APA Author Interview — Krysada Panusith Phounsiri, author of “Dance Among Elephants”

Molly Higgins (MH): Please introduce yourself and briefly describe your literary work and career path to date. What attracted you to writing?

Krysada Panusith Phounsiri (KPP): My name is Krysada Panusith Phounsiri. I also go by Binly. I am a poet and a former student under the June Jordan’s Poetry for the People program at UC Berkeley. My book of Poetry, “Dance Among Elephants,” is a collection of poems dating back from 2007 to now. I’ve been writing poetry since I was 12, but never truly felt confident in my poetic voice until 2007. There was always a feeling, a sense of weight that pulled me into the idea of writing my feelings down on paper. It was a lonely journey; a search for self. My mind lighted my path and my pen did the walking. I wrote this book in hopes that it represents the themes that hit me the hardest. It’s about my experiences with love, dancing, growing up as a Lao American kid in Southeast San Diego, and the challenge of living through internal struggles. I am currently a Systems Engineer working at a BioTech company. I help develop instruments for life science research, to keep it brief.

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MH: You’re not a full-time writer. What else keeps you busy, and why do you make time for writing?

KPP: I dedicate huge chunks of my time dancing because I love it. I am a professional dancer who travels to various cities to compete or judge dance competitions and teach workshops. I also perform shows on a gig-to-gig basis for different projects. A group of friends and I recently opened a studio in San Diego. I spend a lot of my time there training, teaching, and managing the daily activities and task that the studio demands. I also focus my efforts on photography. Currently, I am running a Photography/Cinema project called Snap Pilots alongside a partner and close friend. We aim to Snap our lives, the places we travel, and people in hopes that the photo captures a portrayal of honesty. That honesty is in the expression, the setting, and the feeling that was meant to be captured.

Besides all of that, I make time for writing because it fulfills things that those two art mediums can’t. Think of it as a triangle of passions that all need to balance each other out. Sure, all of the arts I practice can help me grab certain feelings, but some art forms do it better than the others. For writing, it becomes a true challenge to be honest. I am the most vulnerable when it comes to writing because I dig deep into my memories and emotions. Writing is coupled with reading; it sounds obvious but compared to dancing and photography, people are literally reading what I write. Dancing and Photographs leave a lot more to interpretations. I choose not to hide my feelings and my experiences. It gives me a sense of strength in the end. Different energies that I desire. Writing is that powerful to me, so I have to explore that world and make time for it.

 

MH: Your first book, “Dance with Elephants,” is about to be released from Sahtu Press. How did that collaboration come about? Did you consciously choose to publish with an independent, Lao American publisher?

KPP: Yes, I consciously chose to publish my work with them. The story goes as this: From 2010 I attempted to publish my manuscript. As the years went by, I was published in an anthology, a few magazines, and educational journals. Every press I applied to and sent my manuscript to, I received rejection letters from. I met with the editor of Sahtu Press around the middle 2011. It was then that he reached out and tried to motivate me to continue writing. He also sent me links from time to time for publishers that might be interested in my work. I kept trying, but with no success. I continued to write more poems as he continued to check in with me. It was late 2013 when we went through the last few rounds of publishers. He hinted to me that he had something I might be interested in, but he wanted me to keep trying to reach out to publishers. Three publishers later, still no success. It was then that he approached me with an offer. He mentioned Sahtu Press was a venture he and a partner was working together on. He gave me an offer, after 4 years of trying. I was warned that the press was small, and that if I was hoping to make big profits from this, that I should continue trying elsewhere. I already knew that Poetry just doesn’t sell. I knew that I wasn’t going to be making the next Harry Potter books anytime soon. It wasn’t a pessimistic view in my opinion. All that did was motivate me to focus on what was important. It is important that I get my voice out there and that I write my story. I did not want anyone else doing that. It’s a dream to publish a book because it is a way for me to leave something for the world. I wanted to express something about my life, and if it inspired at least one person to do something honest and positive for the world, then my words mattered. I don’t care about the money or the awards. I took that inspiration from my career as a dancer. The fame does not matter, the prestige of being an author is nothing to me if it doesn’t serve a meaningful purpose to the people I love and to the communities I represent. With those thoughts in mind, I proceeded to accept the offer to publish under Sahtu Press. Bryan Thao Worra and Nor Sanavongsay are the two gentlemen who run that. I have no regrets moving forward.

