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Hmong writers celebrate with new literary anthology

It was like a coming out party for the newest group of writers to join the literary world. Amid the bright lights of Fresno’s Tower Theatre, an event billed as the official launch of the book “How Do I Begin” was held.

Fresno writer Mas Masumoto called the publishing of the anthology of poetry and stories written Hmong-Americans in the Central Valley a historic moment. “I think tonight is historic because it’s a community capturing their voices, and the voices are allowed to be passed down through story, especially in a book form.”

The release of the book comes seven years after the Hmong American Writers' Circle was founded by 29-year-old Burlee Vang. It provided a home for writers like 49-year-old Sol Vang. Despite generational differences, Soul Vang said they shared common experiences.

“We realized that no one has told our story and we have to tell it. We have to tell it from our experience, from our point of view, and try to set a trend or blaze a trail so that younger writers coming up they can say, ‘Ok, there’s a way to do it, someone has done it. We can follow.’”

And they do have stories to tell. Some were born here in America like Burlee, others like Soul were born in Laos. He came to America with his family at the age of 12.

“I struggled to learn English and struggled through school. [I] had a lot of difficulties kind so of finding myself, dropped out of college, went to join the Army, came back, finished my degrees and then found out I really like to write.”

Soul Vang went on to become the first Hmong American to graduate with a Masters In Fine Arts (MFA) degree from Fresno State. He was one of the featured writers at Friday night’s event.

Vang believes that the release of the book, and the recent announcement that a screenplay written by Burlee Vang and his brother Abel had won a prestigious screenwriting competition, sponsored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, are groundbreaking achievements for Hmong American literature.

“They opened the curtain for the group and for Hmong writers in a way.”

Juanita Stevenson has lived and worked in Fresno for the past 24 years. She is perhaps best known to Valley residents as a longtime reporter and news anchor with local television station ABC30, and has also worked at stations KJWL, KYNO and ValleyPBS. She is the recipient of the 2001 Associated Press Award for Best Reporting, and the 1997 Radio & Television News Directors Association Regional Edward R. Murrow award for Best Reporting.