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Celebrated Minnesota author to join English faculty for academic year

RELEASED: Sept. 3, 2010

Kao Kalia Yang
Kao Kalia Yang is an artist-in-residence in the UW-Eau Claire English department during the 2010-11 academic year. (Photo by Der Yang)

EAU CLAIRE — The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire will host a celebrated Minnesota writer as English department artist-in-residence during the 2010-11 academic year.

Kao Kalia Yang, author of the award-winning memoir "The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir," will teach courses in creative writing, nonfiction writing and literature.

"The department is very happy to have Kalia join us for the year," said Dr. Jack Bushnell, English department chair, noting that Yang has penned a lyric documentary and is working on a literary nonfiction book. "What's more, she's a poet. She comes to us as a celebrated writer with versatile interests. She will have much to offer our creative writing students, as well as students around the university who take her literature courses."

In 2009, "The Latehomecomer" garnered Minnesota Book Awards for memoir/creative nonfiction and reader's choice, and was the first book ever to win two awards in the contest. The memoir honors her culture and is about her family leaving Laos and escaping from the North Vietnamese, awaiting refuge in the United States and their dream of finding a place where they belong. Reviewers have described Yang as "a deft weaver of words," her writing as "rich with poetic imagery" and the book as digging "deeply into the mixed emotions of her refugee childhood."

In her youth, Yang, 29, never imagined she would become a writer. She holds a master of fine arts degree in creative nonfiction writing from Columbia University. While still an undergraduate at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., Yang was one of the 30 winners of the prestigious and competitive Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans. Other winners were Rhodes Scholars and students of Harvard Medical School and Yale Law School. The prize helped fund her studies for the MFA. She subsequently won the "Spirit of Carleton" award, which honors outstanding recent graduates of the college.

"I always looked to a future spent doing what I love: primarily connecting with people," Yang said. "Writing for me is not an easy love. It is the thing that I must do to find a meaning in the life I am living."

Yang has been on many university campuses to speak about her work and the writing process. She looks forward to being a "living writing presence" at UW-Eau Claire.

"I want to work with students on loving writing, on coming to terms with it, on letting it gain force in the education they are getting," Yang said. "I want to generate new work and invite the participation of my peers, colleagues, students and community members alike."

"The Latehomecomer" was studied in UW-Eau Claire writing courses last year, culminating with a visit by Yang during which she spoke and read from her book.

"We were very impressed with her and pursued her as an artist-in-residence so more of our students could benefit from working with her," Bushnell said. "She represents an opportunity the university should take advantage of more often: bringing high-caliber artists to campus to provide diverse perspectives that will enrich the educational experience inside and outside the university."

Yang's book will again be a common text for English 110 classes. She will do at least two public readings in the Chippewa Valley during her stay. Yang writes from her home in Andover, Minn., where she recently completed a creative nonfiction essay for children. More information on Yang can be found on her website.

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RD/JP

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