 

MH: Make us excited to read your book! How would you describe your writing?

KPP: I’d say it’s a waltz with my wild mind; multifaceted in story, theme, and cadence. There are moments where I want to slow the readers down and there are plenty times where I want the reading experience to flow with the words. It all depends on the purpose. You’ll take in fragments of who I am and what I love to do. It’s a different side that I am hesitant to share, but one that I feel needs to roam free. I leave it out there for people to read but still keep some mystery. I don’t know. Just read it and see for yourself. I put my all into the writing. I want to be clear that I want the reader to lie in their bed, sit at a coffee shop, or chill somewhere outside and read my poems. I want the words to marinate. Although I do read my poetry, I can’t define it as spoken word; I don’t perform my pieces. I aimed at making this book less of a performance and more of a pondering of sorts. The poetry is something I want readers to walk away from with an impression that channels emotion to the rawest extent.

 

MH: How do you think your personal identity influences your writing and/or the diversity of your readership?

KPP: I love to do many things. Because of this, I involve myself with various groups of people and communities. Mostly from different art and cultural foundations. My personal identity is complicated and confusing at best. I try to focus on expressing myself in a simple and powerful manner. The experiences I have outside of writing allow me to jump between different voices, languages, and metaphors. All of this represents me in different ways. I never enjoyed wanting to just be standard so how I write never stays in one mode. I hope that the range of experiences in my life is something readers can connect to.

 

MH: We’re always looking for more to read. Who are your top five literary influences?

KPP: Bryan Thao Worra’s work is actually taking Lao American creative writing to its edges. You should check his work if you want to see one of the many possibilities where Lao American writers can go. I’m a huge fan of Kevin Young and I’ve been reading a few of his books. He can write about the personal, the political, the love stuff, and even the historical, and it’ll all somehow work. Ruth Forman influenced a lot of my work as well, especially the idea of resisting standard language. She can say anything and it’ll always be her voice. The clarity in her words is a true practice of poetry, not tied to gimmicks in grammar and/or punctuation. Francisco Alarcon, not enough can be said about his creation of images in poems. The action he creates, the poems come alive. They run and you have to chase. The finish line is an experience of reading poems worth reading. Alan Moore, I just have to recommend this man. You can start by just reading “Watchmen” and “V for Vendetta.” Then you can go back to some of his crazier work. I love comic books and graphic novels; his work feels so raw. He is a mad man and his writing gives me adrenaline. Lastly, I recommend June Jordan. Without her books of poetry and her program at Berkeley, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today (and shout outs to Marcos Ramirez for being the spark of it all). June Jordan is where I credit the foundation of my poetry to. Her poetry is a testament to what honesty can do to the world. Her work is a symbol for using love to fight it all, and such potency comes equally in craft and purpose.

 

MH: You’re being interviewed by a librarian, for an audience of progressive Asian American librarians. What are your thoughts on libraries, and their place in building diverse communities?

