By SAYMOUKDA VONGSAY
Saymoukda Vongsay presents “Pushing the Pen” a series of interviews that highlight Asian American artists and individuals who advocate for Asian American art.
Last week, Vongsay featured Kimberly Nightingale. Look for the following interviews in the weeks ahead:
• Ka Vang – Bush Artist Fellow, playwright, and journalist with MN Women’s Press
• Kao Kalia Yang – author of The Late Homecomer and MN Book Award
• Katie Leo – playwright and theater artist whose latest work, Four Destinies, will be produced by Mu Performing Arts this season
• Boua Xiong – journalist and newsbroadcaster with Kare11
• Aki Shibata – 3D book artist in residence at the MN Center for Book Arts housed at Open Book
Boa Lee is a former journalist with the Sun Post, KSTP-TV (MN), and WEIU-TV (IL), and communications consultant who campaigns for social, racial, and economic justice. She will be presenting the workshop, “Trials, Tribulations and the Truth About Being a Journalist,” at the inaugural Hmong Women Writers Retreat held September 9th – 11th at Villa Maria in Frontenac, Minn. For application and information on the retreat, please visit www.hmongwomenachieve.org.
Q: In the form of a haiku/senyru, tell us about yourself.
Boa: A single dew drop / Rolling down the cactus plant / A writer just smiles
Q: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced within your discipline?
B: The biggest challenge for me is wrestling whether to write about a particular subject, especially if the scenario involves members of my family or close friends. For creative nonfiction writers, I don’t think this is at all shocking. I always have to ask myself whether what I am writing might constitute invasion of privacy, if it hurts more than helps, and what the writing means to me and to someone else. Writers can be selfish sometimes, so it’s taking a step back to try to be responsible that stunts the creative process.
Q: What does the saying, “Each one, reach one, teach one,” mean to you? Should it apply to writers at all?
B: That saying means a lot to me, but it’s because I have a community organizing background – and not necessarily because I am a writer. As an organizer, it’s important to build a base of supporters and leaders. Each opportunity you have to engage with someone lets you share what you know with them and, at the same time, learn something from them. As it applies to writers, I am surprised often by which of my pieces resonates with someone else. Most times, it’s the ones that I hate that others like. I am not good at predicting which poem or story will “reach one” or “teach one” so I don’t go into my writing with that as my mission.
Q: What is the future of your discipline? Where is it headed?
B: I believe creative nonfiction writing, especially among Hmong American women, will only grow and improve in the future. Since I have left journalism full time and returned to creative writing, I have met so many Hmong American women who are closet creative nonfiction writers. I can’t wait for them to come on out and share their stuff!
Q: Be innovative or stay classic?
B: I am always one for putting a personal spin on something classic. Choose an obscure subject to write about. Find a new angle on a homogenous experience. I am a sucker for seeing something with a new lens.
Q: In the spirit of ‘wait 20 minutes before swimming,’ what should a writer NOT do before their pen hits the paper?
B: I try to remind myself that a writer should never set the expectation that everything he or she writes is going to be award winning. Just concentrate on writing something – anything – even if you end up throwing it in the garbage later.
Q: What else do you wield with your hands other than a pen?
B: Most people don’t know I fly fish, so it’d be a fly rod.
Q: Where is your happy place?
B: My escape is typically on a mountain, national park or forest. I love backpacking.
Q: Besides other writers, what influences your work?
B: My life experiences and the experiences of my family and friends, is what most influences my writing. Sometimes, it is a sentence I hear or even a word. Inspiration can be found when you least expect it.
Q: What can we look forward to seeing from you in the near future?
B: I am working on a couple of projects: one is a play about the murder of a teddy bear and the other is an actual murder.
Vongsay is a recipient of the Alfred C. Carey Prize in Spoken Word Poetry from NY and a Jerome/Mu Performing Art’s New Eyes Theater Fellow. She lives and writes in St. Paul.