According to a 2015 census, there are 299,000 Hmong Americans living in the U.S. (Pew Research Center, 2017) and between 4-15 million Hmong individuals living globally (Unrepresented Nations & Peoples Organization, 2017). Looking at these stats, I feel a warmth in my heart,knowing how large my community is. However, I have noticed that many people, including myself, might not know a lot about the vast culture of the Hmong community. So whether you’re an outsider looking in, an insider looking out, or someone in between, here are six books revolving around the Hmong community that will not only be enjoyable to read, but will enrich your knowledge about Hmong culture.
- The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman
This particular book brings in the perspective of a person coming from outside of the community, who learns more about what causes misunderstandings and clashes between two different cultures. This book provides good insight from a person on the outside looking in. A nonfiction book about the clash of the Hmong culture and religion with American doctors and Western medicine, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down is a popular book that reaches into your heart and fills it with emotions from joy to anger and sadness.
- The Song Poet by Kao Kalia Yang
A memoir about her father, Bee Yang, Kao Kalia Yang recounts her father’s struggles living in Laos and moving to live in America with his family. The book highlights the bond between Yang and her father and shows the love she has for her father and his song poetry. Song poetry, or kwv txhiaj, is the use of one’s voice to express one’s life experience, relationships, or hardships in a lyrical story that is full of metaphors and imagery and is sung in a variety of ways depending on the dialect of the song poet and where they lived geographically. The one requirement for kwv txhiaj is to have a good, clear voice, otherwise it will not work because the voice is the main, and usually the only, instrument a song poet will use. Seeing through Yang’s eyes makes me better appreciate, and want to learn more about, another aspect in my culture.
- Demystifying Hmong Shamanism: Practice and Use by Hmong Americans by Linda A. Gerdner with Shoua V. Xiong.
As a child, and even to this day, there are parts of Hmong Shamanism that I don’t particularly understand, no matter how many times my mom explains it to me. Finding this book was like finding a five dollar bill in the front pocket of my pants. It explores the practice and use of Hmong shamanism with first hand perspectives-an important book that explains the religion that is so heavily infused with the Hmong community.
- Gathering Fireflies by Mai Chao Duddeck
This fictional verse novel revolves around 13-year-old Kashia, who is learning about his family’s hardship and struggle to get to and live in America. Using verse to interweave the different voices of the family into one story, the reader gets to understand what’s going through a character’s head. I personally connected with the mother, and the verse format made it very easy to read and feel the character’s emotions.
- Cooking From the Heart: The Hmong Kitchen in America by Sami Scripter and Sheng Yang
Who doesn’t like food? I like food. I especially love Hmong food. Alongside the Hmong recipes within this cookbook are short little poems, aphorisms, and anecdotes relating the importance of food and cooking in the Hmong culture. I always think learning a culture through its food is a great strategy and this cookbook brings both into a nice package.
Different from the rest of the list, How Do I Begin? gives a broad range of perspectives from multiple people within the Hmong Community. Featuring a variety of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction pieces, this book would be a great start toward learning more about the experiences of people within the community.
Considering the prevalence of oral traditions in Hmong history, I was delighted to find HAWC when I was looking for more books. As a forum for creative writers in the Hmong community, it’s great to see a place where Hmong writers and poets can connect and help each other out.
Though this is only a short list, there are many more books revolving around Hmong community, culture, and experiences. Feel free to give more book suggestions in the comments down below. Happy reading!
Meet the blogger:
SANDRA VANG is a senior at Hamline University majoring in English with a concentration in creative writing and minoring in Chinese. When she’s not writing or reading, she is spending her time hanging with friends somewhere in a corner. Currently, she is working on a few short stories and microfiction.
Every book you pick up is a tree. Every page you write on is also a tree. Your desk was once a tree. Your door was one too. If you need to breathe, and feel sunlight, if you can’t or don’t want to write anywhere human-made, why not go back to the source material.
When you get a tattoo on your skin, you get to pick what goes there. You decide how big it is, how colorful, what it means. Trees never get that chance. They never decide what tale is etched on their skin. It isn’t because trees can’t talk, spin wild tales, dictate their memoirs, yell, scream, or cry.
