Via email this week, Bryan sez:
As far as I can determine, I'm one of the first Laotian Americans to receive a fellowship for literature.
make that distinction because previously, the National Endowment for
the Arts has recognized Khamvong Insixiengmai, Mone & Vanxay
Saenphimmachak who each received National Heritage Fellowships in the
early 1990s, and Bounxou Chanthraphone in 2000. Bua Xou Mua received a
National Heritage Fellowship in 1985, as did Yang Fang Nhu in 1988.
Insixiengmai was recognized as for preserving the indigenous music of
Laos, while Bounxou Chanthraphone, Yang Fang Nhu, Mone and Vanxay
Saenphimmachak were recognized as weavers. Bua Xou Mua was recognized
as a Hmong musician.
... On the one hand, I still run into a
lot of people who are dismissive of my work and that of Laotian
American writers in general, but on the other, I think the NEA
Fellowship is a great vindication of our efforts and the directions
we're taking in order to articulate our experience.
And this is an important moment for him personally:
got the call on the first day after Barack Obama got elected, and while
I wasn't at the bottom then, I sure could see it from where I was.
alone in my apartment in North Minneapolis, I'd been recently laid off
from my work at a local non-profit. The economy being in the dumps
meant finding a new job before the holidays was pretty bleak. I was
broke, just about living off of ramen and gas station coffee creamer.
No one was returning my phone calls. I even got a rejection letter from
Normal Magazine that day. And I was running out of ink for my printer.
when (I) got the call from Dana Gioia, the head of the NEA, who was
calling to personally congratulate me on being selected as recipient of
an NEA Fellowship. Gioia hoped the recognition of the Fellowship and
the NEA would help in my career.
"It's come at a pretty good time," I said.
ETA: You can read two of Bryan's poems in Hyphen issue 9.