Lao Poetry at DreamHaven: 8/30
This year marks the 10th anniversary for On The Other Side Of The Eye the first full-length book of poetry by Lao American writer Bryan Thao Worra. He’ll be coming back full-circle this month with a reading at DreamHaven Books, one of the first stores to invite him as an author in 2007.
When Thao Worra first began to write there were few books available about the Lao American experience. Some even discouraged him from calling himself a Lao American when he sent book proposals to prospective editors. It was safer to call himself an Asian American writer or even just a writer, rather than risk being pigeon-holed or consigned to a literary ghetto. This felt inherently wrong to Thao Worra, who pointed out frequently that writers like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky were able to call themselves Russian writers without penalty, as were the Beat Writers or the writers of the Harlem Renaissance. Self-defeating internalized racism would get the community nowhere.
As the story goes, in 2006 Bryan Thao Worra had been selected as a special guest of the science fiction convention Diversicon to discuss his work and ideas. It was there that he met Tyree Campbell, a Vietnam veteran who had started his own publishing company in Iowa, specializing in science fiction poetry, short stories and horror. As they spoke it became clear they might be able to work together.
At the time, Bryan Thao Worra had been writing for almost 16 years since he started college in 1991. For many years, he was published successfully internationally in publications such as Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Poetry Niederngasse and others, but mainstream American publishers and even those serving the Asian American community were hesitant to take a risk on the then unproven Lao American readers market. To add to the challenge, few thought there was a market for Lao poets who wrote about science fiction, fantasy and horror.
Fortunately, the rest is history, and Thao Worra has gone on to win numerous national and international distinctions including the first Lao American to receive an NEA Fellowship in Literature for poetry. His poetry has taken him to the Olympics, and he has taught his work with the Smithsonian, Kearny Street Workshop, and numerous colleges across the country. His book DEMONSTRA won the 2014 Elgin Award for Book of the Year from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association.
He recently served as the Artist in Residence at the UC Merced Center for the Humanities and was a featured poet at the Southeast Asian American Studies Conference. One of his personal projects was establishing the national Lao American Writers Summit in 2010 to encourage other writers to finish their books and to write fearlessly and imaginatively.
He was a Guest of Honor at the 2015 CONvergence science fiction convention, and has also presented at the G-Fest Godzilla Convention; Zappcon; Marscon; Arcana: The Convention of the Dark Fantastic; the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival; San Diego Comic Con; Comicpalooza; Loscon; Con-Volution; the Fantasy Matters Conference; and Silicon Valley Comic Con.
He frequently gives these presentations with Sahtu Press founder and creative collaborator Nor Sanavongsay, with whom the poem “Full Metal Hanuman,” won the Reader’s Choice Award from Strange Horizons magazine in 2014. In 2018, he will be the Guest of Honor at Diversicon, along with author Charlie Jane Anders.
DreamHaven has hosted readings from internationally acclaimed writers including Neil Gaiman, Douglas Adams, Clive Barker, Terry Brooks, William Gibson, Terry Garey, Samuel Delaney, Catherine Lundoff, Kelly Link, David Schwartz, Kim Harrison, Kelly McCullough, and many other masters of science fiction, fantasy and horror. DreamHaven is located at 2301 E 38th St in Minneapolis. The reading will take place from 6:30 to 8:30 PM.