Thursday, August 13, 2015

5 years of the National Lao American Writers Summit

5 years ago, there were people who told us we were crazy to organize the first National Lao American Writers Summit, They suggested we'd be better off just going to AWP, or at least call it the Southeast Asian American Artist Summit or the Asian American Artist Conference, or something, anything other than a Lao event.

Today, the Lao American Writers Summit is 5 years old, and it's amazing all of the places everyone has gone since then. The participants have done just about everything from winning awards like an Emmy and going to the Olympics, to winning major fellowships, grants, and awards, and even founding their own journals and publishing companies. And at least one Lao-inspired beef jerky company.

They've performed internationally and across the US. They've put out their first books and plays, and convened some of the first Lao American art exhibits in our own words, on our own terms.

I'm glad we didn't listen to the naysayers, and I'm thankful to all of you who were there with us from the start, and to all of you we've met along the way. A big thanks goes to my fellow co-chairs Catzie Vilayphonh, Chanida Phaengdara Potter, and Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay and all of the volunteers from The Loft Literary Center, The Lao Assistance Center Of Minnesota, LSA Minnesota, the Lao Artists Festival and so many others who helped make that weekend possible. It made a difference.

And a big congratulations to Krysada Binly Panusith Phounsirii, who is part of the next generation stepping up to bring the National Lao American Writers Summit out of Minnesota for the very first time next year to San Diego at Centro Cultural de la Raza 2004 Park Blvd, San Diego, California. It will take place Friday and Saturday, May 27-28th, 2016. Sahtu Press will be serving as the fiscal agent for this year's event!

In 40 years of the Lao Diaspora, less than 40 books of Lao American writers have been published. It has been a challenge for the Lao American community to be visible. Community issues, expression in art, and access to higher education are core to the problem of invisibility regarding Lao Americans.

The summit aims to be a gathering space for creatives and professionals who are Lao American as well as those who support the community. Its objective is to open dialogue on the current state of creative writing, visual artistry, social media, and community advocacy of Lao Americans whose history ties with the events tracing back to the 1975 Diaspora of people of Laos.

Such a dialogue will welcome the discussion of ideas and methods that are used to help define their personal work and how it relates to the community. The summit will attempt to empower participants in defining their narrative, their voices, and their stories in regards to the writing space, which will be the unifying medium that links creatives and professionals.

These  themes will thread into efforts that will support the general community in achieving higher-education, issue awareness / organizing, and policy writing by creating the framework for writers to discuss ideas and methods of producing work.

This summit is an answer to the question of how do Lao Americans use writing to push art, creative works, and policy/grants using ingrained themes of Lao / Lao American Diaspora history to create visibility of community issues while crafting work that will be coined as Lao American for future years to come.

It is a space for discussing whether such actions are possible. The summit will then end with a reception that showcases the works of Lao American Artist to help send off summit participates with inspiration. Hopefully this upcoming year will be able to see participation from many of those who participated in the Living Arts Outreach program we've been convening in Minnesota through the support of the CURA ANPI grant in conjunction with the Lao Assistance Center. If you know of other similar projects with emerging artists who would benefit from this program, the organizers would love to hear from you.

The keynote speakers will be Bryan Thao Worra and Channapha Khamvongsa. The event is, as always, open to everyone More info will be coming soon. If you have any questions, please email

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