May, 27th-26th at the Centro Cultural de la Raza. You won't want to miss this one. Of course, you can also learn more at

Krysada Panusith Phounsiri's Photojournal: "My Grandfather's Untimely Passing"

This week Lao American artist Krysada Panusith Phounsiri demonstrates the power and potential of blogging with an intimate and poignant look at the death and funeral of his grandfather a year ago. This is a must read within our community.

On a personal note, as someone who's also spent well over 15 years attending Hmong and Lao funerals and documenting them to varying degrees, I'm going to say that this is not an easy thing for many to fully understand. There is often great uncertainty in terms of the cultural meaning and the rituals, the expectations, and the challenges for not only the younger generation but even our elders and adults across the US.

We don't often get to read something this intimate. I think his essay will provide an important example of how our traditions are different in different cities and regions of the US.

Krysada has provided a remarkably detailed look at his inner life and the funerary practices for both insiders and outsiders of our community. I've seen many say they intend to show his article to others so that they can understand more of what we're all looking at and participating in.

Of the many corrosive aspects of our post-colonial experience, the creation of a Lao disconnect from our roots and traditions, the lack of true intergenerational dialogues strikes me as one of the profound challenges we must continually strive to overcome if we are to remain a people. Essays like Krysada's are a step in the right direction for many reasons.

The images and narrative Krysada provides are particularly groundbreaking not only for their aesthetic quality. The perspective is rare as we're shown the Lao American funerary process told from the perspective of a young man from San Diego who took ordination vows as a Theravada Buddhist monk. We don't often get such a detailed account of the inner lives of young Lao men. We've rarely allowed them an opportunity to express themselves emotionally beyond the conventional narratives.

Krysada's journal here is deep, poignant and inspiring. I hope many of our young men come to recognize the importance of self-expression and introspection. I hope they see the vital need to share their thoughts with our community before we see our youth reduced to emotional and spiritual cartoons corrupted by toxic superficiality. 

There's much to consider here, and while I applaud Krysada's blog, I hope it will not come to be seen as the last word in our community on the subject. Rather, let it be an opening of the path for others to note, a call to observe this wondrous world we live in, to contemplate who we remember and love, who we honor, and who we share the journey with.

H.P. Lovecraft's 125th birthday!

August 20th is the 125th anniversary of American writer H.P. Lovecraft, who has been a distinctive and persistent influence on my work, in addition to the work of writers such as Franz Kafka, Jorge Luis Borges, Samuel Beckett, Larry Hama, Yusef Komunyakaa, Heather McHugh, Adrienne Su, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Joseph Campbell, Hermann Hesse and Shuntaro Tanikawa.

There are many ways one gets introduced to Lovecraft in the modern age, but mine was first through the advocacy of figures such as Sandy Petersen and his Call of Cthulhu role-playing game. I first ran into it in its 3rd edition, and now it's on its 7th edition from Chaoisum. So I see how much time has flown and slithered by. I was also deeply influenced by the Del Rey collections of Lovecraft's work, including the large "Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre" 1987 edition with cover art by the acclaimed Michael Whelan.

H. P. Lovecraft was born on August 20th, 1890 in Providence, Rhode Island, and lived there most of his life. He began with essays and poetry, shifting towards horror, especially with the rise of the 1920s pulp magazine Weird Tales which published the good bulk of his fiction. His deeply influential output includes 3 short novels and approximately 60 short stories. He passed away in 1937. These days there's a significant debate about the necessity to study him or to continue his legacy in comparison to so many other authors.

Ultimately, I think you'll like him or hate his work. Some dislike his dense prose in the Asianic style, rather than the more common Attic style that's so popular this century. Others find his views on race, women, and seafood out of fashion, although they still suggest we read Shakespeare, Poe, Hemmingway, Alan Moore, Marion Zimmer Bradley, or any other number of controversial figures. Writers aren't saints, and it's often dangerous when they try to be. You can always find a "reason" not to read another writer.

