Written by Kirstan Trauba
English Festival was proud to present Kao Kalia Yang as part of the Blugold Visiting Writers Series on Monday, November 17th. Yang, a former professor at UWEC, spoke of her new book entitled The Song Poet. Her first book, The Latehomecomer (2009), won both the Minnesota Book Award and the Reader’s Choice Award. On Monday, Yang talked beautifully of her book, her family, and her own writing process. We had the pleasure of hearing a piece of the first part of The Song Poet at the event, and as expected, the reading about her father was lovely.
Yang spent much of the event discussing how her father served as the inspiration for the new book as it tells the story of his life. Listening to her endearing and thoughtful words about her father and her Hmong heritage made it clear how much she looks up to him and values Hmong culture. When informing her father about her plans to write the book, he said that no one would read about him. Yang, of course, disagreed, and sought to capture his poetic voice. There is no question of how Yang was inspired to become a writer, for her father paved the path to her inspiration and served as her encouragement.
Yang also shed some interesting light on the writing process itself, which many young writers could find useful. Yang expressed that she tries to distract herself from the sorrow that she finds herself writing at times, especially when recounting her father’s childhood; however, she also does not want to write without feeling. “My writing is honest,” she stated, and there was no hint of second-guessing in her voice. She explained that when not writing, she feels pressure, but when she writes words on the page, that pressure disappears. Yang further encouraged young writers to be as honest as possible, as an artist must be brave. That bravery manifests when one writes honestly and does not stray from the truth. Writers must have the courage to not only share the good memories, but to also embrace the difficult and emotional parts of their stories.
The most prominent and noticeable part of Yang’s event was her all-encompassing love for her father. Not a single person listening to Yang would have doubted her admiration for him. In fact, she shared that The Song Poet is truly her love letter to her father. The book is set to be released in January 2016.