MN author makes short list for 'one of the world's most prestigious literary honors'

Her book tells the story of her father, and the Hmong people.
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A memoir about a Hmong storyteller's journey to the United States has earned a Minnesota writer a chance at a prestigious literary award.

Kao Kalia Yang is the author of The Song Poet, which on Tuesday was announced as one of the five nonfiction finalists for the 2017 Dayton Literary Peace Prize.

Published last year, the book recounts the life of Yang's father, Bee Yang. He is a Hmong "song poet" who by tradition "keeps the past alive" with the stories of his people, "their history and tragedies, joys and losses." 

According to the official description, Bee was "driven from the mountains of Laos by America’s Secret War" in Vietnam and forced to live in a Thai refugee camp until emigrating to Minnesota. 

Song Poet follows its title character as he endures these tribulations and, later, adjusts to life in a "St. Paul housing project and on the factory floor." 

The organization behind the Dayton Literary Prize says Yang's book is "written with the exquisite beauty" for which the author is "renowned."

Indeed, Tuesday's announcement isn't her first brush with literary acclaim.

Yang has won multiple awards and accolades, including the Minnesota Book Award in 2009 (following the release of her first book, 2008's The Latehomecomer), and the Jeannette Fair Memorial Award for Distinguished Writing in 2012, according to her website

'One of the world's most prestigious literary honors'

The Dayton Literary Peace Prize is named for the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords, which helped put an end to the Bosnian War, according to the prize's website.

The award, the press release says, was first handed out in 2006, and "celebrates the power of literature to promote peace, justice, and global understanding."

It's described as "as one of the world’s most prestigious literary honors," as well as "the only international literary peace prize awarded in the United States."

Another famous Minnesota author, Marlon James, who wrote the award-winning A Brief History of Seven Killings, was given the Dayton Literary Peace Prize in 2010 for his novel The Book of Night Women.

More about Yang

Yang's website describes her as a "teacher, public speaker, and writer" who was born in a Thai refugee camp.

She attended Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, and also Columbia University’s School of the Arts.

Yang lives with her family in Minneapolis.

Check out this previous story to learn about the Hmong people's involvement with U.S. forces in Laos.

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