Kao Kalia Yang

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Kao Kalia Yang (born 1980), a/k/a Kao Kaliya Yang, is a Hmong American writer and author of The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir from Coffee House Press. Her work has appeared in the Paj Ntaub Voice Hmong literary journal and numerous other publications. She wrote the lyric documentary, The Place Where We Were Born. Her new book, titled "The Song Poet" will be published in 2016 by Metropolitan Books. Yang currently resides in Minnesota.

Early life[edit]

Born in Ban Vinai refugee camp in December, 1980, Yang came to Minnesota in the summer of 1987, along with her parents and older sister Dawb. Yang says that the move to America was necessary for her parents. Her mother suffered six miscarriages after giving birth to her, and with no male heir, her father was being pressured to find a second wife. He even took his younger daughter on trips with him to visit eligible women in the camp. For Yang's parents, leaving Ban Vinai was not only about finding opportunity for their two daughters, but also rescuing themselves from family and cultural pressure. Yang says that while her sister mastered the English language quickly, she struggled for many years, finally discovering that her gift lay not in the spoken, but in the written word. Yang credits her older sister Dawb, with awakening an interest within her: "[E]verything was a Chinese movie in her head. So she would read Jack and the Beanstalk...[and] it became a Chinese drama. So in my head it was never Jack and the Beanstalk; it wasn't even Jack, it was a Chinese drama, flying around. That beanstalk wasn't a beanstalk, it was a mountain, and he was going to get this beautiful flower that would make his ailing mother live for a hundred years. And this is the kind of introduction I had to books." Yang also credits her 9th grade English teacher, Mrs. Gallatin, with recognizing and encouraging her talents. Upon graduation from Harding High School in St. Paul, Minnesota, she attended Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, though she was by no means certain of her future plans when she began her college career. [1]


Yang graduated from Carleton College in Northfield, MN with a Bachelor's degree in American Studies, Women's and Gender Studies, and Cross-cultural Studies. Yang received her Master's of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction Writing from Columbia University in New York City.

She has taught in numerous positions across the US. Beginning at age 12, Yang taught English as a second language to adult refugees. As a student, Yang privately tutored students, and taught creative nonfiction writing workshops to professionals, including professors from Rutgers University and New York University[citation needed]. Yang has also taught the fundamentals of writing to students at Concordia University in St. Paul and courses in composition at St. Catherine University. She has been visiting organizations and institutions all over the US on writing.[citation needed] She was a professor in the English department at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire for the 2010-2011 academic year.[citation needed] In 2014, Yang served as a mentor for the Loft Mentor Series.

Awards and recognition[edit]

Kao Kalia Yang has been a recipient of the Page Scholarship by the Page Education Foundation for demonstrated leadership, academic achievement, and community commitment. She has received the Gilman International Award for international spirit and the practice of diplomacy and the Freeman in Asia Scholarship toward the study of international and intra-national models of development. Yang also received Columbia University's School of the Arts Dean's Fellowship for the merit and reaches of her work and also received the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for exceptional leadership, originality and the potential to change the landscape of American society. She is the 2008 recipient of the Spirit of Carleton College Award, and in 2009 The Latehomecomer won Minnesota Book Awards for memoir/creative nonfiction as well as the Reader's Choice Award—the first book to ever win two awards.[citation needed] In 2013, Yang was awarded a McKnight Fellowship for her manuscript "The Song Poet."

Yang was selected as one of few U.S. student delegates to attend the 26th International Achievement Summit. She is also the winner of the Lantern Books 2005 essay contest. Her book has become the best-selling title in Coffee House Press history.[citation needed]

A community activist, Yang is also an entrepreneur, co-founding Words Wanted, one of the first professional Hmong writing services in the United States.[citation needed]

On August 6, 2011 she married Aaron Hokanson in Saint Paul, Minnesota.[citation needed]


On September 24, 2012, Radiolab aired a segment on yellow rain and the Hmong people, during which Robert Krulwich interviewed Yang and her uncle Eng Yang.[2] During the two-hour interview, of which less than five minutes was aired, Yang was brought to the point of tears over "Robert’s harsh dismissal of my uncle’s experience."[3]

Following a public outcry, Krulwich issued an apology on September 30 writing, "I now can hear that my tone was oddly angry. That's not acceptable -- especially when talking to a man who has suffered through a nightmare in Southeast Asia that was beyond horrific."[4]

The podcast itself was later amended on October 5, and according to Yang "On October 7, I received an email from Dean Cappello, the Chief Content Officer at WNYC, notifying me that Radiolab had once more “amended” the Yellow Rain podcast so that Robert could apologize at the end, specifically to Uncle Eng for the harshness of his tone and to me for saying that I was trying to “monopolize” the conversation. I listened to the doctored version. In addition to Robert’s apologies -- which completely failed to acknowledge the dismissal of our voices and the racism that transpired/s -- Radiolab had simply re-contextualized their position, taken out the laughter at the end, and “cleaned” away incriminating evidence. "[5]

Yang, who is an activist, author, and professor noted in particular: "Everybody in the show had a name, a profession, institutional affiliation except Eng Yang, who was identified as “Hmong guy,” and me, “his niece.” The fact that I am an award-winning writer was ignored. The fact that my uncle was an official radio man and documenter of the Hmong experience to the Thai government during the war was absent." [6]

This incident stirred up issues of white privilege, with many [7][8][9] accusing Radiolab and Krulwich of being insensitive to racial matters.[10]



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