Fourth Lao-American Writers Summit emphasizes discussion, emerging artists

Seattle – home of the Space Needle, the world’s first Starbucks and now, the fourth national Lao-American Writers Summit. Hundreds of Lao-American writers, artists, creators and activists will gather under one roof from June 23-24 to share their creativity, as well as create an open space to discuss changes and challenges within the ever-developing community.

The summit’s theme, "Lao’d and Clear," intends to show participants how to express youself when engaging with the community and the world, according to the Lao Writers website. Despite being a writers summit, however,  storytelling isn't limited to words on a screen.

“Over the years, LAWS has transformed from an event based solely around the art form of writing to incorporating all shapes and forms of art – visual, music, multi-media, academia and social justice,” Khanthala Somvilay, LAWS Seattle planning committee member and executive director for the Lao Community Service Center in Washington, said. “For 2017, the Seattle team is excited to continue the effort of cultivating a space for Lao-Americans.”

This inclusion draws increasing interest each year, and as the summit grows (more than 350 people were registered by June 14, as opposed to the hundred or so attendees at the first-ever LAWS), planning members and organizers face obstacles more challenging than the last.

Somvilay said the committee mainly tackled technical issues such as finding funding for supplies, food, accommodations and transportation for attendees. Coordinating with both local and national venues and presenters also presented a problem due to different time commitments and responsibilities.

However, the payoff of a successful and multi-generational convention would make the efforts worthwhile, according to Somvilay and Sakuna Thongchanh, who is also a LAWS Seattle planning committee member. Both emphasize creating a positive and educational learning environment for growing artists since access to these opportunitites can be hard to come by for the Lao community.

“LAWS gives Lao-Americans, especially the younger generation, a concrete forum to hang out with a group of people that share, support and reflect back our unique daily identity struggles and discoveries in a creative and inspiring atmosphere,” Thongchanh said. “As we become more American but also understand that we cannot deny our unique Lao heritage, it is important for us to be supported as we seek out our personal blend, and be inspired to create something positive to share with the world.”

LAWS allows the community to come together in a celebration of its roots and achievements, and for some, it's also a personal experience. Not only is Thongchanh looking forward to seeing her mother on the panel for “Pioneers in Lao-American Literary Publications and Movement,” she also said she hoped to see people take lessons from the summit and apply it to their work and future discussions of the diaspora.

“We hope the event continues to stoke the embers of creative expression in our community through writing and the arts so that Lao-Americans can find our place and our power to express ourselves ‘Lao’d and Clear,’” Thongchanh said.

The first LAWS took place in 2010 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, after three writers saw the need to bring together art, writing and the Lao-American community. It opened up a dialogue on the state of creative writing, visual artistry, social media, and community advocacy of Lao-Americans since the early 70s diasporas.

The summit includes workshops, speakers, performances, community panels and resource fairs that all promote unity through shared experience and creative expression. This year’s keynote speakers feature writer and playwright Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay and poet and author Krysada “Binly” Phounsiri.

Somvilay gave special thanks to volunteers, artists, presenters and performers for their time; the Seattle planning team who worked countless hours in making the event come true; Phon Khampradith for forming the planning team; Sakuna Thongchanh for bringing the vision based on her trip to the San Diego LAWS and for working with Khampradith to write a grant for the event; the Lao Community Service Center for their sponsorship & cash donation; Ekk Sisavatdy, program director of the Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institution for getting Highline College to provide the space for the event and also a cash donation for supplies; Kathy Thaviseth and Katherina Poupee Vongphrachanh for their marketing and contacting artists and presenters; Nor Sanavonsay for helping with fundraising; the national team for helping with marketing & bringing in artists; and Airbnb for sponsoring the housing for out-of-town artists and presenters.

More info on the Lao-American Writers Summit can be found here.

If you're able to attend the event, we recommend staying for the closing event Saturday night. 

Savannah Rattanavong