With the scattered 30 or so people who filled a cozy room inside Neighborhood House in St. Paul; Hmong, Lao, Cambodian, Chinese writers and other community members celebrated a historical moment in the literary arts: the first anthology book release of Hmong women writers.
If you’re a fan of the local AAPI arts scene, then the infamous household names, May Lee-Yang and Saymoukda Vongsay should ring a bell. If not, well then, my friend, you MUST MUST MUST check out their work (May: http://www.lazyhmongwoman.com/ and Saymoukda: www.refugenius.com).
With the guidance and vision of May and Saymoukda, they were able to organize a retreat for women writers in a space to talk about their shared experiences of love, hope, boys, and to flex their creative juices on paper.
What became of the built up momentum is the finished product appropriately titled, Hmong Women Write Now: An Anthology of Creative Writing and Visual Artwork by Hmong Women and Girls. The anthology features essays, poems, stories and artwork from the participants, who should be mentioned ranged from all ethnic AAPI backgrounds. When asked why there are also non-Hmong women featured in the anthology, May pointed out that it’s realy about the journey together and finding the support for local women writers.
Among the public readings were Cambodian writer Narate Judie Keys who performed her poem “Distance”, about her refugee immigrant journey and the plight of her people under the Khmer Rouge regime and Chinese spoken word artist Rebecca Beibei Song who sang her piece, “Not on Father’s Day”, to pay tribute to her family’s impoverished past and her father’s dissent against communism.
Last night sparked powerful energy between the writers and their audience, and with the Minnesota Historical Society Press being in the same room, we can be rest assured that the event will be written in the history books. The anthology itself can now be shared to inspire our daughters, sisters, aunts and mothers across the Midwest.
Check out a sample poem below by May Lee-Yang. To get your copy of the anthology, visit www.hmongwomenachieve.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
by May Lee-Yang
lives in a house with broken piano keys
a portrait of Jesus that no one worships
owns at least one Corolla, two freezers, and several acres of land
threatens to put a curse on family members
for dating the wrong person
for not having children
for having too many children
buys you oddly-colored underwear as Christmas gifts
tells you not to go out
but cannot seem to stay in either
has revolted against watching children
wants to name your son Tou
even though he is called something else legally
is a master at the art of passive-aggressive-ness
will not look you in the eye
talks behind your back
but she will (on most occasions) have your back