Two of my students at the Institute of Foreign Affairs interviewed the Lao writer and publisher, Mr. Bounthanong Xompxayphol, as part of their end of course project work.
Fortunately for both my students and me, Mr. Bounthanong is a fluent speaker of English thereby ensuring that Mr. S and Ms. P would conduct their interview in English and I would be able to understand. Not only was I impressed by the originality of the students’ project but Mr. Bounthanong’s words serve as a reminder to writers everywhere:
1. If you want to write, you have to be a reader.
2. You have to write about what you’re thinking, what you hear and
what you see.
3. Find your way and find your style by practicing writing and writing it
Mr. Bounthanong laments that young Lao people who dream of a writing career are thwarted in their attempts to gain recognition because, as he observes, there are few books. If few people are reading then writing has less meaning. In Laos, the cost of living is so high that the choice is often between food or books, rice or reading. He sees e-books as a way forward and I wonder if his challenge to create e-books for all will be pursued.
While on the subject of Lao writers, here is a Lao/Canadian writer, Ms. Souvankham Thammavongsa, who has just made the 2020 Giller Prize shortlist for her short story collection How to Pronounce Knife. It’s not easy to find out much online about Ms. Souvankham’s personal life but I’m pretty certain that her ability to recount the often witty, always insightful and occasionally tragic experiences of Lao newcomers to Canada is the culmination of the kind of writing practice advocated by Mr. Bounthanong.