Preparing for Lao American Writers Summit 2016
Five years ago this month, a handful of Lao American writers and artists saw a dream of theirs come to life. It had taken over three years of planning, but from August 13th-15th, our community convened the first National Lao American Writers Summit in Minneapolis, Minnesota at the acclaimed Loft Literary Center. Many of the participants were meeting for the first time in nearly 40 years.
At the heart of this monumental effort was a simple yet bold proposition: That Lao voices, Lao stories were worth hearing and sharing. Perhaps, with a little luck, they could even change the world for the better. There was also a particular uncertainty: When would everyone gathered have a chance to meet together again? This isn’t something that can be taken for granted, if anyone understands the complicated journeys a Lao life can take.
While many of us had been able to work with some of the writers and artists who’d been in attendance in the years following after on smaller projects, the Lao American Writers Summit would not convene again for another five years because of everyone’s schedules. There were bumps and snags in the process, many of us had new additions to the family, took new jobs, or did major relocations. It’s similar to the story of many immigrants and refugees who’ve found themselves in America.
But we can look on the last five years with significant pride. Thavisouk Phrasavath, for example, went on to receive an Emmy for his film Nerakhoon, the Betrayal. Saymoukda Vongsay finished writing her play Kung Fu Zombies vs. Cannibals, which won the 2013 award for best stage production from L’Etoile Magazine. Chanida Phaengdara Potter founded the blog Little Laos on the Prairie. Madame Bounheng Inversin accompanied then-Secretary of State Hilary Clinton on a historic visit to Laos, the first in 57 years. Mali Kouanchao and Mike Davis founded Cool Jerk, a Lao-inspired beef jerky company. Dr. Adisack Nhouyvanisvong received an Asian Pacific American Leadership Award from the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans. Catzie Vilayphonh brought her incredible Laos in the House exhibition to Philadelphia. We founded Sahtu Press.
There were many other amazing achievements our community was able to undertake in this time. But it was not until this year we were able to meet again in Minneapolis. We met new friends and colleagues, and many of the next generation of Lao writers and artists who impressed us with their talent and vision.
Collectively, we also decided that we wanted to try and gather again more regularly, and we were delighted to see that Krysada Panusith Phounsiri, stepped up to the plate and took that challenge, offering to convene the Lao American Writers Summit in San Diego in 2016.
This will be the very first year the National Lao American Writers Summit is held outside of Minnesota, so we’ll need a lot of support to make this happen, and we’ll have to move fast. He’s already established that we’ll meet at Centro Cultural de la Raza 2004 Park Blvd, in San Diego. It will take place Friday and Saturday, May 27-28th, 2016. Sahtu Press is honored to serve as the fiscal agent for this year's event, in addition to providing other logistical support.
In 40 years of the Lao Diaspora, less than 40 books of Lao American writers have been published. It has been a challenge for the Lao American community to be visible. Community issues, expression in art, and access to higher education are core to the problem of invisibility regarding Lao Americans.
Krysada Panusith Phounsiri described his vision for the 2016 summit. “We aim to be a gathering space for creatives and professionals who are Lao American as well as those who support the community. Its objective is to open dialogue on the current state of creative writing, visual artistry, social media, and community advocacy of Lao Americans whose history ties with the events tracing back to the 1975 Diaspora of people of Laos.”
He noted “Such a dialogue will welcome the discussion of ideas and methods that are used to help define their personal work and how it relates to the community. The summit will attempt to empower participants in defining their narrative, their voices, and their stories in regards to the writing space, which will be the unifying medium that links creatives and professionals.”
These themes will thread into efforts that will support the general community in achieving higher-education, issue awareness / organizing, and policy writing by creating the framework for writers to discuss ideas and methods of producing work.
This summit is an answer to the question of how do Lao Americans use writing to push art, creative works, and policy/grants using ingrained themes of Lao / Lao American Diaspora history to create visibility of community issues while crafting work that will be coined as Lao American for future years to come.
It is a space for discussing whether such actions are possible. The summit will close with a reception that showcases the works of Lao American Artist to help send off summit participates with inspiration. The keynote speakers will be Channapha Khamvongsa. The event is, as always, open to everyone More information will be coming soon. If you have any questions, please email LaoAmWriters@gmail.com.
We look forward to seeing all of you!