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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Renowned novelist Kalia Yang discusses her craft

<t and gain weight. We exercise to lose the extra calories and stay fit. But how does one stay mentally fit when excess words pile up in your mind? Novelist and visiting professor Kalia Yang ’03 remarked that exercise for her is a mental activity, aimed at shedding the excess weight of words and ideas built up in her mind.

“I get words piled up in my mind, then I have to write at least some time in two weeks,” she remarked. The Hmong writer has received two Minnesota book awards. Her words show how she writes sincerely and has strong messages in her heart.

Kalia Yang is a visiting professor at Carleton, an alum of Carleton, a mother, a public speaker and a writer. Despite this heavy responsibility, she sounded happy and honored to be in such a busy position. In coming back to Carleton, the place where she nourished her dreams, she was more than pleased to teach bright, young students and to prepare her third book. Born in Thailand at a refugee camp, Yang later immigrated to America when she was only 7 years old.

“Becoming a renowned writer is no easier than becoming a professional athlete. It is a long path and you will just have to take the difficulties and go through them.” She is the writer who writes for people from the bottom of her heart and has the courage to raise her voice.

Writing was a natural activity for her. For her beloved grandmother, she used to write love letters, with handwriting impressed deeply into the paper, so much so that you could feel the letters with your fingers. Her grandmother, who was unable to read, used to feel the letters with her fingertips over and over. She used to do this so many times that Yang would notice her papers all worn by the rubs. When describing her grandmother, Yang’s deep familial love was almost palpable.

In fact, her first published novel, “The Latehomecomer,” was written about her grandmother. Surely, all these family groundings and deep emotional connections are present in her writing. Indeed, Yang’s second book, “The Song Poet”, is a nonfiction work inspired by her father, a poet who sings Hmong songs. Through these two books, she has raised recognition for the Hmong community and has become a public speaker whose lectures bring relevance and importance to her history and community.

As a Carleton student, Yang was actually on the pre-med academic track. Although biology was a main academic focus, she ended up majoring in American Studies, with concentrations in Women’s and Gender Studies, and Cross-Cultural Studies. With this broad spectrum of interest, she left Carleton with a passion for writing, which contributed to her acceptance into the creative nonfiction writing program at Columbia University in New York City.

This term as a visiting professor, Yang has been teaching “ENGL 261: Telling Your American Story,” and she hopes to focus more on writing in her future.

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