By SAYMOUKDA VONGSAY
AAP staff writer
This segment of Pushing the Pen, a series of articles celebrating some of the best and brightest of the Asian Pacific Islander American writers, we interview with Mai Neng Moua of the Twin Cities.
Ms. Moua is a poet and author, founder of the first Hmong literary journal Paj Ntaub Voice, editor of the anthology Bamboo Among the Oaks: Contemporary Writing by Hmong Americans, and recipient of the Bush Foundation Research Grant and an Artist Initiative Grant from the MN State Arts Board.
Commended by The New York Times as “the midwife of the Hmong literary arts movement,” Moua has continued to shed light on Hmong culture and to challenge its traditions in a memoir tentatively titled, “Bride Price.”
Saymoukda Vongsay: In the form of a haiku/senyru, tell us about yourself.
Mai Neng Moua: Hmong woman writer / Writing herself into being / You exist, she exclaims!
SV: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced within your discipline?
MNM: Writing in between the comings and goings of a 9-to-5 job and being a wife and mother to two little girls is the current challenge.
SV: What does the saying, “Each one, reach one, teach one,” mean to you? Should it apply to writers at all?
MNM: Once we learn how to do something, we have the responsibility to teach or inspire others to do it. Should it apply to writers? Sure! In order for my community to have a thriving tradition of written literature, we must have a critical mass of Hmong writers writing. The more people do it, the more we’ll inspire each other to write. The more kinds of writing we’ll have by Hmong writers. In this way, we’ll build collective power.
SV: What can we look forward to seeing from you in the near future?
MNM: A published memoir, tentatively titled, The Bride Price.
SV: What is the future of your discipline? Where is it headed?
MNM: Hmong writers will be publishing more books on both Hmong and non-Hmong issues. As more Hmong writers graduate with MFAs in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, we’ll see work that is more academic in nature.
SV: Be innovative or stay classic?
MNM: Since the Hmong community does not have written classic literature, we must be innovative and create our own brand of written literature.
SV: What else do you wield with your hands other than a pen?
MNM: I wield a cooking pot where I make my famous Hot and Sour Tilapia. I wield a sorbet maker where I make mango sorbet for my husband and girls.
SV: Where is your happy place?
MNM: The Grand Canyon where I am reminded I am just a speck in a big world.
SV: In the spirit of ‘wait 20 minutes before swimming,’ what should a writer NOT do before their pen hits the paper?
MNM: Do not wash the dishes, do the laundry, sweep the floor, or cook. Do not check your work and/or personal email(s). Do not read the news or surf the internet. Do not text. Just write.
SV: Besides other writers, what influences your work?
MNM: My family – mother, husband, and girls. TV shows or movies. Everyday conversations.
Moua will be featured in this season of the Hmong Writers Fireside Chat Series, hosted by Hmong Arts Connection in partnership with Hnum Tshiab: Hmong women Achieving Together on October 14th. A free workshop on writing taught by Moua is offered on October 15th from 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. Both events will be held at Dreamland Arts, 677 Hamline Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55104. For more information contact [email protected].
Vongsay is a recipient of the Alfred C. Carey Prize in Spoken Word Poetry and a Jerome/Mu Performing Arts New Eyes Theater Fellow. She lives to write and dreams to fight zombies.