Graduate Honorable Mention: Jer Xiong

Jer Xiong

Graduate, MFA Creative Writing, focus on Nonfiction

Until the 1950s, the Hmong people did not have a formal writing system for their spoken language. Their stories were passed from generation to generation in an oral tradition. While Hmong writers and poets are emerging, their numbers are small. There is an effort for greater recognition and acknowledgment of the existing Hmong literary body and Jer is pushing for recognition of current and upcoming authors. The passion and commitment Xiong has for her ancestors, family and community and the desire to tell their stories is infectious.

“Jer’s work is part of the charting of a new path, the lighting of a literary torch, and the making of a way toward sustainability and preservation of a community’s history. As a student of creative nonfiction, Jer is a leader who recognizes the contributions she can make, and the significance of the role she can play, to support and expand the possibilities for a flourishing Hmong literary present and future,” said Assistant Professor of English in Creative Writing, Poetry Mai Der Vang.

At Fresno State and in the Hmong Community, Xiong has shown to be a leader in these efforts. Her culminating thesis manuscript, “How to Call a Name: Essays on Interloping and Returning,” is a poignant series of essays that centers on the complexities of the Hmong identity and experience written from her lens as a Hmong woman standing in her power. Besides her writing, she has tirelessly promoted the works of other Hmong writers and poets – all while maintaining a perfect GPA.

“Not only has Jer worked extremely hard to excel here at Fresno State, but she has also overcome a devastating grass fire that burned her family’s home near Chico, California, and destroyed everything they owned. When Jer could’ve easily given up and gone home to focus on healing and helping her family, she continued to work on finishing her school work for the semester. She continued to show up for her classes and for her fellow students. Her family is still recovering, Jer is still fighting, and I’m humbled to see how much she gives of herself to this university, to her classmates, and to our writing community, as well as how she faces life’s challenges with determination, hard work, and a positive attitude,” Associate Professor of English Steven Church said.

During her time at Fresno State in the Creative Writing MFA program, Xiong has accomplished a lot in a short amount of time. She is the co-founder of the Hmong American Ink & Stories organization which seeks to foster a community of writers and mentors through generative writing meetings, workshops, and readings. The organization also publishes the hais: a literary journal online and in print. She served as treasurer for the Chicanx Writers and Artist Association, served as a decathlon essay reader for the Madera County Superintendent of Schools, and was a volunteer scholarship committee member for the Hmong Youth and Parents United in Sacramento.

She worked as a writing mentor for the EOP Summer Bridge program, as an instructor of academic literacy for the First-Year Writing Program, an academic mentor for Student-Athlete Academic Services, operations administrator student assistant for CSU Summer Arts, and a communication specialist student assistant for the College of Arts and Humanities.

“An amazing writer in her own right, she steps in and out of the spotlight with grace, putting her work forward while giving space for other Hmong writers. Behind a quiet and unassuming demeanor, Jer is an incredible leader and hard worker,” said College of Arts and Humanities Communication Specialist Benjamin Kirk.

More recently, Xiong has been an editorial assistant for the MFA Program in Creative Writing and a key in moving The Normal School from a printed literary magazine to a robust online entity.

“She is a highly motivated and reliable young professional, a creative and efficient writer and editor, and a precise and supportive collaborator in all aspects,” said Department of English Communication Specialist Jefferson Beavers. “She constantly pushes herself in the best ways to develop her communications and publications skills.”

Church agreed, “[The Normal School’s Website] has gone from being a static dinosaur to being a dynamic, user-friendly platform that has provided excellent professional development opportunities for all MFA students. Jer has been an outstanding member not just of The Normal School but of the wider MFA Community.”

During her time at Fresno State, Xiong received the 2020-21 Asian Faculty and Staff Association Annual Book Award, was first place winner of the 2020 Graduate Creative Nonfiction Prize judge by Donovan Hohn, first-place winner of the 2019 Graduate Creative Nonfiction Prize judged by Angela Morales, and the 2018-19 Soul Vang Prize for Poetry. Also, she received the Whitney Alan Fisher Scholarship and the Edward and Alberta Brown Scholarship.

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The College of Arts and Humanities Students of Distinction represents the best of their department and will be honored at the Arts in Motion event at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 10 – the culminating event of the Arts in Motion Showcase week. From these students, one undergraduate and one graduate Dean’s Medalist will be selected. The Dean’s Medalists are then eligible to receive the President’s Medal, the university’s highest student honor.

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The College of Arts and Humanities provides a diverse student population with the communication skills, humanistic values and cultural awareness that form the foundation of scholarship. The college offers intellectual and artistic programs that engage students and faculty and the community in collaboration, dialog and discovery. These programs help preserve, illuminate and nourish the arts and humanities for the campus and for the wider community.

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