Fresno professor and poet Mae Der Wang has been named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Yellow Rain, a collection of poetry that combines archival research and declassified documents.
According to Wang, the collection was created for almost ten years. Most of those years were spent on research, including a trip to the National Security Archives in Washington, DC, consulting with Rebecca Katz of Georgetown University on her dissertation on yellow rain, and using online databases for the CIA, U.S. Department of State, and others.
“In the end, I had thousands of pages of things to look at,” Wang said. “I learned about the yellow rain in the process and I knew something about it [it] it wasn’t right. “
Yellow Rain refers to the memoirs of Hmong refugees in the mid-1970s who said they saw a mysterious yellow substance fall from planes during their flight from Laos, leading to allegations of the use of chemical biological weapons in violation of international agreements. The accusations were widely discussed and largely discredited.
Wang’s collection “opens a crime that deserves new retribution,” according to publisher Wang Graywolf Press.
“I wanted to find ways to resurrect the story and all the headlines that revolved at the time around the yellow rain. I wanted to recreate this in the book to really show the seriousness of what happened, ”Wang said.
According to a press release from Fresno State News, Wang is the first American Hmong to receive recognition in the 106-year history of the Pulitzer Prize. She said she hoped the recognition showed “our history matters.”
«[This is] a chance for us to continue to tell our story from our perspective and create a space for these stories to be remembered and not lost, ”she said.
Wang, who is now completing her third year of study in Fresno, was born and raised in Fresno. Although she left the city for education, she returned when she opened a position in Fresna, seeing it as a chance to return and teach in the community in which she grew up.
She called the reaction to her success in the community “festive around”, but this is not the first time she has been recognized as a campus.
In early May, Wang was awarded the Provost’s Award for promising new faculty for associate professors who excelled in teaching, research, and service. Last year, she received a provator award for extraordinary teaching in extraordinary times after she was nominated by her students.
Wang plans to write another collection of poetry in the future, but in the meantime wants to continue educating student poets in Fresno.
“When [students are] interested in telling their stories, think of poetry as a way out of it. We have many classes in the department that offer this experience, either [students can] contact me if they have any questions about poetry, ”she said.