Bakka Magazine

Volume 4, January-December 2010

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014 4:35 am EST

Interview: Kao Kalia Yang

The Latehomecomer

Kao Kalia Yang is the author of the critically acclaimed new Hmong American memoir, The Latehomecomer, being released by Coffee House Press this April. A graduate of Carleton College with a bachelor degree in American Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies, and Cross-cultural Studies, Yang earned her Master’s of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction Writing from Columbia University in the city of New York. You can visit her website at www.kaokaliayang.com

In The Latehomecomer, readers discover what happens when a little girl is born into a family who just recently escaped a war-torn country, only to land in refugee camps surrounded by unpredictable events, in a time of horrific tragedies including loss of home, land, and family. How does one mother hold her family together – her sons, daughters-in-law, grand children – the few that remain near her, and to those whom only imaginations can serve? “She has the past to protect, and the future to be weaved and yet engraved,” according to the publishers.

Kao Kalia Yang’s debut blends her family’s history with descriptive anecdotes, filled with illuminating senses answering these questions and more in a memoir touted as work of “powerful convictions, woven with assorted traditional Hmong folk tale which helps readers understand and interpret such incredible and celebrated events.”

Yang also recently released The Place Where We Were Born, a film documenting the experiences of Hmong American refugees. Bakka’s Literary Editor, Bryan Thao Worra interviewed her recently to talk about her experience and her other upcoming projects:

Bryan Thao Worra: What are you working on these days, artistically?
Kao Kalia Yang: Doing what I love, following what I feel, expressing in the world in a way that will heal and cause no hurt. I am completely free right now to garner new work. I’m taking in and soaking up material. I don’t feel tremendous pressure, and am content to finish this venture before starting in on another. 

BTW: What’s been the biggest challenge for you as a writer?
KKY: As a writer, I find structures within text intimidating. I know that it holds up language and imposes context and offers to meaning what bones do to bodies, but I find that it is hard to look objectively at the pieces of prose and relocate them in frames that fit.

BTW: How did you first get into writing?
KKY: Desperation to be understood by others, to understand myself, and to give to the world a sense of meaning.

BTW: What are some of your favorite themes and ideas to work with?
KKY: Right now, I’m all caught up in the idea of stilling a fluttering heart. My next work would be titled so, Still, Fluttering Heart. How does it happen? 

BTW: Who’s on your reading list these days?
KKY: I’m reading Jaed Coffin’s new memoir A Chant to Soothe Wild Elephants. Also caught up in The Historian and Grendel. I read what is available and what catches the interest of those I love and admire, more than actively search for a sensibility in prose.

BTW: Do you have any advice for emerging writers?
KKY: Yes, feel emergent for as long as you can. That will allow you to grow as fast as you can, and to learn as much as you can, and to try and use what you have in the place of experience and education.

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