Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

How Do I Begin?: A Hmong American Literary Anthology

Rate this book
Hmong history and culture can be found in the form of oral stories, oral poetry, textile art, and music but there is no written account of Hmong life, by a Hmong hand, passed down through the centuries. As an undergraduate, Burlee Vang experienced this void when he received valuable advice from his English professor: "Write about your people. That story has not been told. If you don't, who will?"

How Do I Begin? is the struggle to preserve on paper the Hmong American experience. In this anthology, readers will find elaborate soul-calling ceremonies, a woman questioning the seeming tyranny of her parents and future in-laws, the temptation of gangs and drugs, and the shame and embarrassment of being different in a culture that obsessively values homogeneity. Some pieces revisit the ghosts of war. Others lament the loss of a country. Many offer glimpses into intergenerational tensions exacerbated by the differences in Hmong and American culture.

224 pages, Paperback

First published August 1, 2011

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
20 (44%)
4 stars
12 (26%)
3 stars
10 (22%)
2 stars
3 (6%)
1 star
0 (0%)
Displaying 1 - 6 of 6 reviews
Profile Image for Beth.
884 reviews7 followers
October 24, 2017
The Hmong American Writer's Circle is a group of writers who are either Hmong refugees or the first generation offspring of the Lao-Hmong people. As such, they are bi-lingual (or more), but without a named home country. The Hmong originated in China, but over several hundred years were forced south until they settled in the mountains of northern Laos. Following the American-Vietnam War, they were again forced to flee due to the assistance they provided to the CIA. These writers come from a culture with an immense oral history and tradition, but no written records. With the kinds of work seen in this volume, that is changing and at last some knowledge of tradition will inform future generations.

An excellent piece of work.
244 reviews
January 29, 2023
This is an insightful anthology of work by Hmong authors. The writings mostly fall into poetry and short story genres, but there are also some photographs and paintings included. The authors all have a bio explaining their motivations and goals of their work, which were really interesting and varied. Many of the authors are second-generation immigrants to the US, and the writings cover their experiences growing up as part of two cultures. I live in Minnesota, where there is a significant Hmong population, and this book helped me better understand the Hmong people I have encountered.
Profile Image for Mel.
25 reviews
February 28, 2016
“For any serious artist, it is a terrible feeling of surrender when you realize there is no place in the world for your voice…” – Burlee Vang

How Do I Begin? is a 200-page anthology compiled by The Hmong American Writers’ Circle based in Fresno, California and published in 2011. It includes pieces from 17 writers as well as three visual artists. Until the 20th century Hmong stories were passed down by oral tradition. As Burlee Vang, founder of the Hmong American Writers’ Circle, notes in the book’s introduction: “there are no novels, plays, or collections of poems, essays, or short stories. There is no account of Hmong life preserved in writing by a Hmong hand and passed down through the centuries.” Thus, these writers are forging into uncharted territory and paving the way for new cultural expression. Each writer in this book attemps to answer the question: Am I Hmong before an artist, the other way around, or are the two inseparable? It is no surprise that each writer has a very different answer.

The book is comprised of poetry, short stories, and essays. Some express what it was like to flee war and live in a refugee camp, while others can only wonder at that experience while they write about what it’s like to grow up both Hmong and American. I am not much of a poetry reader, so the short stories stood out more for me. In particular I enjoyed “Pao Dreams of Bodyslams, André the Giant, and Hulk Hogan” by Ka Vang which is full of both humor and sadness as a son deals with disappointing his father to follow his own dreams (and has wild dreams of pounding the living daylights out of André the Giant).

This book serves not only as an important record of history, but also as a beginning for Hmong writers all over the country, the continent, and the world. It also serves as a window for non-Hmong Americans and the first step in a path toward greater understanding. I highly recommend this book. You may not enjoy every poem and story in the anthology (with such a diverse collection that would be an outrageous expectation). However, if you’ve been alive in the last 45 years, there is important culture and history in the pages of this book that has been greatly overlooked by our textbooks, arts scenes, and media. We could all stand to put a little bit more effort into learning a few things about our neighbors.

Profile Image for Amy.
228 reviews2 followers
September 20, 2014
uneven, but ultimately very good collection of short stories and poetry. a few pages of art and photographs in the center was a nice bonus. I hope the writers build on their work here and keep publishing.
Profile Image for Kaia.
241 reviews
July 19, 2016
Such an important collection of voices. I'm so glad it exists.
Displaying 1 - 6 of 6 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.