Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay aka Refugenius is a Lao American writer. She was born in a refugee camp in Nongkhai, Thailand and immigrated to Minnesota in 1985. Because of her unique background, her work is focused on creating tools and spaces for the amplification of refugee voices through poetry, theater, and experimental cultural production.
CNN’s “United Shades of America” host W. Kamau Bell called her work “revolutionary.” Governor Mark Dayton recognized her artistic contributions with a “Lao Artists Heritage Month” Proclamation. She’s a 2019 recipient of a Sally Award for Initiative from the Ordway Center for Performing Arts which “recognizes bold new steps and strategic leadership undertaken by an individual...in creating projects or artistic programs never before seen in Minnesota that will have a significant impact on strengthening Minnesota’s artistic/cultural community.”
Her plays have been presented by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, Theater Mu, Consortium of Asian American Theater Artists, Theater Unbound, and elsewhere. She was a 2018 Playwright's Center and 2011 and 2012 Theater Mu fellow in playwriting, a 2018 Loft Literary Center fellow in poetry, a 2019 Loft Literary Center fellow in children's and young adult literature, a 2018 Twin Cities Media Alliance fellow in public art, and a 2017 Aspen Ideas Bush Foundation fellow.
Her poetry, essays, plays, and short stories can be found in the Asian American Literary Review, Massachusetts Review, Jungle Azn Magazine, Rubin Museums' Spiral Magazine, Journal for Southeast Asian American Education and Advancement, Saint Paul Almanac, as well as on coffee sleeves (Coffee House Press) and on metro transit (Saint Paul Almanac).
She's received creative grants from the Jerome Foundation, Bush Foundation, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, MAP Fund, Andy Warhol Foundation, Visual Arts Fund, Forecast Public Art, Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, and the MN State Arts Board, and elsewhere.
She holds a Master in Liberal Studies degree and co-hosted a podcast on Minnesota Public Radio. She is currently a National Playwright in Residence at Theater Mu, a program of The Andrew Mellon Foundation. The award comes with a nearly $200,000 stipend and a $30,000 professional development microfund. In January 2021, McKnight Foundation named her a Fellow in Community-Engaged Practice Art. The award comes with a $25,000 stipend and a $3,000 development fund. At the end of January 2021, Saymoukda received a Jerome Hill Artist Fellowship for Playwriting. The award comes with a $50,000 stipend and professional development resources.
Keep up with her @REFUGENIUS.
Artist photo by Joseph Foreman
My first picture book WHEN EVERYTHING WAS EVERYTHING (Full Circle Publishing $18.95) is available now.
It's illustrated by Cori Nakamura Lin with a forward written by Bao Phi.
I’ve never read a children’s book where I have shared so much with the author, from the streets we lived on, the haircuts we had, the cucumber fields we walked, right down to the food shelves and the wars we come from. “When Everything was Everything” is a singularly important book for all of us who inhabit the Southeast Asian refugee experience, for those of us who have been poor, new to English, we who are perpetually perceived as strangers here. This book makes a home on the children’s shelves for the little girls we were and the women we have become.
--Kao Kalia Yang, author of The Latehomecomer and The Song Poet
This beautiful and detailed unfolding of memories from a Lao American girlhood vividly captures the author's family life in gorgeously illustrated moments and scenes. Child and adult readers alike from every American cultural background, and beyond, will be transported into the intimacy, love, outsider struggles, and hard work, that was Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay's family's daily life in Minnesota.
--Sun Yung Shin, author of Cooper's Lesson, a bilingual Korean-English illustrated book for children
A girl of color dreamscape, a refugeescape, that gives us "resettlement" in all its wonders and sorrows, its intimacies and dislocations, its early mornings and missed expiration dates, its Funyuns and bowl cuts.
--Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis, Curator for the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center and editor of The Asian American Literary Review
PRESS ON WEWE
Vongsay Centers Lao History and Perspectives, Hmong Times
I started playwriting in 2010. I got my big break in 2011 when I was invited to participate in the New Performance Program, a fellowship program for new playwrights and writers who weren't necessarily playwrights to create new work.
On October 12, 2013 my first full-length play, KUNG FU ZOMBIES VS CANNIBALS (KFZC), opened on the same night as the Twin Cities Zombie Pub Crawl at the 210-seat Southern Theatre in Minneapolis. KFZC was a vehicle to inform American audiences of the secret carpet-bombing campaign ordered by the CIA during the Vietnam war. KFZC was inspired by the work of Legacies of War.
The 3-week production closed with 92% capacity with 54% of ticket sales to audiences 18-25 years old. KFZC is Mu Performing Arts’ highest-grossing world premiere and was named Best Production of 2013 by L’Etoile Magazine. The production was mentioned in the New York Times and received high acclaim from City Pages, Vita.MN, TC Daily Planet, to name a few. The Star Tribune wrote,
Mu Performing Arts deserves credit for bringing this ambitious new playwright to their stage.
Since 2013, I’ve received grants and fellowships to further develop my work and my plays have been presented by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center (NY), Theater Mu (MN), the National Consortium of Asian American Theater Artists, Theater Unbound (MN), Lazy Hmong Woman Productions (MN), Lower Depth Theatre (CA), Asian Improv Arts (IL), and elsewhere.
Visit my PROJECTS tab to learn more about the fun projects I'm working on.
MY PLAYS INCLUDE...
Kung Fu Zombies vs Cannibals
Kung Fu Zombies vs Shaman Warrior
Watch the trailer for animated performance by playwright Saymoukda Vongsay, animated and directed by Matty Huynh, with music by DJ Kool Akiem and Justice Shroomcloud. Premiered for Smithsonian APA's CTRL+ALT culture lab, Nov12-13 at 477 Broadway, SoHo/Chinatown
Flash Plays/One Acts:
My Cape is Under My Shirt series
(COMPAS/Minnesota Children's Museum, dir. H. Adam Harris, 2021)
Raw Pig Blood Soup
(Theater Mu New Eyes Festival, dir. Lily Tung Crystal, 2021)
(Walking Shadow Theater Week of Sharks, dir. David Pisa, 2021)
A Lao Pandemic Play
(Lower Depth Theater Pandemic Plays Festival, dir. by Gregg Daniel, 2020)
(Theater Mu RE:Plays Festival, dir. by Harry Waters Jr., 2020)
(Theater Mu Twenty Pho Hour Play Festival, dir. by Rick A. Shiomi, 2020)
(Fortune's Fool Theater To Breed or Not To Breed Play Festival, dir. by Ben Layne, 2020)
(Theater Mu New Eyes Festival, dir. by Scotty Gunderson, 2016)