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Early life and education
Bao Phi was born Thien-bao in Saigon, Vietnam, the youngest son of a mostly Vietnamese mother and a Chinese Vietnamese father. He grew up in the Phillips neighborhood of South Minneapolis near the Little Earth housing projects. Phi attended South High School and began performing his poetry when competing on the South High speech team in the Creative Expression category in the early 1990s. He attended and graduated from Macalester College, where he was encouraged to pursue creative writing by Native American Literature professor Diane Glancy. He worked as a pizza delivery boy, a maintenance worker in a supermarket and in the restaurant industry.
Poetry, activism and literature
Phi won the Minnesota Grand Poetry Slam twice. He also won two poetry slams at the Nuyorican Poets Café in New York. He is the first Vietnamese American man to have appeared on HBO's Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry, and the National Poetry Slam Individual Finalists Stage, where he placed 6th overall out of over 250 national slam poets. Phi has been a featured performer at numerous venues and schools locally and nationally, from the Nuyorican Poet's Café to the University of California, Berkeley.
In 2005, Phi released his CD, Refugeography, and continues to tour around the country. Billy Collins selected one of Phi’s poems, "Race," for inclusion in The Best American Poetry 2006 anthology. Phi is also published in various literary magazines, journals, and anthologies, including From Both Sides Now, the Def Poetry Jam anthology, Legacy to Liberation, Screaming Monkeys, and the Michigan Quarterly Review. His poetry is included in the EMC/Paradigm line of English textbooks for high school students, and he has done voice work for their educational materials. One of his poems was selected to appear in Minneapolis/Saint Paul city buses in the Poetry in Motion program. He is also the author of the chapbook Surviving the Translation.
Phi's vision is to offer an alternative perspective on Asian American community building through the arts. He has been a featured artist in many community events, rallies and functions. He was involved with the Justice for Fong Lee committee and all three protests against Miss Saigon produced by the Ordway Theater.
Bao Phi's collection of poems, Sông I Sing, was published In 2011 by Coffeehouse Press. It focused on modern Vietnamese-Asian American life with each poem capable of being read for spoken word. The book received a favorable review in The New York Times. In 2017, Phi and illustrator, Thi Bui, released a children's book with Capstone Publishers titled A Different Pond, which earned the prestigious Caldecott Medal.
Phi has taught workshops and performed for youth for organizations from the W.O.C. in Minneapolis to the Chinatown Community Development Center in San Francisco. He was an advisory panel member, workshop moderator, and performer for Intimacy and Geography, the Asian American Writers' Workshop national poetry festival in New York, and a faculty at Kundiman at Fordham University in 2015. That year he was also a performer in the diasporic Vietnamese blockbuster variety show Paris By Night.
The Loft Literary Center
Phi is currently the Program Director at The Loft Literary Center, a nonprofit literary organization in Minneapolis. He manages and operates several Loft programs, including Equilibrium, a successful spoken word series he created, which invites nationally recognized artists of color/indigenous artists to share the stage with local Minnesota artists of color/indigenous artists. Equilibrium was awarded the Anti-Racism Initiative award from the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits in 2010.
Awards and honors
Phi has received numerous awards and honors, including multiple Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative grants. He was also a featured listener in the award-winning documentary film The Listening Project.
- Thousand Star Hotel, (Coffee House Press, 2017)
- Sông I Sing, (Coffee House Press, 2011)
- A Different Pond, (Capstone Press, 2017; illustrated by Thi Bui)
- Raphael-Hernandez, Heike; Steen, Shannon (2006-11-01). AfroAsian Encounters: Culture, History, Politics. NYU Press. pp. 257–. ISBN 9780814775813. Retrieved 2 July 2012.
- DiMaggio, Paul; Fernández-Kelly, Patricia (2010-11-18). Art in the Lives of Immigrant Communities in the United States. Rutgers University Press. pp. 206–. ISBN 9780813547572. Retrieved 2 July 2012.
- "War Before Memory: A Vietnamese American Protest Organizer's History Against 'Miss Saigon'". Hyphen. September 24, 2013. Retrieved 2016-01-31.
- Regan, Sheila (May 9, 2012). "Birchbark Books hosts poets Bao Phi and Ed Bok Lee tonight". City Pages. Retrieved 2016-01-31.
- Frances Kai-Hwa Wang (April 24, 2015). "National Poetry Month: Asian-American Poets to Watch". NBC News. Retrieved 2016-01-31.
- "Vietnamese Literature Circle". AsianWeek. November 8, 2012. Archived from the original on 2016-02-01.
- Phi, Bao (3 March 2011). "Fong Lee: the human cost and the strength of his family". Star Tribune. Retrieved 3 March 2011.
- Jennings, Dana (December 19, 2011). "Lyrical Renegades and Free-Range Sages". The New York Times.
- CAAM (February 12, 2018). "WRITER BAO PHI AND ILLUSTRATOR THI BUI WIN CALDECOTT HONOR FOR "A DIFFERENT POND"". CAAM.
- "FY 2012 Grantees". Minnesota State Arts Board.
- "FY 2015 Grantees". Minnesota State Arts Board.
- Machado, Juan (May 14, 2015). "Interview: Vietnamese-American Poet on Challenging the 'Dominant Discourses Regarding Race' in the US". Asia Society.
- Regan, Sheila (September 10, 2015). "Slam champion Bao Phi reads new poems at the Loft". City Pages.
- "About the Author. Bao Phi. Interview". Coffeehouse Press. Retrieved 14 September 2015.