KPP: I used to walk to my local Library, called Malcolm X Library, to read books. I walked there years later to use their public internet back when I didn’t have internet at home. I used the internet to look up Breaking, what mainstream society calls Breakdancing but I don’t use that term. I can safely say that my trips to this library paved the way for my fascination with the world and it introduced me to Hip Hop Culture. That library was placed right in the heart of Southeast San Diego. My neighborhood is full of beauty; full of colorful personalities and backgrounds. I believe Southeast represented multiculturalism undeniably. The fact that this library is called Malcolm X speaks for itself. I witnessed the possibilities of libraries and their potential in building diverse communities. The reality lives, it starts with youth. Libraries are still a child’s gateway to the world. I say a “child’s gateway” because once you introduce the power of learning and the magic that libraries offer in providing information/stories to children, they can fall in love with that notion for years to come. They begin to interact with other youth from different experiences, all willing to learn in the library as well. Now, extrapolate that to all ages and communities, you have a physical space where learning is a choice and a passion. Instead of joining gangs or falling to street vices, folks would use their struggles to learn about the world and themselves. That speaks volumes for libraries and their ability to unite people for the sake of building.

 

MH: What advice would you give young professionals, especially those from diverse backgrounds, who are interested in a career in poetry or writing?

KPP: Never allow anyone to write your story if you absolutely know you can do it. Never fear what people might say about your work. Focus on the art AND craft of writing because the message can be powerful but the delivery can sink and come across as weak if no discipline is put behind it. We have to work harder and put in that much more into our writing because it gets scrutinized or outright ignored. Write to be un-denying in any space. Know that you must write and it can free you from all that weighs you down. Poetry and writing may be an unconventional path and one that your family is concerned you won’t make a living from, but you have to do it if you will it. Be sure to scout for progressive publishers, but do not be afraid to send your work to any publisher, magazine, journal, etc. All it takes is one to get the gears going. Do not be discouraged with rejections. The fact that you write is as powerful as it is beautiful. Your words need to be shared, so put your work out there and forget about the rejections. They won’t define you. Your strength comes from knowing that mainstream society cannot and sometimes will not understand your purpose. You must write in a way that forces them to fall in love with your purpose through solid poetry/writing technique. Conviction is key.


Keep up with Krysada:


Editing assistance provided by Jaena Rae Cabrera.

Spotlight on Asian international adoption and award-winning filmmaker featured in APALA President’s Program: Deann Borshay Liem

When: Saturday, June 27, 2015, 4:30 pm to 5:30 p.m.

Where: 236-238 (S) Moscone Convention Center

First Person Plural
In 1966, Deann Borshay Liem was adopted by an American family and was sent from Korea to her new home. Growing up in California, the memory of her birth family was nearly obliterated until recurring dreams lead Deann to discover the truth: her Korean mother was very much alive. Bravely uniting her biological and adoptive families, Deann’s heartfelt journey makes First Person Plural a poignant essay on family, loss, and the reconciling of two identities

 


In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee
Her passport said she was Cha Jung Hee. She knew she was not. So began a 40-year deception for a Korean adoptee who came to the US in 1966. Told to keep her true identity a secret from her new American family, this eight-year-old girl quickly forgot she was ever anyone else. But why had her identity been switched? And who was the real Cha Jung Hee? IN THE MATTER OF CHA JUNG HEE is the search to find the answers. It follows acclaimed filmmaker Deann Borshay Liem as she returns to her native Korea to find her “double,” the mysterious girl whose place she took in America. Traversing the landscapes of memory, amnesia and identity, while also uncovering layers of deception in her adoption, this moving and provocative film probes the ethics of international adoptions and reveals the cost of living a lie. Part mystery, part personal odyssey, it raises fundamental questions about who we are…and who we could be but for the hands of fate.

URL: http://www.mufilms.org/

 

Image of Deann Borshay LiemGlobal Roots, Local Identities: Asian International Adoption and Advocacy

Co-sponsored by Video Round Table
Saturday, June 27, 2015, 4:30-5:30 PM
Moscone Convention Center, 236-238 (S)

Description: APALA President’s Program will feature a dynamic discussion between Dr. Catherine Ceniza Choy, a professor of Ethnic Studies at UC-Berkeley and Maria Taesil Hudson Carpenter, the City Librarian of the Santa Monica Public Library System. They will examine the issues raised by Geographies of Kinship: International Asian Adoption, a new film by award-winning Berkeley-based filmmaker Deann Borshay Liem, in the larger context of international adoption and reflect on universal questions of identity, assimilation, family, community, and advocacy. Excerpts from the film and a personal introduction especially produced for this program by Deann will be shown. The APALA President’s Program is co-sponsored by APALA and VRT.

