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), a finalist for the 2022 PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry and the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. 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 longlisted 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 she served as a Visiting Writer at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She teaches in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Fresno State.
Read the five-part series Mai Der curated, "Writing From the Absence: Voices of Hmong American Poets."