Mai Der Vang

Award-winning Hmong Poet
Walt Whitman Poetry Award-winner
National Book Award Longlist

Readings & Lecture Topics

  • The Flight of the Hmong
  • An Evening with Mai Der Vang


“Moving and deft, dreamlike and discursive, evolving and devolving, imbued with memory.” –LA Review

“Huge and hallucinatory.” –The Rumpus

Mai Der Vang is the author of Afterland (Graywolf Press, 2017), winner of the 2016 Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets, longlisted for the 2017 National Book Award in Poetry, and a finalist for the 2018 Kate Tufts Discovery Award. She was also the co-editor of the anthology How Do I Begin? A Hmong American Literary Anthology (Heyday, 2011).

About Afterland Carolyn Forché writes: “Afterland has haunted me. I keep returning to read these poems aloud, hearing in them a language at once atavistic, contemporary, and profoundly spiritual. Mai Der Vang confronts the Secret War in Laos, the flight of the Hmong people, and their survival as refugees. That a poet could absorb and transform these experiences in a single generation—incising the page with the personal and collective utterances of both the living and the dead, in luminous imagery and a surprising diction that turns both cathedral and widow into verbs, offering both land and body as swidden (slashed and burned)—is nothing short of astonishing. Here is deep attention, prismatic intelligence, and fearless truth.”

Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Poetry, Tin House, the American Poetry Review, among other journals and anthologies. Her essays have been published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and elsewhere. Vang is a member of the Hmong American Writers’ Circle where she co-edited How Do I Begin: A Hmong American Literary Anthology. A Kundiman fellow, she has completed residencies at Civitella Ranieri and Hedgebrook. Vang is also the recipient of a Lannan Literary Fellowship.

Born and raised in Fresno, California, Vang earned degrees from the University of California Berkeley and Columbia University. In Fall 2019, she will teach in the Creative Writing MFA Program at Fresno State University.

Mai Der Vang is the author of Afterland (Graywolf Press, 2017), winner of the 2016 Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets, longlisted for the 2017 National Book Award in Poetry, and a finalist for the 2018 Kate Tufts Discovery Award. She was also the co-editor of the anthology How Do I Begin? A Hmong American Literary Anthology (Heyday, 2011). In Fall 2019, she will teach in the Creative Writing MFA Program at Fresno State University.


AFTERLAND (Poetry, 2017)
Afterland is a powerful, essential collection of poetry that recounts with devastating detail the Hmong exodus from Laos and the fate of thousands of refugees seeking asylum. Mai Der Vang is telling the story of her own family, and by doing so, she also provides an essential history of the Hmong culture’s ongoing resilience in exile. Many of these poems are written in the voices of those fleeing unbearable violence after U.S. forces recruited Hmong fighters in Laos in the Secret War against communism, only to abandon them after that war went awry. That history is little known or understood, but the three hundred thousand Hmong now living in the United States are living proof of its aftermath. With poems of extraordinary force and grace, Afterland holds an original place in American poetry and lands with a sense of humanity saved, of outrage, of a deep tradition broken by war and ocean but still intact, remembered, and lived.


AFTER ALL HAVE GONE

I once carried my mollusk tune
All the way to the lottery of gods.

Rain was the old funeral choir
That keened of a hemisphere

Moored under lampwings.
Clouds never left. I knew

The lights would shine clearer
If I closed my eyes, just as

I knew the Pacific would teach
Me to sleep before tying my

Name to the flaming. Here I
Am now at the end of amethyst,

Drizzling another lost sunrise
Inside the quilt of your hand.