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11.25.2016

Angry Reader of the Week: Bryan Thao Worra

"A poet and community builder. Although that may be redundant."


What's up, internet friends? It is time, once again, to meet the Angry Reader of the Week, spotlighting you, the very special readers of this website. Over the years, I've been able to connect with a lot of cool folks, and this is a way of showing some appreciation and attention to the people who help make this blog what it is. This week's Angry Reader is Bryan Thao Worra.


Who are you?

That's the question for the ages, isn't it. Who is anyone? Why are they here, how long have they got? Do we contain multitudes, or just one spark?

What are you?

A poet and community builder. Although that may be redundant.

Where are you?

Between science fiction conventions and road trips.

Where are you from?

I began in Laos, but didn't stay there, coming to the United States in 1973 as an adoptee during the closing years of Laotian Civil War, also known as the Secret War in many circles. Time was spent in Montana, Alaska, and the Midwest, and now various parts of California.

What do you do?

Whatever is necessary.

More specifically, I've spent the better part of my life thinning the line between my professional, civic and personal life. These days I serve as the president of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, an international literary organization celebrating the poetry of the imaginative and the fantastic, in addition to grant writing for non-profit organizations across the country, which has proven to be a very interesting intersection of all of my interests.

I've been fortunate enough to earn over 20 awards for my work, including an NEA Fellowship in Literature and representing the nation of Laos as a Cultural Olympian during the Poetry Parnassus of the 2012 London Summer Games. I've written six books of poetry and seen my work appear internationally including Australia, Canada, Scotland, Germany, France, Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, Korea, and Pakistan. I helped to establish Lao Minnesotan Artists Heritage Month and lately spend the better part of my year helping to organize the National Lao American Writers Summit in the US with my fellow Lao in diaspora since the end of the conflict 40 years ago.

What are you all about?

My work in the non-profit sector has almost always centered on getting our refugee communities ahead of the curve, not just caught up. Stabilization matters, but as I've told my students time and again, we have to be able to express a future we see ourselves in. Building up a community that aspires to just the "2.5 kids and the white picket fence" ideal isn't going to work in a world of constantly shifting goalposts.

As a writer, I do what I can to help our communities recover their histories, their memories before they're lost, particularly the inner lives of our refugees that publishers, academia, and the media so rarely cover. But it's also been important for me to help them reconnect with their imagination, their sense of the possible that they want to pass on to the next generations.

It's been vital to me to work with emerging writers to build better communication infrastructures internally and externally. Too often, we've seen refugees struggling to rebuild because organizations don't have the capacity to get vital information and opportunities available to the people who need it most. So often we've seen people find out too late, if at all about scholarships, access to health and immigration support, or way to start a new business or participate in democracy. That's why we need greater media justice and education, particularly for our AAPI voices who so often get lost in "model minority" myths and misconceptions of monolithic perspectives or "one size fits all" outreach strategies.

What makes you angry?

Sometimes that feels like a list that would take all day to discuss.

But off the top of my head, I hate seeing youth voices discouraged from participating in our cultures because they don't speak or write the language. Too often I've seen kids turn away because they're constantly told to preserve a culture and tradition, but they don't get to have meaningful conversations about what those traditions are, or why we observe them. We get the kids so afraid that they're going to screw it up like they were knocking an antique vase off the mantle that we lose sight of the joy, the reasons we wanted to preserve those traditions in the first place. So, I take a more relaxed approach to tradition and expression. It's more important that all of us at all ages try, we experiment, we celebrate our successes and we constantly invite our youngest back to the table. Like the old saying goes, "Don't seek to follow in the footsteps of great people. Seek what they sought."

I will say, I absolutely despise artists who can't celebrate the success of others, and those who don't take the time to help emerging voices in our communities. I'm not saying you have to make it a 24/7, or give a shoutout to people who constantly burn you. But if you can't acknowledge when someone is doing well when they're not sharing the bill with you, I think that speaks poorly of you. It's possible selfish artists can find success without helping others. History is filled with such people, even today. I constantly ask my students, though: "Don't you think history is filled with enough of those people?"