The Chills at Will Podcast podcast

Episode 167 with Mai Der Vang, Dogged Researcher, Crafter of the Historically-Accurate and Emotionally-Wrenching Yellow Rain, a Pulitzer Prize-Nominee and Towering Achievement of Advocacy

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Episode 167 Notes and Links to Mai Der Vang’s Work   


   On Episode 167 of The Chills at Will Podcast, Pete welcomes Mai Der Vang, and the two discuss, among other things, her childhood as bilingual and a voracious reader, formative writers and writing in her life, catalysts to write about Hmong culture, and specifically the towering achievement that is Yellow Rain, with its depiction of an often-dehumanized and preyed upon people and other pertinent issues of empire and colonization.


   Mai Der Vang is the author of Yellow Rain (Graywolf Press, 2021), winner of the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets, an American Book Award, and a finalist for the 2022 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, along with Afterland (Graywolf Press, 2017), winner of the First Book Award from the Academy of American Poets. The recipient of a Lannan Literary Fellowship, her poetry has appeared in Tin House, the American Poetry Review, and Poetry, among other journals and anthologies. She teaches in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Fresno State.



Buy Yellow Rain


Mai Der Vang's Website


“Review: YELLOW RAIN – Mai Der Vang (Graywolf Press),” by Ronnie K. Stephens, The Poetry Question, November 18, 2021


Interviews/Press for Mai

At about 6:40, Pete and Mai Der shout Fresno stars like Lee Herrick, Juan Felipe Herrera, 


At about 8:00, Mai gives background on her reading and language relationships, starting from childhood, and leading to an overview of her multigenerational family background and Hmong as her first language 


At about 12:00, Mai responds to Pete’s question about representation for Hmong people in the literary world, including the awkward links to Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down


At about 16:15, Mai discusses writers and writing that have been “game-changers” for her, including the work of Juan Felipe Herrera, Cathy Park Hong, Solmaz Sharif, and Douglas Kearney


At about 19:00, Pete asks Mai about any “ ‘Eureka’ moments” that have guided her into writing as a profession; she cites the Hmong Community Writers’ Collective as a guiding force 


At about 21:35, Mai answers Pete’s questions about ideas of dialogue and silence in Hmong communities regarding the “Secret War” and its aftermath 


At about 24:15, Pete outlines Yellow Rain’s opening and asks Mai about “following the rains”-she details her research (10 years!)


At about 25:05, Pete refers to a review of the book from The Poetry Question saying the book “defies genre”-Pete asks about goals in mind for the book, regarding its unique and diverse styles


At about 27:40-34:05, Pete cites the Wikipedia article regarding “Yellow Rain” and asks Mai for a background on it in connection to the Hmong and their lives post-”Secret War”


At about 34:05, Pete quotes from and asks about some of the collection’s early poems and refers to ideas of the Hmong as disregarded; Mai discusses an oft-quoted line about “gardening”


At about 36:20, Pete and Mai make comparisons between Roberto Lovato’s incredible work with Unforgetting and Mai’s work


At about 37:10, Pete and Mai discuss a disastrous and racist Radiolab interview regarding the Hmong and yellow rain 


At about 39:00, Pete and Mai discuss the theme of dehumanization that runs throughout her collection 


At about 40:40, Mai talks about the ineptitude and missteps that led to an inability to make definitive proclamations about yellow rain’s provenance 


At about 44:05, The two discuss the double meanings of “specimen” and the ways in which a possible chemical weapon used against the Hmong was incredibly destructive and hard to trace


At about 45:30, The bees are investigated and discussed-ideas that bee feces may have been the reason for the yellow mist were put forth


At about 49:00, Ideas of colonization and American empire are investigated via the book’s poems 


At about 52:35, Pete reads a line that sums up so profoundly ideas of “what if’s” and 


At about 53:50, Mai talks about ideas of resistance and about any possible political and cultural actions-i.e., the future and any advocacy 


At about 59:00, Mai reads the last poem of the collection, “And Yet Still More” and discusses some key lines 


At about 1:02:55, Mai gives contact and social media info 

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   Please tune in for Episode 168 with Dur e Aziz Amna. She is from Rawalpindi, Pakistán, now living in Newark, NJ, her work has appeared in the New York Times and Al Jazeera, among others; was selected as Forbes 30 Under 30 in 2022; her standout debut novel is American Fever.

   The episode will air on February 21.


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