Mai Der Vang

1981 –

Mai Der Vang was born on October 20, 1981, in California’s Central Valley. She is the daughter of Hmong refugees who resettled in this country in the early 1980s following the United States’ withdrawal from its Secret War in Laos. She earned her MFA from Columbia University and her BA from the University of California, Berkeley. 

Vang is the author of Yellow Rain: Poems (Graywolf Press, 2021), which won the 2022 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, the 2022 American Book Award, and was shortlisted for multiple awards, including the 2022 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, the 2022 PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry, and the 2021 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry, among others. Her debut poetry collection, Afterland, was selected by Carolyn Forché as the winner of the 2016 Walt Whitman Award, given by the Academy of American Poets, and published by Graywolf Press in April 2017. Afterland was also long-listed for the National Book Award for Poetry in 2017 and was a finalist for the 2018 Kate Tufts Discovery Award. 

About Afterland Forché writes:

Afterland has haunted me. I keep returning to read these poems aloud, hearing in them a language at once atavistic, contemporary, and profoundly spiritual. Mai Der Vang confronts the Secret War in Laos, the flight of the Hmong people, and their survival as refugees. That a poet could absorb and transform these experiences in a single generation—incising the page with the personal and collective utterances of both the living and the dead, in luminous imagery and a surprising diction that turns both cathedral and widow into verbs, offering both land and body as swidden (slashed and burned)—is nothing short of astonishing. Here is deep attention, prismatic intelligence, and fearless truth.

Vang’s poems have appeared in Poetry, Tin House, The American Poetry Review, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. Her essays have been published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and espnW, among others. She co-edited, with the Hmong American Writers’ Circle, How Do I Begin: A Hmong American Literary Anthology (Heyday, 2011). 

A Kundiman Fellow, Vang is the recipient of a Lannan Literary Fellowship and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She also served as a visiting writer at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She currently teaches in the MFA program in creative writing at California State University, Fresno.

Read the five-part series Mai Der Vang curated, “Writing From the Absence: Voices of Hmong American Poets.”