No. In fact, trees do talk. They tell their stories in every gust of wind through their branches, every felled limb, every fallen leaf.
People just don’t take the time to listen.
So if you want to get out of your room, write something new, and hear a story, never before told, stand up. Walk outside. Are you out the door? Can you see the sky and the sun, most importantly the trees? Yes? Great!
Ok, step two. Find a tree. This may be very difficult or very easy depending on where you live. Make sure it’s an old tree. If you can wrap your arms around it and touch your fingertips, find a new one. Young trees need a bit more time to find their voice.
Have you found an old wide tree?
Yeah? Cool, now if the tree has branches low enough to climb, go ahead, get up as far as you can. Don’t forget a notebook and a writing utensil. I wouldn’t recommend bringing your laptop up a tree; that’s just a recipe for disaster.
If your tree doesn’t have low enough branches or if the city has cut them all off, it’s ok. Well, it’s not. Make sure to touch each scar and think about that severed limb for a moment. Then, sit down in the grass under the tree; you can use the trunk as a backrest if you want.
Remember, if you’re on the ground or up in the tree, be respectful. Don’t pick at the bark, or pull leaves and branches off willy nilly. No one sits on your head and plucks individual hairs out when they get bored. So don’t do it to your fellow storyteller.
Once you’re situated, start writing. Continue something old or start something new. The tree isn’t going to tell you exactly what to write. No, but it will guide you. You just have to pay attention.
Once you get about half a page written, start listening. If a couple of birds fly into your tree and start singing a song bring a new character into your story. If a squirrel comes across your tree, start a new scene, even if you’re not done with the last one. If wind shakes the tree for more than thirty seconds, change up your style, switch perspectives, or add a new genre to your writing.
If a spider or insect crawls its way across your page, don’t freak out or brush it off. Wait. See where it goes, which words and phrases it darts across, erase them, leave the spaces blank.
If a leaf falls on you, write an entire page of setting description.
If an acorn, fruit, or a pine cone falls on you or your notebook, immediately start writing in a different language. If you don’t know another language, either make up a new one, or keep writing in the first language, but backward, or in code.
If another falls on you, switch back.
When the sun starts to set, it’s time to go. Trees like to go to sleep with the sun, and they can’t slumber with you lounging in their branches or leaning against their side like that. Carefully make your way out of the tree, or simply stand up if you are already on the ground.
If your tree has scars, gently caress each one. Give the tree a hug, or if you don’t feel you know them well enough yet, pat their trunk gently. Then go home, or wherever else you go when the sun’s down. If you didn’t finish your story, or just want to hang out with the tree again, come back the next day. The tree might finish the story or start a new tale.
Meet the blogger:
KATIE FLINT is a senior at Hamline Universty, pursuing a BFA in Creative Writing. Her work can be found in The Fulcrum, and Sensicality. She loves writing fiction and poetry and enjoys exploring different genres. She adores dogs and almost every other creature on the planet except mosquitos. She can usually be found on the floor binge watching Netflix while her puppies snooze on the couch.
Tarot is often thought of as a vessel for future-telling, though this limits the possibility of tarot reading. The tarot offers an abundance of potential writing exercises for anyone—you needn’t be a high priestess, brooding hermit, or occult enthusiast of W.B. Yeats proportions to begin a tarot practice for creative inspiration and organization.
Ritual, magic, and intuition have become hot topics in the literary world. Jessa Crispin’s book The Creative Tarot: A Modern Guide To An Inspired Life details lessons artists can learn from the cards. Writers the likes of Michelle Tea (author of the queer-coming-of-age memoir Valencia) have even penned their own tarot handbooks.
“The Tarot is an ancient story system,” Tea writes, “a pack of cards that tell a multitude of tales depending on the ways in which they’re placed alongside on another.”
Still not confident in your ability to join in the fun? You can find free tarot reading resources on websites like Biddy Tarot that can help you begin your journey.
As the literary tarot community continues to grow, let’s join in and try our hand at tarot-inspired creative writing exercises. These exercises are meant to be adaptable to all genres of writing, though you may feel free to adapt them to your writing style as needed.
(These exercises will require a tarot deck—if one is inaccessible to you, my creative challenge is to create your own—either alone or even as a collaboration!)
