La Crosse Reads

La Crosse Reads this year features “The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir.”

Community-wide read books available; events set

A Wisconsin Humanities Council grant will fund copies of this year’s community-wide read book — “The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir” — along with other activities to get area residents to discuss the nonfiction book.

Kao Kalia Yang’s memoir, winner of the 2009 Minnesota Book Awards in Creative Nonfiction/Memoir and Readers’ Choice, is the 2019 La Crosse Reads featured book. “The Latehomecomer” tells the history of the Yang family’s escape from Laos, their internment at a Thai refugee camp, where Yang was born, and their immigration to Minnesota when Yang was 6.

“Yang has repeatedly described the book as both a history of the Hmong people and a memoir of her family’s experiences,” says UWL Associate Professor Natalie Eschenbaum, a co-organizer of the read. “She also has described the book as a love letter to her grandmother. The story not only teaches readers about the history of the secret war and Hmong immigration to the Midwestern U.S., but it invites them into a world of oral story-weaving.”

 Eschenbaum says this year’s book has a dual purpose — it’s an opportunity to celebrate the Hmong community in La Crosse, while also educating non-Hmong-identifying residents about the traditions and history of a marginalized people.

“The Hmong community in La Crosse is a culturally vibrant one,” she explains. “But the stories of Hmong-Americans in our predominantly white, upper-Midwestern community have historically been untold.”

Eschenbaum hopes the read will engage readers to become more educated about the marginalized experiences and silenced voices in the community. “We also hope that the event will encourage people simply to read more in general — as a way to learn, grow in empathy and be entertained,” she says.

Copies are available beginning Friday, March 1, at three La Crosse locations: the La Crosse Public Library, 800 Main St.; People’s Food Co-op, 315 5th Ave. S.; and Cia Siab Inc., 1825 Sunset Lane. At UWL, books are available in the English Department, 433 Wimberly Hall, and starting Friday, March 1, at the Murphy Library Circulation Desk.

Along with copies of the book, the grant will fund Community Conversations, host a “Hear, Here” tour of oral Hmong histories in the community, and bring an award-winning poet to La Crosse in April. A UWL grant will bring a spoken word artist to campus in March.

Upcoming events for the 2019 La Crosse Reads include:

• Community Conversation, 6-8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28, Ho-Chunk Nation/Three Rivers House, 724 Main St., La Crosse. Dr. Bee and Dr. Xong will use personal accounts to explore the multiple, complex themes to the book, “The Latehomecomer.” Bee will speak about his experience with the war, refugee camps and acculturation in the U.S. Xong will explore oral cultures in the absence of writing and how Yang has transformed these memoirs in her book. The event is co-hosted by La Crosse Reads and Cia Siab Inc.

• Spoken Word Poet Kevin Yang — Friday, March 8

Spoken Word Poet Kevin Yang

4-5 p.m. Pre-Performance Reception, 3105 Student Union, UWL

5-6 p.m. Spoken Word Poetry Performance as part of Widening the Circle, The Bluffs, Student Union, UWL

Kevin Yang’s poetry performances offer a stirring and powerful account of young Hmong-American experience in the Twin Cities — the area to which Kao Kalia Yang’s family also emigrated. Kevin Yang is a member of the Speakers of the Sun spoken word collective, which is affiliated with the Asian Pacific Islander American (APIA) Spoken Word and Poetry Summit.

• Poet Mai Der Vang —Thursday, April 4 

4-5 p.m. Poetry reading, 3310 Student Union, UWL 

5-6 p.m. Reception, 3105 Student Union, UWL

6:30-7:30 p.m. Book signing, University Bookstore, Student Union, UWL

7:30-8:30 p.m. Keynote speech, 3310 Student Union, UWL


Poet Mai Der Vang 

Mai Der Vang is the author of “Afterland,” winner of the 2016 Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets, long-listed for the 2017 National Book Award in Poetry, and a finalist for the 2018 Kate Tufts Discovery Award. The recipient of a Lannan Literary Fellowship, she served as a visiting writer at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

All events are free and open to the public. La Crosse Reads is supported by grants from the Wisconsin Humanities Council and UWL’s Provost’s Office, with additional support from the UWL College of Liberal Studies. It has been organized by UWL’s English Department, UWL’s Institute for Social Justice, Cia Siab, Inc., Hear/Here, Downtown Mainstreet, and the La Crosse Public Library. Additional partners include the People’s Food Co-op, the City of La Crosse, Viterbo University, Western Technical College and the La Crosse County Jail.

Get complete details about La Crosse Reads events.