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Meet Dao Strom, 2020 Oregon Literary Fellow

This Friday, October 30, is the deadline to apply for an Oregon Literary Fellowship. For guidelines and information, click here.

We’re thrilled to introduce the 2020 Oregon Literary Fellowship recipients with individual features on our blog! Out-of-state judges spent several months evaluating the 400+ applications we received, and selected eleven writers and two publishers to receive grants of $3,500 each. For the first time, Literary Arts also awarded two Oregon Literary Career Fellowships of $10,000 each.

2020 Oregon Literary Fellowship Recipient
Dao Strom (she/her/hers)

Career Fellowship, Poetry

Dao Strom is the author/musician of two books of fiction and the hybrid-forms memoir We Were Meant to Be a Gentle People plus music album East/West. She is also the author of a bilingual poetry book You Will Always Be Someone From Somewhere Else. Dao’s work has received support from RACC, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Precipice Fund, and the Creative Capital Foundation. She is the editor of diaCRITICS and co-founder of the collective She Who Has No Master(s).

Q&A with Literary Arts
What are your sources of inspiration?
Ethos. Longing. Loss. Displacement. Witness. Spaces in between and subtle currents.

A little more literally—a big part of the reason I write goes back to my parents, who were writers in Vietnam before 1975 and faced political pressures due to this—essentially, one of the reasons my mother fled the country and came to the U.S. was out of fear (justified) that she would end up in prison if she stayed; her books were banned (deemed “decadent” literature) by the communist government after 1975. My father stayed in Vietnam and subsequently spent a decade in the reeducation camps as punishment for his activities as a publisher and writer. I know that I would not be a writer if it were not for their legacies. I don’t know if this is inspiration so much as impetus and maybe a sense of some responsibility to pay respect to their struggles. I write out of a deep love and concern about the history I come out of, though at the same time there are ways I also write with a longing to transcend – somehow – the pains and bonds of that history.

How would you describe your creative process?
I follow the muses or I follow where the music leads, so to speak. I write from the interior outward and I allow the work to dictate its own shape. I don’t try to impose external ideas of structure or goals or endpoints; rather, I follow a more intuitive sense. I often find myself feeling as if I’m working at the peripheries of my capacity—by this I mean my projects have often led me into situations that require me to learn something new, techniques or tools or a new software, etc. I’ve come to see this as a part of my process: needing a degree of the unknown to wander into. Maybe these are also ways I use to trick myself into not thinking too much and having to work from a more honest, vulnerable place. But I can also at times be very meticulous and will edit and rewrite and rework and incubate pieces for a long time. So maybe my process is a mixture of allowing the unknown to unfold, and also taking time and perspective to arrive at the final shapes of things.

What is most exciting about receiving a fellowship?
More than excited, I feel simply graced—to have this brief moment of recognition, to have some time and space ahead (and feel it is okay to give myself this) to write and immerse in my process this year. I’m also very honored to be receiving this fellowship in the first year of its being offered.

What are you currently working on?
For several years now I’ve been working on a hybrid-poetic project that is slowly taking shape as lyric essays and fragments and photographic elements, exploring themes of diaspora and displacement relating to my own experience as a “1.5-generation” refugee and immigrant from Vietnam. The working title for this project is Postwar Tablefruit (you can read a bit more about it here: https://creative-capital.org/projects/postwar-tablefruit/). War and its long echoes, intergenerational trauma, and the experiences of Vietnamese women, are all areas I continue to explore in this writing. The project will eventually be a book but will also have multimedia performance and/or installation elements.

I’m also putting together an EP/album of music and poetry that will be released later this year—a set of what I’m calling “sung-poems” that experiment with vocal layering and fragmentation and that expand on themes introduced in my poetry-art book, You Will Always Be Someone From Somewhere Else. One of the key songs/poems in the set is called “Traveler’s Ode” and it was written in the style of an acapella folk ballad that evokes a mythos of exile—relevant to my own heritage and experience of Vietnam, but also evocative of many scenarios of leave-taking, mythic or real. “Traveler’s Ode” first appeared as a video-poem/performance published online by Poetry Northwest [https://www.poetrynw.org/dao-strom-travelers-ode/]. The EP will be released as a collaboration between Fonograf Editions and Antiquated Future, both Portland labels run by writers.

(Fonograf Editions – https://fonografeditions.com – is a poetry-music label run by Jeff Alessandrelli—which also received a Literary Arts fellowship for publishing this year—and Antiquated Future – https://antiquatedfuture.bandcamp.com – is an indie music label run by Joshua James Amberson.)

What advice do you have for future applicants?
I’m hesitant to give advice because every writer’s path is so unique. As far as grant writing goes, I will say my own approach is to be as honest and earnest and straightforward as I can whenever writing project descriptions and applications, and I’m always dedicated to the project regardless of whether funding comes through or not.

Excerpt from Self-Travelogues (Endemism)
Sometimes, un-thinking, her tongue slips, and she speaks a single phrase in Vietnamese. The language her children cannot understand her in. What this reveals, I think, is how much she must be most of the time vigilantly keeping at bay. And what brings it on for her, this slippage, this momentary letdown, this relinquishing, in effect, of the vigilance of English, for the unconscious reemergence of the tenderer language? We are driving down a street in Portland, Oregon. Or more precisely I am driving, she is in the passenger seat; she is visiting me. We have not been talking about anything. And then. But she does not follow up or translate or catch herself. So—I can’t help myself—I point it out to her. Do you realize you just spoke to me in Vietnamese? Sometimes her response to moments like these will be defensively coy: Yeah, and so what? I ask her what did she just say. Something about the leaves of the passing-by

trees—the trees we are driving beneath, the leaves scattering their shadows across our laps—that they are pretty.

She used to dream in Vietnamese, she says.


To live. To leave.

To leave to live.

We left.

Leaving. Leaves behind.

Leafs. Through.

We left.

Through the east gate.

We left leaves.

Or the shadows of.

Dancing with light.

On the ground.

Is this living.

(Is leaving living.)

(Is living leaving.)

Originally published: https://www.natbrut.com/dao-strom

Judge’s Comments
“Dao Strom’s poetry effectively and lyrically combines the personal and the political. She combines discussions of etymology—“The rood of the word “country” takes us back to contra (‘against’)”—with reflections on the history of Vietnam and colonization. She also deconstructs myths about patriarchy and gender with lines such as “Because sometimes you get his idea, due to the shape of our eyes or the softness of our skins, that nothing roars inside.” Overall, Strom’s writing is fierce and powerful engages the reader on multiple levels.”– Aatif Rashid

 “’Now you had better learn to swim, or sing,’ Dao Strom writes, positing the writing life as both art form and survival mechanism. She explores belonging and unbelonging, home and displacement through layered hybrid texts that echo the self’s multiplicity. In rejecting boundaries, she’s created a space in which inherited narratives of gender and race can be examined, rearranged, rewritten. ‘This is how you make the sky explode,’ she says, and her accomplished and stunning work has the energy and force of that metaphor.” — Kerri Webster

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