Tonight, the Saint Paul Almanac concludes its 2011-2012 series of Lowertown Reading Jams with an evening of performances curated by Katie Ka Vang. She'll be reading some of her own work, and will be joined by Joua Lee, Katie Hae Leo, Sai Chang, Linda Nguyễn, Kathy Mouacheupao, Iris Shiraishi, and Simi Kang.
The title of the event is "Many Hats
," meaning that all of the performers are known for their many contributions, but aren't necessarily known as writers. Vang says that tonight's participants are "good people" -- many work in the community and at nonprofits -- who she feels don't get enough recognition for their creative talents. "Good people make good artists," Vang says, "but not all good artists are good people. I wanted to highlight good people."
For example, Kang is a writer, but she also a visual artist. She "gives a lot to the community," Vang says. "She doesn't get enough exposure." Shiraishi has run the Taiko program at Mu Performing Arts for years, and Nguyễn keeps her writing work on the down-low.
Mouacheupao, who for years was the executive director of the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent and was a 2011 Bush Fellow, will also be performing. In addition to being a community advocate, Mouacheupao is also a poet. "Everything that comes out of this woman's mouth is golden," Vang says.
Leo says she'll be performing a work-in-progress that utilizes text, projections, and poetry about society's perceptions of people who have to walk with canes. Leo suffers from Dystonia, which has taken a turn for the worse recently. Her piece is about what it means to have a disability, and how people look at her differently.
Vang herself will be sharing some new pieces, some of which will be about her body and the the process of "cancering," she says. Early this year, Vang was diagnosed with lymphoma. Leo shared David Agus's The End of Illness with her. In the book, Agus argues that modern medicine's view of chronic diseases is still shaped by early 20th century advances against infectious diseases: Health issues which came from exposure to things outside of the body, and could by and large be cured. Cancer and neurological conditions like MS and Alzheimer's are things that come from within the body, and should be seen as a noun rather than a verb.
Vang and Leo spoke about the book in relation to the diseases that each of them suffer, and that in some ways there is a need to come to an acceptance of the disease rather than constantly fighting against it. "What Katie and I share in that way," says Leo, "is that you can't think this thing will be a cure; you have to think of it every day, and ask 'How do I live my life to minimize and manage this thing?'"
This will be the first time since her diagnosis that Vang will be sharing work about her illness. She went to the hospital at the end of December, was diagnosed on January 4, and officially went into remission at the end of May after 6 rounds of chemotherapy.
Though she has kept a journal throughout the process, Vang has only recently began writing about it. "I had been home bound for so long," she says. "I was really attached to my body, and the creativity wouldn't come out." This spring, she was part of a dance piece at the Walker Art Center choreographed by Emily Johnson, and Vang says that the physical movement helped her to start writing creatively again.
She's nervous, perhaps more so than she would be normally before performing her work, but at the same time she feels blessed by the supportive community around her.