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Fresno Hmong-American Poet Receives Prestigious Book Award

Mar 23, 2016

A Fresno poet has won one of the nation’s most sought-after book awards. FM89’s Ezra David Romero reports.

The Academy of American Poets has selected thirty-four year old Hmong-American Mai Der Vang as the winner of this year’s prestigious Walt Whitman Award. Each year the honor goes to an emerging writer to make possible the publication of their first book.

Vang says she was shocked by the news.

VANG: “I was just thrilled. I actually asked if they could double check to make sure it was me.”

The honor is for her upcoming book Afterland, detailing the lives of Hmong people escaping the horrors of the Secret War in Laos during the early 70s and refugee life.

VANG:  “I think I was experimenting with this notion that there are places we go to after we experience things. The place a refugee goes  after war or the place that the departed soul goes to after it passes.”

Poet Carolyn Forché says the book of poems has a haunting affect and is profoundly spiritual.  The honor comes with $5,000 and a residency program in Italy. Vang currently teaches at Clovis Community College and says her book will be published by Graywolf Press next year.