As I discuss frequently, I feel Lovecraft's work liberated a great many of us, even if we don't hold the same views he has. He presented a way to view science as truly horrifying because even when it was done properly, it didn't necessarily reveal comforting things about the truths of the cosmos.  In the wake of Lovecraft, it wasn't just a Christian Sin vs. Salvation model of conflict, or Good vs. Evil. It was a space where the Cosmos was utterly indifferent to you, and life on Earth began as a galactic joke or accident, and things could change in an instant on you.

I can certainly connect to this.

I've noted that many modern American readers can't quite embrace the idea that humans are powerless when caught in the conflict between entities such as the Great Old Ones and Elder Things. It's a prevailing blindspot that somehow humans could not succeed or become relevant in the grand scheme (or lack of scheme) of things. I think for Lao and others caught in the proxy wars of the Cold War era, however, we can appreciate Lovecraft's vision a little differently.

In Lovecraft's writings, we often meet protagonists who are intellectuals and poets. Rarely do we meet the rugged adventurers of the pulp era like Doc Savage in Lovecraft's work. Presenting such protagonists, who, granted, typically go mad by the end, was groundbreaking and refreshing to me.

His worlds were filled with volumes of forbidden knowledge, warped knowledge and cursed knowledge. To read books or to attempt to publish them often brought great misfortune and madness. For a writer such as myself, that carries a unique sort of terror that Lovecraft satisfied ably.

You had stories where the progtonists don't know who they are truly, or what they can become. Or they're given a chance to travel and see worlds beyond imagination, but there's often a terrible price. Again, I think this is something that Lao writers and artists could find fascinating to work with, especially when written against the lens of our traditional Buddhist and animist perspectives. What might truly terrify us, among Lovecraft's many intriguing proposals?

I don't think the final word has really been written on Lovecraft's legacy. I find myself in the position of cautioning others that we have to peel back the current cliches and tropes we connect to his writing and understand that it's not the "tentacles" that are the terror, but the terror beneath that we need to explore.

Kurodahan Press did a great deal to advance this particular premise with their Lairs of the Hidden Gods series, among other collections in the early 2000s, which looked at Lovecraft's influence in Japan. As a Lao American writer, I find myself in a somehwat different position during the Lao American antebellum, but I feel there's much that should interest us in his approach to the world of arts and letters.

In any case, here's to 125 years of H.P. Lovecraft, the light he shone and the shadows he revealed.

Horror on the Orient Express wins Best Adventure at Gen-Con!

In exciting news, the fine folks at Chaosium just announced that Horror on the Orient Express was nominated for four ENnie Awards at Gen-Con, and came home with the Gold for Best Adventure and the Silver for Best Production Values!

It's been an exciting and wonderful journey for this reissue of the classic Call of Cthulhu scenario. Many of you have seen me traveling around at various conventions and events lately with the steamer trunk many of us were issued for supporting it during its kickstarter run. There were many bumps and hiccups along the way, but in the end. I, for one, was very satisfied with everything that came with it.

Of course, I've also been delighted because this supplement also features a Lao character in the classic setting, who seems quite familiar. A special thanks goes to John Till and Mark Mason who both had some exceptional ideas for the character biography to help it fit closely in line with the 1920s setting. As a side note, if you read some of the poems in DEMONSTRA you will find some nods to the Horror on the Orient Express.

Once again, congratulations to everyone involved, and I'm looking forward to even more adventures with everyone!

A Supernatural Song of Ourselves, A Review of DEMONSTRA by E.P. Beaumont

The wonderful writer E.P. Beaumont did a very nice and touching review of my 2013 collection DEMONSTRA this week at her journal, likening it to "A Supernatural Song of Ourselves," and also including a lovely original poem in response. She's reviewing the deluxe edition of DEMONSTRA, in this particular instance. DEMONSTRA features my poetry and photography, as well as the visual art of Vongduane Manivong, who is based in Dallas, Texas.

