As part of the College of Arts and Humanities blog series on new faces in the college, we introduce you to an accomplished professor and author who is joining the Department of English and the Master of Fine Arts Program in Creative Writing for academic year 2019-20.
Meet Mai Der Vang, poetry, in conversation with MFA communication specialist Jefferson Beavers.
What are you most looking forward to, teaching at Fresno State?
I’m excited about teaching poetry! I look forward to both supporting and challenging students to grow, creatively, in ways that may surprise them, in ways that may lead them to discover a new language for themselves, in all the abundant and flourishing ways they may not yet realize but will hopefully discover as they deepen their understanding of poetics and spend more time in their craft.
Your debut poetry collection, Afterland, was published in April 2017 by Graywolf Press. What’s your book about, and what about the book makes you the most proud?
The book opens with poems on the Hmong involvement in the Secret War during the Vietnam War, and then moves into the spirit or etheric realm in an attempt to negotiate the implications and spiritual consequences of war, diaspora, flight, and displacement, through a lens of shamanism.
I have so much to be grateful for, but at the most basic, fundamental level, I’m most proud of simply having been able to write the poems within it, to surrender myself to the work, and to press through the uncertainty contained within that process.
What are your teaching specialties? How did you become involved with those areas?
Aside from poetry and related craft, I’m also interested in the overall development and evolution of Hmong literature, particularly work that has been penned by Hmong authors. This emphasis on Hmong literature is a kind of specialty, a small one for now given that Hmong writers are few and far between, but the number is slowly growing and I’m excited for the future of Hmong poetics.
My interest in Hmong literature was spurred by my involvement with the Hmong American Writers’ Circle, but I think it goes farther back, to when I was in grade school and high school, reading books and struggling to find affinity with the characters, themes, and the authors of those books who were removed from my own experiences growing up in a traditional Hmong refugee family.
How do you hope your background will elevate the English Department’s offerings at Fresno State?
Later down the line, I’d love to teach a course on Hmong literature, Southeast Asian literature, refugee literature, or the literature of any community that has ever felt invisible or been forgotten within the national literary landscape. I’d also like to offer courses that allow for further exploration of craft and poetics so that students have an opportunity to experiment and discover new or other approaches to their writing.
What are you reading right now?
To be entirely honest, I’ve had my nose in a Norton anthology of American literature — the shorter ninth edition, 1865 to the present, to be exact. Not your typical reading material but still quite enjoyable. As you might have guessed, I’m reading it for a class! It’s for English 103, Masterpieces of American Literature.
What is a book you think everyone should read, and why?
There are too many to name, but one that comes to mind is Vievee Francis’ Forest Primeval. The poems hold me all the way through, and the endings on some of these poems are amazing, landing with such precision of language.
What’s a fun fact people may not know about you?
Most people don’t know but I am an avid collector of vintage jewelry so I own all kinds of sparkly old things.
What are your fall 2019 office hours?
Mondays and Wednesdays from 2:15 to 3:30 p.m., and virtual hours on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.