Happy 25th birthday to the SatJaDham Lao Literary Project this year!
On April 11th, 1995, the SatJaDham Lao literary project was born. The SatJaDham Lao Literary Project was one of the oldest continuous networks of Laotian American writers in existence. The group eventually held 7 national conferences of Laotian writers and readers and produced five small anthologies of Lao American writings.
The group’s name came from the combination of the words “SatJa” and “Dhamma.” “Satja” means truth in Lao, and “dham” is from dhamma, the teaching of the Buddha.
While the network is not currently considered active, many of its founders and members have continued to write and contribute to community building through their art, education, civic service and volunteering, including with organizations such as the Lao Heritage Foundation, the Center for Lao Studies and the Laotian American National Alliance.
This year is also the 45th anniversary since the beginning of the Laotian diaspora and as such holds significant meaning for many Lao around the US.
A new exhibit looking at 45 years of the Lao diaspora is scheduled to come to Minnesota this April thanks in part to a Joyce Award in the Midwest. Minnesota is home to the 3rd largest population of Lao refugees in the US and this timely celebration will look at the diverse dimensions of the Lao American experience across generations for the last four and a half decades. For further information be sure to follow the website at https://www.laomagination.wordpress.com
Governor Mark Dayton of Minnesota issued a proclamation of August as Lao-American Artists Heritage Month, recognizing the diverse journeys of Lao artists in diaspora, particularly those from his state. The month has been celebrated since 2012 by the Lao Minnesotan community and increasingly by Lao artists across the country, with special events including readings, workshops, and training camps among the many things conducted during the month.
Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay recently released the cover for her first children’s book, an adaptation of her award-winning poem “When Everything Was Everything.” It will be released this October from full circle press and illustrated by Cori Nakamura Lin.
It’s been a good year for Minnesota-based theater artist Kaysone Syonesa, who recently completed a number of productions including Pangea World Theater’s ground-breaking Isla Tuliro, Loom Labs’ The Middle Keeps Moving, and the recent debut of the SEAD Project’s River of Memories.
Syonesa is one of the Lao Americans with a formal background in theater, graduating from the University of Minnesota ten years ago with a degree in Theater Arts. Sahtu Press recently did an extensive interview about her work and techniques.
Syonesa’s family comes from Khongsedone in the Salavan Province of Laos. She has been a positive role model working well with youth to help them participate in the creation of their own stories, and has been assisting Twin Cities efforts to collect oral histories across multiple generations as the community navigates the difficult questions that came in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, and what that journey means almost 45 years later.
Thoughtful, inspiring and energetic, she has lent her talents to projects by Ananya Dance Theater, Mu Performing Arts, Green T Productions and many others. Lao American poet Bryan Thao Worra remarked “In all of her productions, she’s utterly fearless and dynamic. She brings a graceful, deeply expressive and joyous presence to the stage in everything she’s in.”
She is putting the final touches on her new full-length work, In the Land of 10,000 Stories, and had previously created plays such as Sticky Rice Drama and a collaborative play called Many Routes. Even more exciting projects are sure to come!
It was recently announced by the League of Minnesota Poets that Lao American poet Bryan Thao Worra, the president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association, will be the keynote speaker for their annual Fall conference, which will be held at the Hopkins Center for the Arts. The theme for this year is the “Timelessness and Timeliness of Poetry” two topics Thao Worra has engaged with extensively in his own work as well as with poets around the world. The poet and hip-hop spoken word artist See More Perspective will also be speaking at the conference. The League of Minnesota Poets was established in 1934 and has members across the state. For more information, visit: https://www.mnpoets.org/
Keep an eye out for Chantala Kommanivanh’s newest exhibit, Su Kwan (Calling of the Souls) this August 27-September 14th at the University of Milwaukee’s Union Art Gallery. An artist talk and performance is scheduled for 7pm during the closing reception on September 14th.