Wichita big read author to speak at Newman

By Vlada Litvinova

This article originally appeared in the October 12, 2017 issue of The Vantage

The author of the book selected for Wichita’s Big Read is making a special stop to talk to Newman community. The Big Read is an annual program by the City of Wichita that provides citizens with opportunity to read the same book and discuss it with new people. Big Read Wichita runs from Oct.1 to Nov. 15 with activities at The Wichita Art Museum, Central Library and Evergreen Branch Library.

The title of this year’s book is “The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir” and it was written by Hmong American writer Kao Kalia Yang.

This is the first nonfiction book selected for The Big Read. It was chosen as the city’s tenth Big Read selection and it deals with themes of immigration, family tradition, love and searching yourself that are important and have to be raised and discussed.  

Yang was born to a Hmong family, a little-known ethic group from southeast Asia. Growing up, Yang lived in the Ban, Vinai Refugee Camp and the Phanat Nikhom Transition in Thailand. Her family and thousands of Hmong people escaping the war and fled to Thailand, where they were forced to live in refugee camps for years. Eventually, Yang’s family resettled in the United States, moving to Saint Paul, Minnesota.  

Yang writes about the reality of the Hmong peoples’ lives over last century. She writes in “The Latehomecomer” about her family and its struggles in the jungles of Laos, years in Thai refugee camps and, finally, immigration to America.

Director of Library Services Steve Hamersky, who organized the author’s visit to Newman, said the university wanted to invite an author who could give a speech or talk to freshmen to share the ideas, thoughts and worldviews. When this year’s The Big Read was selected, they contacted Yang, who gladly agreed to come to the school and meet with the growing generation.  

Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs Rosemary Niedens is connected to the organization of events for this program as well. She said each year all members of the freshman class are assigned a book for their required orientation class, Traditions & Transitions.

“The Latehomecomer” was the assigned book for this year. Niedens said Newman freshmen would have a very unique opportunity to meet with Yang face-to-face and talk to her.

“This is a really cool thing. Very unusual when in real life you can spend time with a bestselling author,” she said.

Niedens said the author will have an hour meeting with the freshman class and it will be largely questions and answers.

The later in the day Yang will meet with the other students and after that in the evening she will do a public presentation from 7 to 9 p.m. which is a part of Wichita Big Read program.

Associate Professor of Theology Joshua Papsdorf, a Newman freshmen T&T teacher, said he is glad that “The Latehomecomer” became a required book to read for freshmen this year, since it raises important issues such as family, success, education, career, and what it means to have a community. He said after reading the book, freshmen start thinking differently, broader and deeper.  

“One of the things in my T&T class that they talked about was an awareness that there can be people going through these kinds of experiences around us,” he said. “That it is not just something happens in the books. They can be in our own school or communities, who are going through those kinds of experiences.”  

Papsdorf said reading about what that life was for Yang may be helpful for students to realize that life is not always smooth and bright for everyone – some people are constantly struggling.  

Freshman Mario Roeder said “The Latehomecomer” influenced him a lot and changed his worldview.

“I knew there are people who are struggling because of lack of goods. I knew there are a lot of refugees whose life is impossible to call nice, but I did not know that people may live in so harsh, appalling conditions and permanent fear,” he said. “I was very impressed to read the memoir of Yang. It makes you think about importance of family, love and friends.”

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