Kao Kalia Yang, author of The Latehomecomer and many other books for adults and children, will be the keynote speaker at the Open Windows Literature Conference from 9 a.m. to noon on April 22 in Upper Gorecki at the College of Saint Benedict.
Yang, a Hmong refugee who settled in Minnesota as a child, will speak about sharing inclusive literature in the K-12 classroom. Registration is free (although space is limited) thanks to funding from the Central Minnesota Community Foundation. The event includes breakfast, door prizes and continuing education credit for those to which it applies.
Yang’s gripping memoir tells of her experience as a young girl, born in the Ban Vinai Refugee Camp in Thailand. The narrative follows her journey to a new life in the United States at age 6. Including perspective from her parents and grandmother as well, the story explores themes of home, family, opportunity, acceptance and obligation.
Yang and her family are among thousands of Hmong families who made the journey from war-torn Laos to a better future. She felt driven to tell her family’s story after her grandmother’s death, providing an alternative view to a legacy generally shaped by others. There was no written language for the Hmong people until the 1950s. She said it took four years to write the content, but “centuries and centuries” to live it.
Yang’s work, winner of a PEN USA Literary Award for nonfiction and Minnesota's Book and Readers Choice awards, is the first memoir written by a Hmong-American to be published with national distribution. Her real victory, however, is the story of her journey from a quiet, reticent student struggling to speak English while facing racial discrimination, to a self-empowered young woman claiming her voice to tell the untold story of her people.
In addition to The Latehomecomer, which was recently performed at CSB as a Literature to Life event, Yang has written three other books for adults. They include Somewhere in the Unknown World, What God is Honored Here?, and The Song Poet.
Somewhere in the Unknown World includes 14 refugee stories and was one of Kirkus Reviews Best Books of the Year. What God is Honored Here? includes writings on miscarriage and infant loss by and for Indigenous women and women of color and was among the Star Tribune Top 10 Books of Fall 2020. The Song Poet, a memoir of her father, was one of the Star Tribune's Top 10 Books of the decade from 2010-2020. She has also produced five books for children.