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Lao American poet wins Book of the Year Award

The Science Fiction Poetry Association recently announced that Lao American writer Bryan Thao Worra and Vongduane Manivong’s book of speculative art and poetry, DEMONSTRA, won the 2014 Elgin Award for Book of the Year.

Founded in 1978, the Science Fiction Poetry Association has almost 300 members internationally. The Elgin Award is named after SFPA founder Suzette Haden Elgin. This is the second year that the award has been given. Candidates from over 20 publishers were nominated in both the full-length and chapbook-length categories.

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DEMONSTRA was released in 2013 by Canadian publisher Innsmouth Free Press and features the work of Vongduane Manivong, a Lao American artist from Texas, along with over 70 poems by Bryan Thao Worra, some never before published. This was the first book of poetry ever put out by Innsmouth Free Press.

The timing is exciting news as the Lao mark 60 years of independence this year. In February, Lao Canadian author Souvankham Thammavongsa’s collection Light from Pedlar Press won the CBC Bookie Award for Best Book of Canadian Poetry.

It’s been a big year for Thao Worra, who also won the Reader’s Choice Award from Strange Horizons Magazine for his futuristic poem “Full Metal Hanuman,” illustrated by Nor Sanavongsay. In spring, his work was displayed for the very first time at the Poetry Foundation in Chicago and one of his poems was included in the Smithsonian’s traveling exhibition “I Want The Wide American Earth: An Asian Pacific American Story.” Besides his efforts with the recently formed Sahtu Press, he is currently focusing on several projects such as the National Lao American Writers Summit in April, 2015 and the Minnesota Center for Book Arts 30th Anniversary Winter Book.

Bryan Thao Worra

DEMONSTRA functions on many levels, serving as an introduction to the myths and legends of Lao, but also a memoir of the inner lives of the Lao diaspora. It was influenced by the work of poets such as H.P. Lovecraft and Jorge Luis Borges, and films such as Godzilla and Blade Runner.

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Kyle “Guante” Tran Myhre, a two-time National Poetry Slam champion, remarked “DEMONSTRA presents a universe in which mythologies —ancient and modern, American and Lao, cultural and pop-cultural, occupy the same space, conversing, breeding and bleeding into one another. And the best part is that these many references-from Greek mythology to professional wrestling, to zombie films, to Lovecraftian horrors, to folktales, to kaiju battles, and beyond— are always in the service of something greater. This is poetry with a deep respect and love for science fiction and horror tropes but with an even greater respect and love for Lao culture, and the Lao/ Lao American experience. These two big ideas are weaved together masterfully, creating that rare literary hybrid that transcends its component parts, a poetic Mekagojira, standing triumphant over a thousand fallen foes.”

Sunny Chanthanouvong, the Executive Director for the Lao Assistance Center in Minneapolis said, “This is a very big deal for our community, and a great honor. I hope it encourages all of our young people and our elders to share their stories and dreams too. It should send a message that all of our voices matter. All of our voices are needed.”

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In the chapbook category, the winner was Helen Marshall’s 2013 book “The Sex Lives of Monsters” from Kelp Queen Press.  The Science Fiction Poetry Association also announced that the second place award for full-length book went to Unexplained Fevers by Jeanine Hall Gailey from New Binary Press while third place went to Dark Roads by Bruce Boston, published by Dark Renaissance Books. In the Chapbook category, second place went to “The Edible Zoo” by David C. Kopaska-Merkel, and third place went to Joshua Gage’s “Inhuman: Haiku from the Zombie Apocalypse,” published by The Poet’s Haven.

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Helen Marshall is a Canadian author, editor, and doctor of medieval studies currently living in Oxford England. Her debut collection of short stories, Hair Side, Flesh Side (ChiZine Publications, 2012), was named one of the top ten books of 2012 by January Magazine and also won the 2013 British Fantasy Award for Best Newcomer. Hair Side, Flesh Side was shortlisted for a 2013 Aurora Award by the Canadian Society of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Her second collection, Gifts for the One Who Comes After, was released this September. You can visit her website at: http://www.helen-marshall.com/

Additional details can be found at the SFPA Website: http://www.sfpoetry.com/el/14elgin.html

~M.K. Khamchanh
Little Laos on the Prairie

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