Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir by MN Author Kao Kalia Yang

I had a wonderful conversation today with MN author Kao Kalia Yang about the book that has been read by so many people, and has been chosen by the Grand Rapids Area Library as the "Rapids Reads" book. Kalia will be speaking about her book in Grand Rapids on Thursday March 17 at 7pm.

In our conversation we talked about language, both English and Hmong, and the art of storytelling. Kalia had this to say:
"My uncle asked me do you know what a storyteller is? And I told him yes, they are writers but in spoken words. He told me no, in order to be good you have to understand. That a story is a like a stop sign on the road of life. Its purpose is to make you pause, look both sides and check the trajectory of the horizon before you continue. I've always had a profound understanding that stories were the gift of life. It was what one person had to give to another and so I grew up surrounded by stories - in both Hmong and English."
She went on to tell me how different English and Hmong are to her:

"The English language never feels quite right. It is eternally breathless. It is always as if I am doing CPR to the language. But in Hmong, it flows beautifully in voice. The way I sound in Hmong, I believe, is the way I read on the pages in English. I think I write like a native. Very fearlessly. I write much better than I can speak because for so long I didn't speak. For 20 years of my life I was a selective mute. I prefer that (writing) medium any time any day. If we could do this interview in email or live chat it would be so ideal for me. Because I don't like the way I sound in English, even today...even right now.

When I speak in Hmong it feels like a song on my lips in English I feel so raspy and breathless. Hmong is a tonal language and every breath that I breathe in the world carries meaning. In English I have to trap the air in my lungs and units of meaning to make sounds to the bigger world. "
Hope you get a chance to hear our interview tonight (2/23) at 6pm or Sunday 2/27 at 9am. Or check the archived interviews.

1 comment:

Judy said...

I really enjoyed this book. I look forward to listening to your interview.