Each day we highlight one of the 36 finalists leading up to the April 8 announcement of the Minnesota Book Awards, presented by Education Minnesota. Today we feature 2017 Memoir & Creative Nonfiction finalist:
In the Hmong tradition, the song poet recounts the story of his people, their history and tragedies, joys and losses; extemporizing or drawing on folk tales, he keeps the past alive, invokes the spirits and the homeland, and records courtships, births, weddings, and wishes. Following her award-winning book The Latehomecomer, Kao Kalia Yang now retells the life of her father Bee Yang, the song poet, a Hmong refugee in Minnesota, driven from the mountains of Laos by American’s Secret War. Bee sings the life of his people through the war-torn jungle and a Thai refugee camp. But the songs fall away in the cold, bitter world of a Minneapolis housing project and on the factory floor until, with the death of Bee’s mother, the songs leave him for good. But before they do, Bee, with his poetry, has polished a life of poverty for his children, burnished their grim reality so that they might shine. Written with the exquisite beauty for which Yang is renowned, The Song Poet is a love story – of a daughter for her father, a father for his children, a people for their land, their traditions, and all that they have lost.
Kao Kalia Yang is the author of The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir, which was a finalist for the PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award and the Asian American Literary Award, and received the 2009 Minnesota Book Award. Her work has been published in Longreads and the Virginia Quarterly. Yang, who has taught at Columbia University and Concordia University-St. Paul, among other places, lives in Minneapolis with her family.
“Yang’s evocative, often moving memoir, told from Bee’s perspective, reveals a life of struggle, hardship, deep love, and strong family ties… Yang’s gentle prose captures her father’s sufferings and joys and serves as a loving celebration of his spirit.” – Kirkus Reviews
“The Song Poet, Kao Kalia Yang’s remarkable new book, is about art, resilience and the opportunities and indignities that come with life in a new country.” – Star Tribune
“Beautiful writing, expertly constructed. It’s a difficult thing to write a memoir of another and yet this memoirist does so effectively…This author delivers a story today’s readers want, and she offers it all up poetically, poignantly, perfectly. A book for the ages.” – MN Book Awards judge
Beyond the Book:
Audio: National Endowment for the Arts “Art Works” podcast interview with Kao Kalia Yang