We hope to see everyone there!

APALA co-sponsored film in Now Showing @ ALA: Memory of Forgotten War

When: Sunday, June 28, 2015, 3:00 am to 3:30 pm, US/Pacific

Where: 123 (N) Moscone Convention Center

Now Showing @ ALA: Memory of Forgotten War

MEMORY OF FORGOTTEN WAR conveys the human costs of military conflict through deeply personal accounts of the Korean War (1950-53) by four Korean-American survivors. Their stories take audiences through the trajectory of the war, from extensive bombing campaigns, to day-to-day struggle for survival and separation from family members across the DMZ. Decades later, each person reunites with relatives in North Korea, conveying beyond words the meaning of family loss. These stories belie the notion that war ends when the guns are silenced and foreshadow the future of countless others displaced by ongoing military conflict today.

The film’s personal accounts are interwoven with thoughtful analysis and interpretation of events by historians Bruce Cumings and Ji-Yeon Yuh who situate these stories in a broader historical context. Additional visual materials, including newsreels, U.S. military footage, and archival photographs bring to life the political, social and historical forces that set in motion the tumultuous events of the War and its aftermath.

The film screening at ALA Annual 2015 is sponored by the Office for Diversity, Literacy & Outreach Services (ODLOS) and APALA.

URL: http://www.mufilms.org/films/memory-of-forgotten-war/#.VYGriZNcjVY

 

 

Spotlight on Catherine Ceniza Choy

by Peter Spyers-Duran

Image of Catherine Ceniza ChoyOne of the featured panelists in the APALA President’s Program in San Francisco, entitled Global Roots, Local Identities: Asian International Adoption and Advocacy is Catherine Ceniza Choy, Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.  Prior to coming to Berkeley, she was an assistant professor of American Studies and a cofounding member of the Asian American Studies Initiative at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.  Choy received her Ph.D. in History from UCLA and her B.A. in History from Pomona College.  The daughter of Filipino immigrants, she was born and raised in New York City and is a graduate of Stuyvesant High School. She lives in Berkeley with her husband and their two children.

Choy is the author of the award-winning book Empire of Care: Nursing and Migration in Filipino American History, which explored how and why the Philippines became the leading exporter of professional nurses to the United States.  Choy’s new book Global Families: A History of Asian International Adoption in America unearths the little-known historical origins of Asian international adoption in the United States beginning with the post-World War II presence of the U.S. military in Asia.

In the last fifty years, transnational adoption—specifically, the adoption of Asian children—has exploded in popularity as an alternative path to family-making. Despite the cultural acceptance of this practice, surprisingly little attention has been paid to the factors that allowed Asian international adoption to flourish. In Global Families, Choy unearths the little-known historical origins of Asian international adoption in the United States. Beginning with the post-World War II presence of the U.S. military in Asia, she reveals how mixed-race children born of Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese women and U.S. servicemen comprised one of the earliest groups of adoptive children.
Based on extensive archival research, Global Families moves beyond one-dimensional portrayals of Asian international adoption as either a progressive form of U.S. multiculturalism or as an exploitative form of cultural and economic imperialism. Rather, Choy acknowledges the complexity of the phenomenon, illuminating both its radical possibilities of a world united across national, cultural, and racial divides through family formation and its strong potential for reinforcing the very racial and cultural hierarchies it sought to challenge.

