How Do I Begin?: A Hmong American Literary Anthology

Shaping the Hmong American literary voice

Hmong history and culture can be found in the form of oral stories, oral poetry, textile art, and music but there is no written account of Hmong life, by a Hmong hand, passed down through the centuries. As an undergraduate, Burlee Vang experienced this void when he received valuable advice from his English professor: “Write about your people. That story has not been told. If you don’t, who will?”

How Do I Begin? is the struggle to preserve on paper the Hmong American experience. In this anthology, readers will find elaborate soul-calling ceremonies, a woman questioning the seeming tyranny of her parents and future in-laws, the temptation of gangs and drugs, and the shame and embarrassment of being different in a culture that obsessively values homogeneity. Some pieces revisit the ghosts of war. Others lament the loss of a country. Many offer glimpses into intergenerational tensions exacerbated by the differences in Hmong and American culture.

How Do I Begin? signifies a turning point for the Hmong community, a group of people who have persevered through war, persecution, and exile. Transcending ethnic and geographic boundaries, it poignantly speaks of survival instead of defeat.

Reviews

“Seventeen Hmong come-of-age writers meet you head-on with their hearts on fire, their eyes electric, their voices thundering: bullet-riddled histories, miraculous border-breakouts, adopted fractured citizenships, landscapes in spirit flight, language in between languages, and impossible healings of community, and perhaps one of the finest collections of creative writing in decades. A monumental tour de force.”

—Juan Felipe Herrera, Tomás Rivera Endowed Chair, UC Riverside

 

“The confident clear Americano speech tells frankly of the anxieties and questions around being Hmong, new Americans, and artists, with diverse and ever-shifting resolutions. We are witnessing creation.”

—Gary Snyder, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, author of Mountains and Rivers without End

About the Authors

Founded in 2004, Hmong American Writers’ Circle (HAWC) has served as a forum to discover and foster creative writing within the Hmong community. HAWC coordinates monthly writing workshops and provides educational/professional support and networking opportunities to emerging writers in California’s Central Valley. Its members have partaken in writing residencies at Hedgebrook and conferences such as Kundiman, Napa Valley Writers’ Conference, and Tinhouse, and have published their work with Random House, New Rivers Press, Heyday, Swan Scythe Press, and the Minnesota Historical Society Press. Their writings have also appeared in literary journals such as Ploughshares, North American Review, In the Grove, Paj Ntaub Voice, Hyphen Magazine, and Alaska Quarterly Review, among many others. Through the years, HAWC’s efforts and achievements have been geared toward the creation of a visible body of Hmong American literature and the establishment of a Hmong literary culture. To find more information about HAWC, visit www.hmongwriters.org.