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NaNoWriMo and the Lao

We’re almost halfway through National Novel Writing Month.  There are a few Lao American writers across the country trying their hands at this but it’s a rigorous, grueling process, especially if it’s your first year attempting it.

Hopefully, we’ll see many make it, or at least part of the way to the 30,000 word goal, if not exceed it. At 30,000 words, it wouldn’t be a huge novel, but enough to qualify as a short novel by many professional standards. Most publishers and organizations prefer at least 40,000 words.

It’s at this point that I would note that the novel is a relatively new tradition within our community, especially in the US. Most often these seem to be taking the shape of memoirs and creative non-fiction, rather than what we would consider complete fiction. We have short story collections like Outhine Bounyavong’s Mother’s Beloved (Phaeng Mae), but few examples of a Lao, and particularly a Lao American novel we can use as a model, although the work of T.C. Huo is often cited.

Can we, need we, push ourselves to the great Lao American Novel?  There are many literary forms we’ve found and composed among global arts and letters. But do Lao Americans NEED to create a body of work in every form?

No one argues we need to compose an extensive body of Noh dramas. Do we need to create works in the Theater of the Absurd style to be complete as a culture? We might never have a Lao master of the Theremin, but is it an essential instrument for expressing the Lao American experience? So where does the novel fit within our preferred approaches to personal and cultural expression?

The Novel is certainly a popular form but maybe we can ask how vital it is we produce long prose works, compared to becoming, say, masters of short stories instead. Or do we turn our eyes to finding the art within the narrative potentials of video games or media forms we haven’t even begun to identify yet?  Would it be more interesting to see our generation create and focus on graphic novels or puppetry instead? We have many options to consider. The novel is a challenging form, and I have no doubt we can and will produce them in this generation, but what are the forms that play best to our strengths as the culture we are, and want to be?

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