 

Global Roots, Local Identities: Asian International Adoption and Advocacy

Co-sponsored by Video Round Table
Saturday, June 27, 2015, 4:30-5:30 PM
Moscone Convention Center, 236-238 (S)

Description: APALA President’s Program will feature a dynamic discussion between Dr. Catherine Ceniza Choy, a professor of Ethnic Studies at UC-Berkeley and Maria Taesil Hudson Carpenter, the City Librarian of the Santa Monica Public Library System. They will examine the issues raised by Geographies of Kinship: International Asian Adoption, a new film by award-winning Berkeley-based filmmaker Deann Borshay Liem, in the larger context of international adoption and reflect on universal questions of identity, assimilation, family, community, and advocacy. Excerpts from the film and a personal introduction especially produced for this program by Deann will be shown. The APALA President’s Program is co-sponsored by APALA and VRT.

We hope to see everyone there!

Spotlight on Maria Taesil Hudson Carpenter

by Brian Leaf

Image of Maria Teasil Hudson CarpenterOne of the featured guests in the APALA President’s Program in San Francisco, entitled Global Roots, Local Identities: Asian International Adoption and Advocacy is Maria Taesil Hudson Carpenter, the Director of Libraries for the City of Santa Monica, CA. She has long been involved on the Korean adoptee scene, and we are proud to be able to highlight her accomplishments as we lead up to this must-see event.

As the Director of Libraries, Maria oversees a $12 million budget, 210 employees, and five libraries. Formerly, Maria was Director of Libraries for the City of Somerville, MA and Director of Advancement, Marketing, and Communications for Northeastern University Libraries.

She completed her Master’s in Library and Information Science at the University of Pittsburgh and received her B.A. from Ohio Wesleyan U. She is a member of Phi Beta Delta, the honor society for International scholars and an American Library Association (ALA) Spectrum Scholar. She studies leadership and libraries in a doctoral program at Simmons College and is writing her dissertation on community leadership. Additionally, she is an elected ALA Councilor-At-Large and has served on committees for Asian Pacific American Librarians Association, Academic Library Advancement Development Network, Association of College and Research Libraries, and ALA. Her research has been published in College & Research Libraries, Library Management and portal.

Maria was as a long-standing member of Boston Korean Adoptees (BKA) and continues her involvement now as the Vice President of the Association of Korean Adoptees of Southern California (AKASoCal), a Southern California organization for Korean adoptees. She has visited South Korea three times, attended the 2010 Korean adoption conference, got involved with Global Oversees Adoptees Link, or G.O.A.L., and stayed at KoRoot guesthouse for adoptees.

Since my first trip back I searched for my birth family including going on television on KBS and other news outlets with no success but I have met amazing adoptee friends along the way and learned a bit more about my homeland.

In addition to her library and adoptee activities, she is also a 200-hour registered Yoga teacher and is a second degree Reiki practitioner in the Usui Shiki Ryoho tradition. In the past, she has also served on Boston’s Asian American Resource Workshop, a pan-Asian advocacy group that works for the empowerment of local Asian Pacific-American community to achieve its full participation in national society.  Maria has two brothers adopted from Nicaragua and a Swedish-American sister adopted from Minnesota.

Maria believes in living a life of abundant joy and love.

 

Global Roots, Local Identities: Asian International Adoption and Advocacy

Co-sponsored by Video Round Table
Saturday, June 27, 2015, 4:30-5:30 PM
Moscone Convention Center, 236-238 (S)

Description: APALA President’s Program will feature a dynamic discussion between Dr. Catherine Ceniza Choy, a professor of Ethnic Studies at UC-Berkeley and Maria Taesil Hudson Carpenter, the City Librarian of the Santa Monica Public Library System. They will examine the issues raised by Geographies of Kinship: International Asian Adoption, a new film by award-winning Berkeley-based filmmaker Deann Borshay Liem, in the larger context of international adoption and reflect on universal questions of identity, assimilation, family, community, and advocacy. Excerpts from the film and a personal introduction especially produced for this program by Deann will be shown. The APALA President’s Program is co-sponsored by APALA and VRT.

We hope to see everyone there!

 

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