Saturday, December 24, 2016

On The Other Side Of The Eye: The Book turning 10

In 2007, my first full-length collection, On The Other Side Of The Eye was published by Sam's Dot Publishing of Iowa. While I can trace back much of my literary journey to 1991, and arguably earlier, but this is still one of the pivotal moments for me. 

The original cover was designed by Yuk Ki Lau, a friend of mine I'd met through my work with the non-profit organization, Asian Media Access in the early 2000s, and my book featured a foreword from Barbara Janes Reyes, which I appreciated very much. The reading for the book launch was held at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. Among the readers who were a part of this were Katie Vang, Barbara Jane Reyes and Oscar Bermeo. My editor from Tripmaster Monkey, Mai Hoang, also came to attend all of the way from New York, and my publisher also came in person. 

The Hmong artist Seexeng Lee also brought along a unique painting for all of the guests to sign. Cakes by Fhoua made a cake for the guests inspired by the cover. This was all really exciting because it marked one of the first full-length collections of Lao American poetry in the United States. I thank all of the teachers who added it to their curriculum in the early years.

There was a lot to learn from the entire process. I still have a number of the previous drafts of the collections of my work I tried to get out into the world, including some entitled The Burning Mirror; The Lingering Bone; A Memory of Remains; and The Zen Labyrinth. I’m satisfied with the final results, of course.

Trying to figure out how you built an audience for Lao American poetry was a challenge because we really didn't have a baseline at the time. There weren't really any readily available resources I could turn to, so I was deeply grateful for the support of the Minnesota State Arts Board and the Loft Literary Center for their grants at this point that allowed me to experiment and find my audience. If you're in Minnesota, you absolutely ought to apply for these opportunities when they present themselves, and I think it's important to advocate for more support for such programs, especially among private foundations.

In the years since, I can now see where I developed more confidence to take risks and to try different ways of getting my work into other people's hands. You learn when it's good to give complimentary copies, and that you should always have at least five copies of your book with you or at least in your car whenever you go someplace. You learn the importance of making it easy for people to find your work. I also believe it's important to keep in touch with people, at least as a poet. Because a book is the beginning of a relationship with your readers and your community, not the end.

As I learned to understand what it meant to be an author with a book, On The Other Side Of The Eye taught me a lot about the journey of a writer. Over a decade, it has taken me to the Olympics, to an NEA Fellowship in Literature, the creation of the Lao American Writers Summit, and the presidency of the Science Fiction Poetry Association. It helped me understand what I wanted to do with my later books, and how we present them. I'm happy to see so many other younger artists and writers influenced by what I was trying to do with my first book, and I'm most pleased that I can still open it up and surprise even myself with what's written in it.

I plan to spend some more time in 2017 reflecting on specific aspects of this journey over the last ten years, even as I also take the next steps for my newest books development.

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