It's certainly been an interesting journey for this collection, which I initially proposed to Silvia Moreno-Garcia at Innsmouth Free Press in Canada without my hopes being too high at the time. Was there a market for a book of Lovecraftian poetry, especially one from a Lao American perspective? It was certainly an absurd and daring proposition, and the first book of poetry the press had ever considered publishing. I'm grateful that they took that chance.

In the time since, Innsmouth Free Press has been presenting several exciting projects including the Sword and Mythos anthology, and the current She Walks in Shadows an anthology of Lovecraftian tales from women's perspectives, actually written by women that's getting significant acclaim. I'm always delighted and honored to be part of that house. They took a chance on many of my early works of short fiction and microfiction when they were actively presenting Innsmouth Magazine.

In any case, E.P. Beaumont identified many of the elements I'd incorporated into DEMONSTRA and much of the significance I'd hoped it would have, in the off chance that it would resonate with my readers. It's not an easy book, particularly in the expanded edition. But at the heart of my somewhat horrific and quixotic quest was opening new vistas not only for the Lao community in diaspora, but regular readers as well.

We are on a journey together in this odd cosmos, after all.

For the Lao, I feel the question we must ask is: In the aftermath of everything we witnessed during the 19th-20th century, and earlier, what, then are those things left that are truly indescribaby horrifying? As some have suggested, we've had a front row seat for the Apocalypse, but where do we go from there?

I'm delighted she caught both the humor and the horror within my text, and how we were looking at the familiar and the unfamiliar through new lenses. It was a delight to meet her in person, and her literary partner in crime, as well. I'd been following her on Twitter for some time, and elsewhere, and we share a good number of friends in common. I regret that we didn't have more time to hang out one-on-one during CONvergence this year, but in the near future, we'll remedy that. Be sure to check out her review, as well as the other fascinating discussions on her journal, and in her novels.

And as a poet should never let a gift of poetry go unremarked, one good turn, and all of that:

Strange Trees From Strange Stones  
To see truths cosmic, the eye is but a start,
A seed in the cold, the infinite whirling... 
A spark, some water? Some igniting heat,
A collision of chemistry and mystery...
The next thing you know, you're a poet
With a body of ink rivers, paper bones, or 
Maybe a novelist among empires and nomads
Who can ponder dreaming old things, vast seas, 
New memories for unimaginable generations
Tinkering in night's laboratories on those
Rare inhabited worlds, 
Filling quickly with warm mortals.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Loft Literary Center Executive Director Jocelyn Hale makes her transition

A big, fond farewell to Jocelyn Hale as she makes a transition from Executive Director of The Loft Literary Center this month. It marks a wonderful end of an era for so many of us in Minnesota and across the country, and I look forward to seeing the next directions everyone takes.

I had the honor and privilege of serving with her on the board of the Loft, and I was always deeply impressed by her leadership skills and her sense of inclusion.

From the perspective of the Lao American artists community, her tenure provided us the critical and vital support for many of our events, readings and workshops. She was pivotal in creating an exceptional and welcoming space for our community both informally and formally. So often, we were able to take younger and older Lao artists and community builders there and open their eyes to the possible.

It was during her time that we were able to convene the first National Lao American Writers Summit, an event which led directly to the later creation of Lao American publishers and journals such as Sahtu Press, Inc. and Little Laos on the Prairie, as well as Laos In The House, the presentation of the Refugee Nation: Legacies of War Twin Cities exhibits, and even the award-winning Lao apocalyptic play "Kung Fu Zombies vs. Cannibals."

Thanks to her support, a significant part of our collective journey of cultural reconstruction and the Lao American renaissance was made possibly, and our heritage is now deeply entwined with that of the Loft.

I hope we remember all that she has done, and what she dared to dream and reach for, celebrating that legacy with joy. She made a difference.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Con-Volution, Legion of Fandom 2015! October 2-4th

In fun news for October, I've accepted an invitation to present in the Bay Area during Con-Volution.

