~ By Jefferson Beavers, reprinted from FresnoStateNews.com
Fresno State celebrated trailblazing Hmong-American alumnus Soul Vang (soulvang.net/) for creating an endowed scholarship and annual poetry prize aimed at encouraging students to pursue their passion for writing about the Asian-American experience.
Vang, a poet and educator who holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing and a secondary teaching credential from Fresno State, was hononored at a public reception on Sept. 29 at the Smittcamp Alumni House (2625 E. Matoian Way).
The reception was hosted by Fresno State’s College of Arts and Humanities, with President Joseph I. Castro and his wife, Mary G. Castro, attending. The program included a poetry reading from Vang. The event also celebrated the fall 2016 debut of the University’s new minor in Hmong language studies, which has so far attracted more than 100 students through the Department of Linguistics.
“The Soul Vang Scholarship will help to support a new generation of talented Central Valley writers from diverse backgrounds,” President Castro said. “I am inspired by Mr. Vang’s passionate commitment to Fresno State’s mission of educating and empowering students for success. I was honored to provide support for this trailblazing gift.”
An English instructor at Fresno City College, Vang is the author of “To Live Here,” which won the 2014 Imaginary Friend Press Poetry Prize and the first full-length collection of poetry published by a Hmong-American. As an editorial board member of the Hmong American Writers’ Circle (hmongwriters.org/), he served as co-editor of “How Do I Begin? A Hmong American Literary Anthology,” published in 2011 by Heyday Books.
Vang was born in Laos to father Nouchue Vang and mother Ying Yang Vang, who protected their children during the Secret War — a 15-year covert U.S. operation in Laos backed by the CIA — and brought them to the United States to begin a new life. They raised their family first with public assistance and later with humble jobs, saving every penny they could and enabling their children to go on to pursue individual interests and careers. There was enough of the savings left for Vang to start the scholarship and poetry prize in honor of his parents.
Vang joined the U.S. Army and served in Giessen, Germany and El Paso, Texas. After his service, he returned to Fresno to pursue his graduate education. He is the first Hmong-American to earn a Master of Fine Arts degree from Fresno State, and he’s the first Master of Fine Arts program graduate to create an endowed scholarship. Vang hopes to provide opportunities to Asian-American writers who may not see writing as a viable career path.
“As a Hmong, I have always felt a gaping hole in my knowledge and my psychology, for we have no written history or stories prior to the creation of the Hmong alphabet in the late 1950s,” Vang said. “When I started to write poetry, I felt like I had found a perfect tool to record my experiences and express my hopes. Though I had no role models in the Hmong-American community, I felt that it was important for me to do my part to keep our stories alive and to encourage others to write their own stories, so that our history and our stories will keep growing to fill that hole in our hearts.”