The Live Drop / Author and former refugee, Kao Kalia Yang Reveals the Life, Loss, and Hmong Legacy of the Secret War in Laos

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Live Drop guest Kao Kalia Yang is a celebrated Hmong-American writer.

She holds degrees from Carleton College and Columbia University. Yang is the author of The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir  winner of the 2009 Minnesota Book Awards in Creative Nonfiction/Memoir and Readers’ Choice, a finalist for the PEN USA Award in Creative Nonfiction, and the Asian Literary Award in Nonfiction. The book is a National Endowment for the Arts Big Read title and on the roster of the American Place Theatre’s Literature to Life Program.

Her second book, The Song Poet  won the 2016 Minnesota Book Award in Creative Nonfiction Memoir, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Chautauqua Prize, a PEN USA Award in Nonfiction, and the Dayton’s Literary Peace Prize. The story has been commissioned as a youth opera by the Minnesota Opera and will premiere in the spring of 2021.

Yang’s debut children’s book, A Map Into the World is a American Library Association Notable Book of the Year, a Charlotte Zolotow Honor Book, winner of the Northstar Best Illustrator Award, and winner of the 2020 Minnesota Book Award in Children’s Literature.

Her co-edited collection titled What God is Honored Here?: Writings on Miscarriage and Infant Loss By and For Indigenous Women and Women of Color  is a groundbreaking work that centers the poetry and prose of women whose voices have been neglected and silenced on the topic despite the fact that they experience these losses disproportionately. The book was named one of the ten best books of the fall of 2019 by the Star Tribune.

Her most recent Children's book: The Most Beautiful Thing was just published on October 6th, 2020. Kalia is also a teacher and public speaker.

I wanted to talk to Kalia about the legacy of the Secret War in Laos - how it is remembered in the Hmong diaspora. A civil war fought alongside Vietnam's in the shadows by the CIA, with Hmong fighters against communist insurgents. I ended up having an enlightening cultural conversation with a poet in real time about birth, life, suffering, loss, death and grief in Hmong tradition and in current-day America. 

Her next book Somewhere in the Unknown World  – a collective memoir about the lives of refugees - is available for pre-order and comes out on November 8th, 2020.

You can find out more about Kalia and her work at

Episode 49