St. Paul, Minn. (Oct. 24, 2018) — The Lao Assistance Center of Minnesota has announced that Bryan Thao Worra is the inaugural Lao Minnesotan Poet Laureate as the Lao community prepares for the 45th anniversary of their diaspora in the United States. This honorary literary designation recognized his 20 years of service to the Lao community in Minnesota as an artist, educator and community builder.
The Lao Assistance Center is the first and oldest non-profit organization established in Minnesota to assist the Lao refugee community reconstruction in the aftermath of the war for Laos that ended in 1975. Over the decades, among their numerous projects have been art and cultural programming, including their work bringing the Lao American Writers Summit and the Legacies of War: Refugee Nation Twin Cities exhibition to Minneapolis, as well as convening the Lao American Storytellers Festival and the Before We Remember We Dream exhibit. They’ve regularly convened the Lao New Year’s Festival and supported traditional music and dance education with several programs throughout the years. Thao Worra has collaborated with them regularly in various roles since 2008.
During his tenure as the Lao Minnesotan Poet Laureate, his duties will include giving public readings in urban and rural locations across Minnesota and the US, educating civic and state leaders about the value of Lao American poetry and creative expression, and undertaking a significant cultural project, with one of its goals being to bring Lao American poetry to those who might otherwise have little opportunity to be exposed.
2018 marks the 20th anniversary since Bryan Thao Worra first came to Minnesota after a brief period working in Washington, D.C on refugee resettlement issues. This year he was the keynote speaker for the League of Minnesota Poets Fall Conference, the first Lao American to present to the organization in its 84-year history. He was also a 2018 guest of honor at Diversicon with award-winning author Charlie Jane Anders. Thao Worra was appointed this summer to the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans by Governor Mark Dayton as the representative of Lao Minnesotans to help advise the Minnesota legislature on current issues affecting the community. He will soon be releasing a new book from Sahtu Press reflecting on 45 years of the Lao diaspora and the challenge of memory in the modern age.
Born in Vientiane, Laos in 1973, he was raised as the adopted son of an American civilian pilot flying in the region at the time and grew up in Montana, Alaska, and Michigan, and attended college in Ohio in the 1990s. His early roots as a writer are often traced to his Waldorf education in Ann Arbor, Mich., and encouragement from several humanities teachers in Saline High School. His work is most typically classified as speculative poetry, with roots in punk rock and industrial music, cosmicism, Theater of the Absurd, Intermedia and Fluxus. The author of over ten books, his work appears internationally in Australia, Canada, Mexico, England, Scotland, Germany, France, Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, Cambodia, China, Korea, and Pakistan. He played a key role in supporting and assisting the efforts of other Southeast Asian and Asian American literary journals throughout his journey as a writer.
Thao Worra holds over 20 awards for his writing and community leadership including an NEA Fellowship in Literature for poetry. He was a Cultural Olympian representing Laos during the 2012 London Summer Games. He holds a 2011 Youth Media Innovation Award from the University of Minnesota Human Rights Center and won the 2014 Elgin Award for Book of the Year from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association, where he presently serves as their first Asian American president. He was the first Lao American to hold professional standing in the international Horror Writers Association, and the first Lao American guest of honor at the CONvergence convention in 2015.
A colorful figure in the community, he has presented at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the Loft Literary Center, Intermedia Arts, Kearny Street Workshop, the Institute for Contemporary Art, among many others, and recently as the inaugural Visiting Artist with University of Merced Center for the Humanities. He was a showcased poet at the 2017 Southeast Asian American Studies Conference at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell and was one of the founders of the national Lao American Writers Summit.
In 2019 a 20-year retrospective of his work and other artists in the Laomagination tradition will be convened in North Minneapolis probing many of his key artistic questions of how a refugee community reconnects with its inner memories and dreams in diaspora, and how it expresses a future they see themselves in.