- Oracular Persona
Draw a single card from your deck. If the drawn card depicts a human, free write a character description based on who is depicted. What are they doing, and why are they doing it? Where did they get the clothes they’re wearing? What troubles and joys live behind them now, and do they know where they’re going next? What secrets do they keep? Where are they kept?
If the card does not include a humanoid figure and simply an object or structure, challenge yourself to decipher the object’s motives and personality as well.
Write a 10 item list, then write a page of action centering your new character. Poets, write a persona poem based on your card.
Research and reflect on the meaning of the chosen card. Are there emotional or symbolic significances you could incorporate in the next draft?
- Self-Portrait in Tableau
Draw a card from the deck. Observe the depicted landscape, environment, or architecture. What’s in the foreground, the background? What gathers in corners, what clouds gather at the horizon? Does the landscape imbue you with openness or claustrophobia? What colors are prominent?
Next, write yourself into the landscape. Do you have a feeling of belonging or alienation? Why are you there? Are you safe? What have you explored, and what is new to you? Have you been someplace like this before? In real life or in a dream? Use this free write to jumpstart a scene, essay, or poem.
- Querent and Creator
The literary magazine Winter Tangerine included this exercise for their 2018 National Poetry Month exercises—write a poem where you create a new tarot card. This is a terrific exercise for those who don’t yet have a deck.
Further questions to consider for this exercise—what rituals are important to the card, and how did you come to learn them? What ancestral knowledge informs the card? Why do you choose these certain colors? What happens when the card is drawn reversed? Is the card a call to action or quiet reflection?
Bonus twist: write an imagining of this card being drawn for someone once important in your life who is now absent.
Tarot-curious after this post, but don’t have a deck of your own yet? There are as many tarot decks as there are sub-genres of literature. Check out the autonomic deck, accompanied by the creator’s experimental novella and tarot handbook To Run Wild With It. Take your time to find the deck that’s right for you. What speaks to your own experience and writing?
For further divination inspiration, check out Little Red Tarot for more ways to incorporate tarot reading into your daily life and practices.
Meet the blogger:
HALEE KIRKWOOD is pursuing an MFA at Hamline University in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and is a descendant of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe. Their work has been published or is forthcoming in Muzzle Magazine, Cream City Review, Midwest Gothic, and others. Kirkwood is current associate editor for Runestone and was selected as a teaching fellow for the 2019 Desert Nights, Rising Stars writing conference at Arizona State University.
Reviewed by KAITLIN HATMAN
Tommy Pico’s IRL reads like a fragmented blog post educating its readers on the intricate interweaving of social media, race, sexuality, and mental illness. It’s a book I would recommend to anyone who spends a large portion of their day online, on their phone, texting, checking Twitter or Facebook, scrolling through Tumblr, etc.
The statements that Pico makes in IRL are as varied and diverse as the content he presents within it. The reader follows Teebs, a hopeless romantic writer whose most desired lover, the enigmatic Muse, seems to be forever just out of reach. This doesn’t stop Teebs from pursuing other relationships though – he’s got a long list of exes complete with nicknames. Alongside the romance, Teebs also struggles with homophobia on the streets of New York, the loss of his culture and language, as well as mental illness and, of course, his writing.
Within IRL, Pico demonstrates an understanding of internet and social media culture and slang that few who write about internet and social media culture are ever able to actually demonstrate. Sure, there is perhaps one or two slightly cringe-y out of date terms thrown into IRL (yes, PWN is one of them), but by and large they are easy to ignore and can be read ironically.
Pico speaks a language that most social media frequenters will understand, and uses that language artfully and with no small amount of wit:
keeps repeating on me
me me me me me me
me me me me me me
meme meme meme”
IRL demonstrates an ability to grasp and wield the proverbial sword of modern age depression humor, something which is very rarely found outside of social media platforms, let alone in a book of published poetry. In a single line, Pico manages to capture both the destructive nature of depression and insecurity, as well as the morbid comedy that arises from living with it:
last thought before
the gutting panic, before
the sure icy blackness:
I am a garbage
artist Which is my default
well for light banter tbqh
but I’m trying this new
thing called ‘Don’t be so
Pico uses a similar, and just as effective tactic when taking on issues of race and cultural appropriation:
“TBQH I’m so freakin tired
Of hearin abt everyone’s maybe
Cherokee great grandma
like, it’s past my bedtime.”