The convention has some wonderful guests of honor featuring the great Steamfunk artist Balogun Ojetade and we'll also have a chance to connect with Jaymee Goh, one of the co-editors of "The SEA is Ours," the anthology of Southeast Asian steampunk.

I'll hopefully be discussing this and hopefully show many of you some excerpts from the Laomagination project, particularly the Laopocalypse. More details to follow, but I look forward to seeing you there!

It will be held at the Hyatt Regency SFO on October 2-4th! The Hyatt Regency SFO is located at: 1333 Old Bayshore Hwy, Burlingame, CA.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

FORTE performance, August 16th in Washington

With the end of the Kinnaly Music and Dance Troupe's 2015 LHF Summer Camp fast approaching, they'd like to invite all our friends, families, and supporters out this Sunday, August 16th to FORTE, where their campers and counselors will be demonstrating all the new music and dance pieces learned during the two-week long summer camp/cultural exchange.

Please feel free to share and repost with your friends and family too!

It will be held at the Carco Theater at 1717 Maple Valley Highway, in Renton, Washington from 2-4 PM with a $10 suggested donation.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

International Southeast Asian Film Festival: November 21-22, 2015

Save the date! 

I'll see you at the I-SEA (International Southeast Asian Film Festival) at New People Cinema (1746 Port Street) in San Francisco on November 21-22. The opening night gala is November 20th at Artists' Television Access. 

This event is being brought to you by the Diasporic Vietnamese Artists Network (DVAN). DVAN's aim is to promote artists from the Vietnamese Diaspora whose work in literature, visual art, film and performance art enriches our communities and strengthens ties between Vietnamese across the globe. We undertake to support this body of work through cultural events, exhibits and publications that explore connections between art and society.

NEW PEOPLE is the 20,000-sqft entertainment complex that is produced and managed by NEW PEOPLE, Inc., which promotes the latest examples of Japanese popular culture expressed though film, art, fashion, and various events. Located in the heart of historical San Francisco's Japantown since 2009, NEW PEOPLE has become a unique must-see attraction of the city's cultural landscape.

Lively Day In Wasteland and the Willits Kinetic Carnivale

Two fun events taking place next week in Northern California for those of you with a taste for Steampunk and the Post-Apocalyptic.

The first is the theatrical presentation of Lively Day In Wasteland, presented by Repose in Action, an educational program of Ukiah Players Theatre. It's a Ukiah, California-based performance troupe whose teen production team produces all aspects of its shows, from set building and costume design, writing, directing and choreographing.

Lively Day In Wasteland promises to be an innovative collaboration between teens and elder artists of the Ukiah Players Theater to tell an original fairy tale, and also features a lobby installation of reimagined, re-purposed junk-to-art by Spencer Brewer and Esther Seigel. It's not to be missed.

That same weekend, they'll be presenting the Willits Kinetic Carnivale, which will take place on August 22 & 23, the 125th birthday weekend of H. P. Lovecraft. As an interesting side note, The Dunwich Horror film was filmed in Mendocino County.

This highly-anticipated summer festival features many wonderful things to do and see and hear, including hands-on artworks, vintage vehicles, handcar races, Whimsy Circus activities for children, mustache and beard contest, delightful circus performances, steampunk fashion show, parades and dance classes to join, finery for sale, delicious food and the finest of Mendocino beer and wine.

The evening will host the spectacular event known as the Grand Ball. 2015 musical artists include: Diego's Umbrella,    El Radio Fantastique,    The Crux,    Dgiin,    The Garberville Marching Band,   and DJ Brycie Bones.    

Visitors are encouraged (but never required) to attend in vintage or steampunk costumes, and during the day will particpate in myriad activities and enjoy a diverse group of craft and food vendors, entertainment, historic and steampunk-themed workshops, lectures and discussions, and fascinating Museum exhibits.

I'll see you there!