Hmong poet Mai Der Vang to give reading from new book

Academics Campus & Community

September 15, 2021

By Mike Killeen

Historical events are sometimes ripe with multiple explanations or theories.

For example, several theories were given when Hmong refugees who were escaping from Laos at the end of the Vietnam War recounted stories of a mysterious substance, known as “Yellow Rain,” fell from the skies and caused severe illnesses and thousands of deaths among the Hmong.

Mai Der Vang is now offering her explanation of the event and providing a voice for the Hmong with her new book of poetry, “Yellow Rain” (to be published Sept. 21 by Graywolf Press, Minneapolis).

Vang, who has received the 20th annual Sister Mariella Gable Award given each year by the College of Saint Benedict and Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, will give a virtual reading from her book at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 12.

A link to her presentation will be made available approximately one week before the event.

The United States blamed the Soviet Union for unleashing the Yellow Rain, claiming the Soviets had given the weapon to the Viet Cong and Pathet Lao to use against the Hmong. But in 1983, Harvard University biologist Matt Meselson concluded that the yellow rain was the feces of honeybees defecating en masse.

Vang is skeptical of Meselson’s findings and feels the truth of what happened to the Hmong has been ignored and discredited.

Yellow Rain bookcover“Integrating archival research and declassified documents, ‘Yellow Rain’ calls out the erasure of a history, the silencing of a people who at the time lacked the capacity and resources to defend and represent themselves,” said Graywolf Press in promoting the book. “In poems that sing and lament, that contend and question, Vang restores a vital narrative in danger of being lost, and brilliantly explores what it means to have access to the truth and how marginalized groups are often forbidden that access.”

Vang is an editorial member of the Hmong American Writers’ Circle. Her poetry has appeared in the New Republic, Poetry and the Virginia Quarterly Review, and her essays have been published in The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and the Washington Post newspapers

Her debut collection of poetry, “Afterland,” received the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets.

Sister Mariella Gable was an English professor at CSB from 1928-73. She was also a Dante scholar, poet, editor and writer. Gable tirelessly promoted the cause of two then little-known authors, Flannery O’Connor and J.F. Powers, and introduced audiences in the United States to such Irish writers as Frank O'Connor, Sean O'Faolain, Mary Lavin and Bryan MacMahon through her many essays and anthologies.

The Sister Mariella Gable Award is given each year by CSB for an important work of literature published by Graywolf Press. Graywolf Press, described by Ploughshares magazine as, "arguably the best small press in the country," and the Literary Arts Institute have formed an innovative collaboration to explore new ways of promoting the literary arts on campus, to audiences in the surrounding area, and in the Twin Cities.

Marie Mutsuki Mockett was the 2020 Sister Mariella Gable Series winner for her book “American Harvest: God, Country, and Farming in the Heartland.”

Past winners of the Sister Mariella Gable Award include Sally Wen Mao (2019), Jamel Brinkley (2018), Edwidge Danticat (2017), Susan Stewart (2016), Eula Biss (2015), Claudia Rankine (2014), Ru Freeman (2013), Deborah Baker (2012), Binyavanga Wainaina (2011), Tiphanie Yanique (2010), Ellen Bryant Voigt (2009), Linda Gregg (2008), Tracy K. Smith (2007), Nurruddin Farah (2006), Jane Kenyon (2005), Clint McCown (2004), Joe Coomer (2003), Judith Kitchen (2002) and Victoria Redel (2001).

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Mai Der Vang
Photo credit: Andrew Yang