Pico’s humor is sharp and resonating and at the same time it speaks truth in volumes. This is to say nothing of the way that he has crafted his entire book and voice to reflect the nature of social media; the three fading dots used as titles between poems which effect the feeling of a real time text message conversation with the poems, the creative and realistic use of internet slang, abt, bc, yr, wd, meme, tbh, tbqh, etc., even the lack of consistent punctuation creates a feeling of alternating informality, passive aggression, or sarcasm that those who are full time residents of social media apps and websites will be well familiar with.
All of these themes interlock to form a truly inspiring, captivating and most of all, relatable story of young adulthood and the struggle to find your place within a society that seems hell bent on putting you down.
Meet the blogger:
KAITLIN HATMAN is an extraterrestrial living in secret on planet earth. She is a poet and fiction writer, occasional artist, and smalltime podcaster who loves dogs and D&D. One time she met Hulk Hogan at a Perkins.
I love Fairy Tales. They have a timeless quality to them that I find charming. Whenever I’m struggling for ideas for a story (or for a blog…) I tend to see myself going back to them for inspiration. So, in the simplest way possible I thought I’d break down the structure of a fairy tale, and then offer a couple of writing prompts that I’ve either done myself or thought of using.
Disclaimer: I am no expert in Fairy Tales, and you can take parts from this list out or add some in depending on the tale. There are people way smarter than me who’ve written about this and you should check them out, but here are the basics:
Common Fairy Tale Structure:
1a. The Protagonist is given a task to complete.
1b. The Protagonist is in a bad situation out of their control.
2.The protagonist is told not to go somewhere, goes there anyway. In the case of 1a they meet the antagonist because of this, in case of 1b the antagonist is the one who told them to do it in the first place.
3. The Antagonist uses some means of deception to trick the hero into a bad / worse situation.
4. Some form of outside assistance aids the Protagonist.
5. The Protagonist gets to their goal, whatever that may be.
6 . The Protagonist and Antagonist clash, either physically, mentally or with words.
7. The Antagonist is defeated.
8. Happily Ever After
Additional Common Elements:
Magic of some kind or another
Talking or Anthropomorphic animals
A guardian, of some sort.
Class struggles (usually with the poor beating the rich or the poor becoming rich.)
Physical representations of human virtue or vice
Child protagonist vs. Adult Antagonist
Using these elements combined with the common structure, you can write your own fairy tale. But here are some additional prompts to jump start the process or shake things up a bit.
Writing Prompt #1: Mix It Up
To create something new and different, play around with a rigid structure like a fairy tale. I find that if you just change the anticipated order of events around, even a little bit, it has a significant impact on the flow of the story. It’s challenging but the final work should be interesting, and entertaining to read.
Writing Prompt #2: Villain’s Perspective
Done in movies like Mirror Mirror, but write your fairy tale again. This time from the antagonist’s perspective. There is an old saying that goes “Every villain is the hero in their mind.” So writing the story from their perspective will help you create a rounded, interesting and perhaps even sympathetic antagonist when you’re ready to revise your piece.
Writing Prompt #3: The Shape of Your Story
I read an interesting article a few years ago, plotting out some of the most well-known types of stories and graphing them based on the characters level of happiness at the time. There were some fascinating results. So this prompt is inspired by that. Take a piece of writing you’ve done, and graph the mood of the main character like you would a math problem. The X-axis being time, and the Y-axis being the character. If the character is happy, good or in a beneficial situation the graph goes up. If the character is unhappy, bad or in a detrimental situation, then the graph goes down. In the end, take a look at the shape. Does it have hills and valleys? A sharp increase or decrease? Visualizing might prove useful for future revision.
Meet the blogger:
CODY ROGERS is a fiction writer, gamer, anime fan and an overall “nerd” personified. He graduated with an AFA in creative writing from Normandale Community College and obtained his BFA from Hamline University. His dream is to team up with an artist and write graphic novels.