Poetry reading shines light on refugee experiences


Mai Der Vang’s “Afterland” has been recognized for several awards since being published in 2017. Photo credit: Lucero Del Rayo-Nava

Every seat and plus some was filled in Zingg Recital Hall on Thursday evening for this month’s poetry reading. The event, Writer’s Voice, is a literary arts reading series hosted by Chico State’s Department of English.

Mai Der Vang, the showcased literary mastermind, is the author of a book titled “Afterland.” Her collection of poetry captures the Hmong exodus from Laos and the experiences of the thousands of refugees left seeking asylum.

Mai Der Vang's poetry highlights the stories and experiences of refugees from Laos. Photo credit: Lucero Del Rayo-Nava

Vang comes from a family of refugees who fled from Laos to Fresno, California and has deep-rooted ties to both her descended land and the struggles that come with having a migrant family.

“As a child of refugees, that meant that I went through a host of things, for example, having to do a lot of translating for my parents, going to the doctor’s office and having to tell my mom what was wrong with me,” said Vang.

“I grew up in such a way that I was living almost like an adult most of the time, having to be responsible, take care of my parents, take their rent payment, and that was just the experience of what it was like to grow up in a refugee family,” Vang said.

Vang read through an assortment of her poems, ranging from tales of culture and family to unapologetic honesty regarding the experiences of refugees and the people of Laos.

“Flies above your empty sockets. Maggots made your split skin,” Vang said while reading her poem called Yellow Rain, “Another cow dies from breathing as you swallowed from the same air.”

“Afterland”, recognized as the winner for the 2016 Walt Whitman Award given by the Academy of American Poets, earned a National Book Award for Poetry in 2017 and was a finalist for the 2018 Kate Tufts Discovery Award. The poetry collection has also been widely distributed in print, such as in the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Rayanne Painter can be reached at [email protected] or @rayphenomenon on Twitter.