For Ka Vang, promoting her creative work and chatting with her readers does not come easily. Some time ago she wrote “as Asians we are taught to be modest…humble…not to brag, and I try to adhere to this philosophy.”
Vang, a Minnesota writer with Hmong roots, is a versatile artist whose stories, essays, plays and poetry have been widely published in anthologies and as independent works. She is the featured writer at the Hmong Writers Fireside Chat Series, presented by Hmong Arts Connection and Hnub Tshiab, Hmong Women Achieving Together. The program includes a conversation with the Artist, Friday, November 11, 6:30 p.m. and a workshop on Magic Realism set for Saturday, November 12, 9:30-Noon.
Both conversations with Vang are at Dreamland Arts, 677 Hamline Avenue, St Paul. On Friday there will be a reception following the program; on Saturday a continental breakfast will be provided.
Daughter of a major in the Royal Lao Army and a shaman, Vang was born in Long Cheng, Laos, in 1975. After spending most of her early years in Thai refugee camps, she and her family settled in St. Paul’s Frogtown.
For Vang, as with her family and friends, bi-culturalism was a major influence on her young life. Her interest in bi-culturalism and travel are evident in her academic life. After earning a degree in Political Science from the University of Minnesota she attended Xavier University in New Orleans where she studied African American history and literature. In the late 1990’s she studied at King’s College in London where she delved into literature and theater, with a focus on the work of William Shakespeare.
One way that Vang dealt with her issues of bi-culturalism was through her intense interest in international travel that is manifest in her life and her writing today. Reflecting her passion to understand Hmong culture in various environments, Hmong stories, folklore and customs she often writes about identity and heritage themes while interweaving magic realism throughout her work.
A highlight of Vang’s professional life was her recognition as recipient of the Jerome Study and Travel grant that allowed her to travel extensively in France and Germany to study the lives and folklore of the Hmong people who settled in Europe. She has also researched the lives and folklore of the Hmong in Australia, Laos, and China. Among her many honors are the Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Grant and the Bush Artist Grant
Vang’s first stab at writing was as a journalist where she was one of the first Hmong reporters at several newspapers including the Minnesota Daily, the St Paul Pioneer Press and the Chicago Tribune.
Early in her writing life Vang turned her creative interests to playwriting when she was a fellow at the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis. Her one-act play Disconnect, was performed there and later at Theater Mu during the New Eyes Festival. Disconnect continues to be performed and is published in the Hmong American literary anthology Bamboo Among the Oaks. Other plays written by Yang have been published and performed; among her best known works is From Shadows to Light, which mixed contemporary international women’s issues with traditional art forms from Asia.
Vang reached out to new audiences with her short stories, poetry and essays that continue to be published in a host of anthologies. Consistent themes and characteristics of her work include her frank confrontation of sex and sexuality, race, culture and racism as well as for her sometimes elaborate constructions and dark humor. ( An example of this last – When asked by a reporter from the Asian American Press “Do you see yourself as a pioneer?” Vang replied “Please, give me a break. Weren’t those the people who landed on Plymouth Rock? Well, in the words of Malcolm X, I didn’t land on Plymouth Rock, it landed on me….”
Though most of her work is hers alone, Vang has also collaborated with numerous Hmong writers who live in Minnesota. She has worked with Bao Phi, Ed Bok Lee, Juliana Pegues, Mai Neng Moua and others.
For ten years Vang was a regular contributor to Minnesota Women’s Press. Though she is no longer writing for MWP Vang expresses her gratitude for “the opportunity to have written for so long for the Women’s Press. Her writing now is focused on a work-in-progress. Vang says “I am trying to find a publisher for my short story collection, tentatively titled Tou Tongue Tiger and the Infinite Story. Vang says eaders should expect a collection with “elements of magical realism and old fashioned Hmong stories.”
Vang is also completing her first novel that tells the story of three generation sof Hmong women.
Vang’s literary life is an ongoing priority in a very busy life. For the past six years Vang has been employed with the Minnesota State College and University system in the Office of the Chancellor where she is the Director of Diversity Programs. In that role she provides training, technical assistance and other support for MnSCU colleges and universities. She also finds time to be an active member of the community and a sometime political activist.
Still her priority is to be in communication with Hmong women who she feels are underrepresented in the decision-making process in their communities. For example, in that same interview with the reporter from Asian American Press, Vang responded to a question about “the explosion of Hmong writers from playwrights to slam poets” with this quick thought: “I think it is a great thing….It is truly a Hmong renaissance happening to our people in America. We have an explosion not only in arts, but also politics, and commerce, so I encourage all Hmong writers to get their work out to the community. Every voice makes a difference.”
Though an exhaustive listing of Ka Vang’s published works is overwhelming, those who have not experienced her unique voice may wish to start with some of the following:
- Her essays and short stories appear in How do I begin? A Hmong American Literary Anthology, published by Heyday Books
- Riding Shotgun: Women Write about their Mothers, published by Borealis Press
- Haunted Hearths and Sapphic Shades: Lesbian Ghost Stories, published by Lethe Press
- Bamboo Among the Oaks, published by Borealis Press
- Charlie Chan Is Dead 2: At Home in the World, published by Penguin Books
- Disconnect, performed by Theatre Mu
- Dead Calling, performed at Intermedia Arts
- Shadows in Light, performed by Theater Mu at Mixed Blood
Questions? email email@example.com
Note: The Fireside Chat series is funded in part by the Minnesota State Arts Board through the Arts and Cultural Heritage fund with money from the Legacy Amendment vote of the people of Minnesota on November 4, 2008.