April 6, 2017
Photo by Owatonna.com
Last Saturday [2 April 2017], female Hmong author Kao Kalia Yang has been rewarded by the American Association of University Women. During the ceremony, she addressed the audience talking about her life as a refugee in Thailand and her arrival in the United States. Thanks to the brilliant intertwining of personal memoires and political events in her books, it is possible to have a deeper insight of the Hmong’ recent history. A great part of the Hmong fleeing Laos has settled their new life in the United States.
Below is an article by Owatonna.com:
OWATONNA — Hushed expressions of admiration could be heard and the blotting of tears could be seen as award-winning Hmong author Kao Kalia Yang spoke to more than 60 women Saturday afternoon at the Owatonna Arts Center.
Yang, who resides in St. Paul, was the featured speaker at the American Association of University Women’s annual tri-branch luncheon, which consisted of Owatonna, Faribault and Northfield.
“She speaks as well as she writes. Her writing is so beautiful, so lyrical,” said Mary Kaye Tillman, a member of the Owatonna AAUW who organized the speaker. “Her story, for the time that we’re in today, how timely, we have this person who was a refugee immigrant, an acclaimed author. It’s just wonderful.”
Yang, who attended the event with her husband, Aaron Hokanson, spoke with passion about her grandmother and her father, who both inspired her books “The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir,” which was published in 2008, and “The Song Poet: A Memoir of My Father,” which was published in 2016, respectively,
Both books were read in the Owatonna AAUW’s morning and evening book clubs.
“I’m really happy to be here,” Yang said. “It’s such a beautiful space on such a beautiful day with a group of women I respect. Thank you for the work that you all do. For the path that you’ve taken in having me here.”
Yang was born in a refugee camp in Thailand after her family fled communist rule in Laos. Her family later moved to the U.S. and settled in Minnesota. After graduating from Carleton College in Northfield, she earned a master’s degree in creative nonfiction at Columbia University in New York.
During her presentation, Yang read excerpts from her books, including those about the death of her grandmother, who died five months before she graduated from college; the hardships her father faced working in a factory; and growing up in the projects of East St. Paul. She also talked about what it was like growing up in the U.S. as a refugee.
“The Song Poet: A Memoir of My Father” recounts the life of her father, Bee Yang, the song poet — a Hmong refugee in Minnesota, driven from the mountains of Laos by America’s secret war. Throughout much of her life, Yang’s father has composed and sung poems about life, politics, history, family and love, and she transcribed his songs into writing.
“My dad said, ‘Nobody wants to read a book about a man like me,’” she said recalling a conversation with her father before she started writing her second book. “My daddy loves Barack Obama. He says, ‘In a world where there are men like Barack Obama with books written by themselves, nobody wants to read a book about a man like me, and so my second book was born.”
Yang said with the publishing of her book “The Song Poet,” her father’s stories are now heard.
“We do not have to be powerful people to have such powerful lives because the lives that we’ve lived have lessons to teach a bigger world because most of the world is built on the shoulders and backs of men like my father,” she said.
Yang’s first book received the 2009 Minnesota Book Award, and her second book has been honored as a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Minnesota Book Awards. It was also named the best memoir of 2016 by the Library Journal.
After her presentation, individuals were invited to purchase a copy of Yang’s books or her father’s CD or have their copies autographed, and as many left, they praised her for her writing and her speaking.
The AAUW is a non-profit that advances equity for women and girls through advocacy, education and research.