Kao Kalia Yang is a Hmong-American writer, filmmaker, and teacher; she is also a co-founder of ‘Words Wanted,’ a company dedicated to helping immigrants with writing, translating, and business services. Her work is passionate and eloquent as she seeks to deepen the understanding of the human condition in order to garner more compassion in the world.
Kalia was born in the refugee camps of Thailand to a family that escaped the genocide of the Secret War in Laos. She came to America at the age of six, and her first book, The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir, reflects upon this move. A review by Publishers Weekly praises Kalia, “Yang tells her family’s story with grace; she narrates their struggles, beautifully weaving in Hmong folklore and culture.” The Latehomecomer was the winner of two Minnesota Book Awards, a finalist for the PEN USA Award, and earned a NEA Big Read title. It is the first Hmong-authored book to gain national distribution from a literary press.
Her memoir, The Song Poet: A Memoir of my Father, won the 2016 Minnesota Book Award, was a finalist for the Dayton’s Literary Peace Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Chautauqua Prize, and the PEN USA Award. Jane Hamilton-Merritt proclaims that Kalia’s writing, “allows us to hear the whispered sorrows and hopes of those transplanted onto foreign soil among strangers.” The Song Poet is the first Hmong story to be adapted into an opera by the Minnesota Opera and will premiere in the spring of 2021. Kalia’s other work includes her children’s books, A Map Into the World and The Shared Room, as well as a ground-breaking collection titled What God is Honored Here?: Writings on Miscarriage and Infant Loss By and For Native Women and Women of Color and a collective memoir about refugee lives, Somewhere in the Unknown World.
When she’s not in front of an audience inspiring social change and awareness, Kalia raises twin sons that keep her and her husband busy at their home in Minneapolis.